The Black that I Am…

Standard

 

The BLACK that I am … came to the realization that dark skin was an issue circa 1994 through the informal education system called recess. I was a chubby pre-teen, with horrible acne and a lisp that seemed more pronounced when I was hungry, so understand my delight when I got in with a group of girls that were considered “hot” due to my limited knowledge of the world. It was a weird period in Jamaica with people forming groups and claiming titles as crews, or rather kru’s. I was a member of the K.L.A.P.P.A.S. Kru, an acronym that held all our names and there was my “A” dangling close to the end, or maybe I was third, either way I was happy to be a member. It was during one of our recess periods that I learned a lesson that still stays with me. I don’t remember the conversation that lead up to the black Sharpie being used to make a mark on my forehead, but I remember the laughter that erupted. My dark skin prevented them from seeing the blood rushing to my face as shame, rejection and embarrassment enveloped me within seconds. It had never registered to me before that day that I was exceptionally dark skinned; my sisters, cousins and childhood friends had never told me and I never asked. I eventually lost weight. The acne left me without scars and I learn to control my lisp… even when I’m hungry. However, I remain dark skin.

The BLACK that I am … joined the drama society at UWI in 2002 and was granted/earned the lead role in the major production. I was cast as God. I think it may have been due more to my skin colour than my acting skills. The director wanted to do something… different and what could be more different than a dark skinned man playing god? How ironic that this role as God provided me another lesson on the limitations of my dark skin. The stage lighting technician, who was an ogre of a man with caramel complexion, lamented the difficulty he was having in finding the right light for me. It became a joke that I was “too black” for the lights in the theatre. A joke I laughed along with, but felt pained inside. As if this wasn’t enough I soon learned I would go without make-up because there was no match for my dark skin. I took it all in strides and even tried my hand at a rebuttal by claiming my ancestors to be proud field slaves who were known for their strength. I even wore it on a T-shirt to the delight of many, but I knew it was a band aid on an open wound. I hated the position I was relegated to due to my skin. I blamed teachers for making me stand in the sun as punishment for my skin tone. I hated the sun for burning the brown out of me. I hated my skin.
The BLACK that I am … became enlightened around the first year I volunteered at summer camp, working with 12-14 year old. The week-long camp brought together a wide cross-section of Jamaican children from all over the island and I loved how they mingled and learned from each other. My attention was drawn to a small gathering on the play field one evening. When I got closer I realize a young man was being derided because he was “black as tar.” I saw him shrink before his peers as they marked his skin with their words and laughed. I heard his feebly attempts at a comeback, which were shot down by ridiculous claims of skin complexion and the laughter of a captivated audience. In that moment I saw myself. I broke it up and took him aside. I listened as he broke down, gushing heated words of hatred targeting his skin tone. His beautiful face wrapped in innocence challenged my own self-hatred. I found words. I shared my own experiences and told him how I was challenged that someone as beautiful as he was would be downtrodden because of his dark skin. I made him promise me that he would never use chemicals to change his complexion. We made a pact. I left that conversation with more than I could give him. It was after this point that I started to examine my face and see the beauty that was hidden by people’s perception of me. I came to the realization that there was nothing wrong with me. There has never been anything wrong with me; simple and direct realization that changed my life.
The BLACK that I am  … wears my skin like a badge of honour; skin noted for years of hardship, but also bearing an ancestry of chiefs and warriors.  I am still affected whenever I hear ignorant comments on skin colour. It still affects me seeing my beautiful brothers and sisters using chemicals to become translucent forms of them selves. However, the world is changing and more dark skin brothers and sisters are stepping forward and affirming their beauty. As I type this Lupita Nyong’o sits on my phone screen flashing a megawatt smile; Hollywood is catching up. Though Nyong’o’s impact is yet to be measured, I cannot help but smile especially because this issue affects dark-skinned women more than it does men. I sense a change occurring, the ripples are everywhere. I am here for the realization that all shades have a place at the table even if we have to fight our way in and demand our space.
The BLACK that I am… is Beautiful.

Hell of a marriage…

Standard

I recently came across an article titled “Marriage is made in Hell” by Laura Kipnis, a Media Studies professor at the NorthWestern University. She presents marriage as an outdated and in some respect constrictive institution. I hate to think that I am as cynical as Kipnis, but I found myself agreeing with her observations. I came to the conclusion that marriage must experience a major overhaul to remain relevant in our ever changing society. A report by the Globe and Mail showed that in 2008, more than 40% of marriages ended in divorce, a 2% increase from the previous year. Marriage has its advantages, some of which are highlighted by Kipnis, but it has also proven to be a prison of broken dreams and desires for many people.

     Kipnis suggest that a successful marriage requires the denial of personal desires and goals for the union. She identifies some of the sacrifices that marriage demands, and I know many women and men who have endured discomfort to honour their wedding vows. My parents are an example, as they struggled for many years to keep their union together. Being leaders in the church, they felt they had a duty to set an example and fight for their marriage. Their stubborn attempt to stay together made home a living hell, and my sisters and I had to endure many fights between our parents. When they finally separated, we experienced a side of our parents we never saw before; they morphed into real people who loved every day of their new lives. Dad bought a red car, a colour my mother hated and mom travelled to Haiti, a destination my father forbade. It was clear that being single allowed them to fulfill desires they were denied when married. I would go even further and say that the separation had released them from a match made in a personal hell.

  The comedian Chris Rock jokes that the wedding reception is a set up, as couples will never again experience “the high” felt at this ceremony; it is all downhill after this point. However the ceremony is not alone in creating a false sense of reality. Women who grew up with images of Disney princesses riding happily ever after into the sunset with Prince Charming, are given a rude awakening when the glass slipper does not fit. Men who are caught up in the world of sitcoms, where every problem is solved within 20 minutes, will also find reality to be bitter. The very idea of being husband and wife harbours unrealistic expectations. There are many instances of couples who have lived together for many years separating soon after they get married. This is an indictment on marriage, as the couple proved that they had the ability to stay together outside of wedlock, but having made it “official”, heightened expectations and ruined the union. These couples can be accused of bringing damnation upon themselves by getting married.

With marriage rates on a steady decline and divorce rising, it is safe to say that many people have opted out of this institution. Its benefits are easily duplicated, making marriage redundant. The society is changing along with our values, and marriage still holds true to its core which fits perfectly in the Victorian era. The celebration of individualism, education, capitalism and “singledom” has allowed people to aspire for more than the title afforded to them in wedlock. Is it hell? I wouldn’t go as far as saying that, but I know that unless you are masochistic, discomfort and sacrifice are not appealing…and it R the truth.

 

365 days later…

Standard

It is a year since I have been away from Jamaica and oh, what a year it has been.

I’ve made new friendships, but still support those I created in Jamaica with phone calls, BBM, Facebook, Whatsapp and Skype.  I have been assigned the role of ambassador in social settings when my accent reveals my nationality. This is a role I’ve been happy to fill, because I have been allowed to debunk some of the myths people have of Jamaicans. I have been asked questions ranging from my relationship with my family to how Bob Marley’s music affected my life. One particular question that floored me was if Jamaicans know about Canada. I simply smiled and said yes then walked away to prevent any further interaction. To my new friends I am the official litmus in determining if a smell, sound or taste labelled Jamaican is authentic.

My assimilation into the Canadian society required me to disrobe of some of the bigoted world views that I inherited from my fore-parents. I have been confronted with other lived truths and experiences that have forced me to re-evaluate things I have held as true. I started my journey on the 21st of December, 2011 at 5:10 p.m. from my parent’s house in Jamaica and I am still travelling.

Possibly the most frequent question I’ve been asked is if I miss Jamaica. I’ve often responded with a reflexive yes, but recently it hit me that I was lying.

I don’t miss Jamaica.

I miss the familiarity it affords me.

I miss my family, friends and the memories I created while growing up.

I do not miss Jamaica.

I don’t miss the need Jamaicans have to police your behaviour, dress-code and speech.

The suffocating value system that we cloak in black, green and gold and use it to suppress expression and individuality.

Since my journey began I have pierced my ears and I am contemplating a tattoo.

I have a fire-engine red pants in my closet and a jeans so tight it requires a special dance to get into them.

There are things I have done and expressed that I was afraid to consider in Jamaica.

I surprise myself at times, but it gives me a great feeling that makes my heart smile, a rush that makes me feel like I am alive and living. The thought of shelving these inhibitions I have developed over the past 365 days scares me.

I’ve said I love you more in the last 365 days than I have in my entire life. I have cried openly with members of my family and have fearlessly exposed my vulnerability in ways I dreaded. This journey I am on has taught me more about myself than I cared to know.

I have heightened my relationship with my sisters and made me realize how much I love them. My younger sister sent me a card on my birthday which made me cry. She has never expressed the words she wrote to me and just reading them forced me to realize how much I took for granted. I also realized that had I not been away from home, I may never have read those words.

My mother is my life. Yet, I would get annoyed when she told  stories that I have heard a thousand times before. Now I long for them and laugh my ass off as if I am hearing them for the first time while listening to her on the phone thousands of miles away. I picture her warm eyes, the smell of vanilla that I attach to memories of my mother and the way she smiles while reliving these memories as only a mother can. My father and I are also different. He is no longer the man who I fought on a daily basis as a teenager, but instead has morphed into daddy. A man with his own insecurities who never grew up with a father but was required to play the role without a script. Our conversations has become meaningful since I have been in Canada. I recently saw a picture of my dad and it forced me to deal with his mortality. My father has aged so much within a year. The implications of this realization were not lost on me and all his vices seemed irrelevant in that moment. I have him now and I plan to make it count.

This journey has brought people of various faiths into my life, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhist, Jews and even Atheist. I have been able to sit and listen to world views and lived experiences that challenged many of the things I questioned, as well as things I held as true. I grew up in church. I taught Sunday school, worked at church camps and served two years as Youth Director, but I had major issues with the tenets of the faith I was socialized with.   Surely this will cause many conflicts with family and friends, but I am ready to live with the consequences of my actions that are decided by my perception of the world.

Just a year and already I can document changes in my life. We often tell people, “don’t change, because I love you just the way you are”, yet change is inevitable, even the dead changes.

I am changing and this fact excites me. I look forward to where this journey takes me and how much growth I will experience…and it r the truth.

….Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica land I……

Standard

Patriotism is defined as devoted love, support and defense of one’s country; national loyalty, but what is the basis for patriotism?

I was born in a particular country, therefore I am obligated to devote my love and support to her?

Jamaica is the land of my birth, I had absolutely no control over that. I grew up pledging my undying love and support for this isle of the indies, but became critical as an adult after realizing I was relegated to being a third-class world citizen because I am Jamaican.

I contrasted what Jamaica offered to me with what I was denied and this made it more difficult to accept the idea of patriotism.

I don’t believe in obligated love, it is like a duty and thus loses its true essence.

I do not love my mother because she gave birth to me, I love her because she is a great human being who gave of herself unselfishly to me and others. I don’t think I should love Jamaica, just because…, that is simply ridiculous. I must admit that Jamaica is possible one of the most beautiful place on earth, this beauty is used well in hiding the hideous underbelly of her culture…and it is this that makes it hard for me to be patriotic.

Jamaica is my home, my family is there, happy memories of my childhood is intrinsically linked to Jamaica. I miss her because she is familiar, not because she is different from any other country; Dubai buy sand and build beach, South America has majestic mountains that helps to keep the sky above us and reggae, which originated in Jamaica, has more significance in Europe than it does in the Caribbean isle.

Lately people who claim particular personality traits as indigenous to Jamaicans annoy me. When you are not exposed to other cultures it is easy to assume that Jamaicans r the only ones who say particular things, or do things in a  specific way, but then you meet others from various cultures and realize people are people, and these traits exist all over the world….what do you do then? I think nationalist should focus on celebrating humanism and then the world would be a better place.

Yet with all this, I find it easy to sell Jamaica as a great destination to visit and I will quickly defend her honour if people speak ill of her….but I am not blindly devoted in love and support. It may be possible that I am harping on semantics, I may need another word to explain how I truly feel, but as it is right now, patriotic is not the word and it r the truth.

We are not Free….

Standard

Recently I made a declaration on Facebook, that I do not believe people choose their sexual orientation. As is typical with my status comments, it elicited  a range of responses, from support, to indifference and of course a few disagreeing with my position. However, one comment provoked me to examine my own thoughts on free-will; ‘God gives us choice in every aspect of our lives….” Simple reasoning would prove this statement invalid, as none of us choose our parents, our date of birth, or nationality, yet these seem diminutive when juxtaposed with other aspects of our lives where we have no choice.

I’ve always believed in Predetermination, the idea that every event is caused, not simply by the immediately prior events, but by a causal chain of occurrences that goes back well before recent events. For example, one’s personal characteristics are predetermined by socialization and heredity, by a chain of events going back before one’s birth. Children born in the ghetto to a poor dysfunctional family are predetermined to live a life of crime or debauchery. One could argue that some make it out of the ghetto and lead successful lives, but even this is predetermined by factors outside of that person, factors they make no decision on; opportunity, motivation, “the drive” to make things better for themselves. This  does have seriously implications on our penal and reward system, as this reasoning suggest that criminals are not responsible for their deeds, and people are not responsible for their own successes. My personal belief is that society makes criminals then punishes them for being criminals, but that is for another blog spot.

I’ve pondered on the following disposition where I love honey roasted peanuts, they are delicious. I also love peanut cake and may say it is a confection that I was addicted to as a student at University, yet I cannot put peanut butter in my mouth, the very smell of it makes me nauseous…how come? I did not choose to dislike peanut butter, neither did I try not to like it, it was predetermined by something in my genetic coding. 

With advancements in science, we are able to see that genuine dysfunctions exist that cause students to be slow at Math and other technical subjects. For years they have been labelled as slow, dunce, or just lazy, yet we realize this exist outside of their ability to control it. The spin-off due to this dysfunction that they had no control over has led many of them down unsavoury paths. So are they free, or predetermined?

I should hasten to say I think there are some points at which persons make decisions, but even the options are based on predetermined factors, so how free is there choice? There are studies to show that human behaviour is affected by so many external factors, that coupled with those based on genetics, it is ridiculous to say we have free-will.

The idea that people are free agents making decisions based on an unlimited course of action is flawed and should be examined honestly. As it relates to sexual orientation; homosexuality is as much a choice as heterosexuality and it r the truth.

 


Stranger than fiction…o_0

Standard

I pledged never to write about the people around me in my blogs. This is if we become friends and they stumble upon it eventually, that would be awkward. However, I have to write about my experience last night which still has me pinching myself.

Last night I had an encounter with a random girl, she might as well have been a ghost because I don’t know where she came from, neither where she went after.

I live in a shared space with five men. We all have our own rooms, but we share bathrooms and kitchen area. Now this situation lends itself to so many stories, but we will have those on another day.

This particular Saturday I sat down to dinner of curried chicken and white rice. I heard a knock on my door and there was this red-head waving to me in the doorway. This is unusual, because I have never seen a woman in this house. She introduce herself and was kind enough to apologize for the alcoholic fumes leaving her body because it is her day off and she has been drinking, so she maybe drunk. Wait, it isn’t awkward yet.

She said she smelled my dinner and it smelled so good that she was wondering if I have any more so that she may have some. Please understand that this is a common joke among Jamaicans back home. We will ask to share in a stranger’s meal as a compliment to how good it looks or smell, but will definitely not accept after the polite consent from the cook. A Jamaican friend of mine shared how he was severely beaten by his mother because she caught him accepting food from the neighbours; What made it worse was that it was a dumpling… that warrants the death penalty in Jamaica. This tacit rule is rooted deep in our culture and we all blindly obey it without thought to question its origin. Anyway, back to Miss Thing….I nervously laughed at the request and she laughed too, but I became confused because she was looking with expectancy. I said to her that I don’t have any left as I only prepared for one . Now please understand my surprise when Miss Thing takes the plate from my hand and starts eating….as God is my witness it r the truth. She shovelled too clumps of chicken into her mouth before I even registered what was happening. She handed me back the plate while informing me she graduated from George Brown with a Food Management degree and my dinner is very tasty… as if I didn’t know; I told her thanks with a smile.

She goes further to take my cup and begin drinking. At this point I started looking around for a hidden camera because clearly this was a prank, it had to be. She then steps beyond me, sits on my bed and starts shooting questions at me about where I’m from and what I am doing in Canada …looking around the room as she speaks. Then Miss Thing removes her shoes, so I say, “This feels so surreal, like I am in an updated version of Goldy Locks and the three bears.” She responds, “…but there are only two bears,” and starts to cackle…0_O She eventually left, well not before taking some more of the rice and giving me a high-five. 

Can somebody explain to me what happened? I’ve never had this experience in my life and I am too shock to be angry. Can anybody say if this has happened to them and if I should expect more encounters like this? Clearly I am not in Kansas any more Toto…and that r the truth.