The embrace – Two generations of black men
Photo by: Trudy Dawson, Edited by: Patrice Reid
Copyright © 2020 Trudy Dawson.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement evokes many feelings and thoughts. The fact that I have to write ‘black lives matter’ or the fact that this string of words has to be said is unreal. My mind is still coming to grips with the slogan. I am coming to grips with the fact that today the BLM chant echoes centuries-old outcries for equality against chattels and injustices. Chattels and injustices imposed by one set of humans onto another who are phenotypically different, and that remain due to notions of otherness.
It is unfair. It is wrong. It is heart-breaking. It hurts.
Imagine a snapshot of my life as a black girl from the Caribbean for a minute. Imagine learning about your ancestors in history books across educational levels being subjugated – being thought of as inferior and less than. Imagine the story (and reality) of the triangular trade powered by colonialists being vividly described by your high school history teacher. A tale of the sardine-packed ships of women, men, and children who look like you. Ships that sharks followed as a source of food because these less-than-blood-and-flesh ‘others’ were often thrown overboard for resisting captivity, for being ill or dying due to inhumane conditions. Can you imagine what this history does to the psyche of a child, a teenager, an adult, a group of human beings – learning about, hearing, and seeing these stories repeated in different forms, over different times and spaces, over centuries, time and time again? Can you imagine knowing the reason you speak another language and have a different name, is not due to a choice of migration and marriage, but due to the greed of capitalists who in their so-called “discovery of new worlds,” ravaged and destroyed pre-existing civilizations and identities? Can you imagine sitting down to write about black lives matter as a black woman knowing that the reason you exist now is that your ancestors who were once slaves survived? It is unimaginably gut-wrenching but awe-inspiringly powerful.
I am here because someone championed. I am here because my ancestors fought an injustice meted by other humans who thought of them as less than themselves – just like today, in the form of BLM. A movement that has prompted people to use social media and march in droves despite the threat of a virus killing thousands because of a more deadly sore called racism that has been festering for centuries, oozing hate.
BLM is more than about, and yet it is all about, revolutionary champions like Toussaint Louverture, Paul Bogle, Nanny of the Maroons, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Bob Marley’s One Love and Songs of Freedom.
It is more than about, and yet it is all about, the tragedies of the many George Floyds, Breonna Taylors, and Amiya Braxtons of this lifetime.
It is more than about, and yet it is all about, the experience of my former nine-year-old self who visited Canada for the first time when another little girl said, “move your dirty black skin away from me,” leaving me confused because I had never experienced racism before.
It is more than about, and yet it is all about, my teenage self, hearing her friend’s parent angrily use black in a derogatory way to ‘put someone in their place.’ Though apologies were shared, and forgiveness took root, I was left in quiet reflection to ask, why is the word black used ‘to put someone in their place’? Why is the term black used to make someone feel less than?
It is more than about, and yet it is all about, the unconscious biases embedded in all of our minds, passed down through generations and woven in the social fabric of societies worldwide.
It is more than about, and yet it is all about, the fact that I had no choice but to learn about colonialism, slavery, and the history of other nations to understand my foundation. History lessons not shared, as many others sit in ignorance due to their own history being told in a cloud of censorship and in situated isolation.
It is more than about, and yet it is all about, the shameful chapter in the history of some African nations that were directly involved in selling their black brothers and sisters. A whispered history sometimes reflected in the struggle today to be our brother’s keeper.
It is more than about, and yet it is all about, the recent treatment of the Windrush generation.
It’s more than about, and yet it is all about, a widely circulated video of a cute little girl telling who I assume to be her mother that she didn’t eat the Kipling cakes, but that a nameless and faceless black man stole them. And the mother just laughs at the comment.
It is more than about, and yet it is all about, a friend in the U.S. sharing her experience of handing a cup, (not by the rim), to the person in line as an act of courtesy, only for the person to appear semi-disgusted, wiping the cup where she had touched it.
It is more than about, and yet it is all about, experiences of being examined from head to toe by someone who saw me as other. The experience of being denied an act of service, kindness, or consideration because of how I looked.
It’s more than about, and yet it is all about, my uncle living in North America, being stopped by the police while travelling home from work because he was in the “wrong neighbourhood” and told he “should hurry it along.”
It is more than about, and yet it is all about, my cousin living outside of the Caribbean preparing and planning for the appropriate time to teach her little girls about racism and how to navigate it.
It is more than about, and yet it is all about, living in a once colonized society where remnants of the racist past exist today in forms of normalized colourism and classism.
It is more than about, and yet it is all about, a colleague who shared that a former Ph.D. batchmate in the U.K. explained the reasons black people were less intelligent than non-blacks. The batchmate using scientific evidence to ‘prove’ his beliefs, neither realising nor caring or being sensitive to the fact that the person he was talking with is black.
It is more than about, and yet it is all about, hearing and sharing stories of #blackintheivory with other early career researchers and now PhDs. Hearing tales that they have only now decided to speak about because they feel safer to do so without the backlash of real and imagined repercussions to their academic pursuits.
It is more than about, and yet it is all about, teaching about prejudice and discrimination in the academic setting. Teaching these topics and encountering painful stories of students who faced racism, shadeism, and classism internationally and in their own backyard.
It is more than about, and yet it is all about, the spirit of colonialism being present in the form of modern-day slavery of many women, men, and children who look like me.
It is more than about, and yet it is all about, reparations because the foundational wealth of many countries would cripple if we, the once colonized, however continually brutalized and discriminated were to calculate the incalculable value of:
- Every human life, and the potential of, ancestors passed who were once enslaved for over 300 years and those long-gone souls whose spirits roam the route of the transatlantic trade.
- ‘Discovered’ and lost civilizations of people. People like the Tainos, whose existence whisper its presence in the bloodlines of Maroons and stories of the colonial past.
- Heritage stripped and embodied in the loss of home, language, culture, and identities of many who were enslaved and who exist now in once colonized lands.
- Countries raped of their human and natural resources to further the riches of the industrial-capitalist ‘first world’ nations yet left in shambles to pick up the pieces and traumatized in conflict and violence. Countries left to seek aid from the very hands that placed them in that position, however, looked down upon for seeking assistance and labelled as ‘third world.’
- Generations who live with the trauma of the past and face both subtle and blatant injustices today because they are black.
It is more than about, and yet it is all about, continued trampling of the fundamental human rights and liberties of a group of people because of the conceptions of otherness.
In strength and unity – My mother and I holding hands
Photo by: Patrice Reid
Copyright © 2020 Patrice Reid.
The full picture of systemic and systematic racism has never been told. It will never be fully captured by pen put to paper. If the oceans, winds, and lands could talk, we all would be buried in mourning beyond our existence.
Yet, at the end of the day:
- I breathe in and out, with gratitude and pray for change.
- I breathe in and out, for those who lost the good fight and didn’t stand a chance against oppressors.
- I breathe in and out, hoping for a cognitive shift in those who hate.
- I breathe in and out, looking forward to black children never losing a piece of their innocence by being sensitized about people who will discriminate against them because of the colour of their skin.
- I breathe in and out, in yearning for hearts that pump blood like mine to fill with warmth for their blood and flesh bredrens and sistrens who happen to be black.
- I breathe in and out, thankful for activists across all races, ethnicities, nationalities, ages, gender, and social status who genuinely believe and chant BLM. Activists and the everyday man and woman who, in solidarity without fear of repercussions, have the zeal to ‘loud up an talk di tings’ that threaten our place in the world.
- I breathe in and out, in the hope of change across the world and a shift in the narrative.
- I breathe in and out, embracing uncomfortable conversations and hard truths that serve to bind us together rather than to tear us apart.
- I breathe in and out, doing my part, within my family, among my friends and others in the spaces I traverse, to activate and reinforce the changes I want to see in the world.
- I breathe in and out, knowing that despite humanity’s destructive history, through resilience, we can construct a positive and inclusive present and future.
- I breathe in and out, that as humans we will recognize the humanity in each other. Recognize that we are interdependent, stronger, and beautiful despite our differences because, to quote the motto of my homeland Jamaica, “out of many, one people” – out of many, we are one.
- I breathe in and out, that one day we will get the chance to finally heal and forgive the wrongs of the past and today’s present.
- I breathe in and out, loving the fact that I am Jamaican. A member of a nation whose national flag, anthem, song, motto and everything else in between reflecting an understanding of our past, give tribute to our heroes and heroine, reveal an identity forged out of resilience and collectivism and serves as a reminder for our shared vision as a people.
- I breathe in and out, proudly wearing the cocoa-powdered vibrant chocolate skin I am in.
What is at the heart of BLM? For me, the words of Michael Manley are the crux of the matter. Manley (1991) said that “any realistic vision of change must be based on the notion of empowerment of people” – thus, the empowerment and recognition of black people as same, rather than other. BLM is also most importantly about never again placing future generations of children and adults in the position where they must march along streets, protest from their homes, virtual and other platforms – saying, writing, thinking, feeling, and weeping about the fact that they have to make known that Black Lives Matter. Because it’s unfair, it’s wrong, it’s heart-breaking, and it hurts.
Life guard beyond the horizon
Photo by: Patrice Reid
Copyright © 2020 Patrice Reid.
Reference: The Michael Manley Foundation – Quotation from The Poverty of Nations: Reflections on underdevelopment and the world economy by Michael Manley (1991). Retrieved from http://michaelmanley.org/library/quotations/
About the author: Patrice Reid is a Commonwealth Scholar pursuing her Ph.D. in Psychological Medicine. Her research is focused on the development and field testing of a culturally grounded digital intervention to address alcohol and marijuana abuse in young Jamaicans.Her research interests include substance misuse, child development, ageing, caregiver support and training, digital mental health, and the development of culturally sensitive psychosocial and psychoeducational interventions. Patrice also enjoys non-academic writing and volunteering her time. These extracurricular activities have been captured in her current role as a Unibuddy-Ask a student e-Mentor, supporting prospective students, and writing blogs for the University of Glasgow.