Thursday, May 31, 2012

Incomplete Thoughts + Reflections

When I first came to the USA, I hated Black Americans. I didn't realize I hated them, but I did. Mostly because I didn't know what the fuck was going on, and they seemed to. But everytime I was in a place, as time passed and I got older, to ask what was going on? I got told I needed to accept I was black.

And I didn't. I couldn't.

The way it was phrased didn't come across to me as anything different than what White Americans had told me the moment I showed up; lose the accent, lose the references, stop being so strange, watch our shows, talk our talk, give up who you are.

I wouldn't.

I wasn't Black - I was Caribbean. I was Trini. I was Bajan one generation removed and naturalized.

And Black Americans kept telling me - No. You're Black.

And I kept saying, though not in these exact words. Fuck you. I will not give up who I am. I will not give up what I am.

I've mentioned before in other places, how much it cost me, how much it still hurts to have given up so much to accept being Black. Because you see, I had to. I was clueless for too damn long and it was hurting me. I couldn't see the fists punching me, couldn't understand why, it all seemed nonsensical, because I couldn't see the pattern. And I couldn't see the pattern, because the pattern started, with me being Black.

My father told me a while back, that coming to the USA meant that when he awaked in the morning, he's no longer a man. He's a Black man. And he had to come to accept that. Embrace it. Live with it. Deal with it.

There's a lot of layers; just the tip involving model minority issues, colorism, immigration issues some Black Americans don't think they need to pay attention to because it doesn't affect them and more, bound up in my family's confusion in dealing with being Black and relating to people who identified as Black.

There's a lot of cultural issues. Again something my father has mentioned and I too discovered on my own. Coming from a culture where the one who keeps their temper and is the most reasonable is King, to a culture where the one who's most aggressive, is seemingly most powerful, is King; Our politeness looks like weakness. Someone else's aggression looks like a lack of self-control.

I think there's a lot of confusion too. Maybe not as an adult. I don't know. I'm speaking from my memories as a child. From being told about Black American Culture, and Pan-Africanness and not at all getting it. Because I was lucky enough to grow up in an atmosphere where I took certain foods, clothing, music & rhythms, ways of talking and relating for granted.

Then came a time, a couple of years ago, maybe a decade or so ago? When I started listening. Don't know how or why it happened. Maybe it was that a Black Female Voice, a strong voice, sounded familiar. Or maybe it was because those voices were talking about something that wasn't about difference; but something I could identify with; something I had begun to experience and consciously recognize.

They were talking about being black and female and looked down upon. About expectations, and being touched without permission, and the random hair fondling - sweet heaven's mercy the random hair and skin fondling. But they were also talking about the atrocities of slavery and how that echoed through the generations.

I'd just begun to make sense of my own uncomfortable feelings about having my personal boundaries transgressed, not just by family members/dysfunctional dynamics surrounded extended family etc... I also knew the history they mentioned.

I knew about it. I'd grown up learning that history. It was my history. But it was also theirs. And it was no longer abstract, because they weren't talking about it, the way I'd heard it in USian schools - at a remove. They were talking about it, the way I'd heard it growing up; real and painful and gritty and blood ties.

So, I started listening. And listening. And listening.

And it made me feel a little better, not just to realize I'd given up (or felt like it) who I was to accept the label black for a reason even if I hadn't been able to articulate it. But that I didn't have to give up anything at all. That there was a term - multi-racial. That there were people aware of what it meant to be multi-racial and the child of multi-racial parents, and to live in a state of culture fusion.

That there were people who while stressing that here and now, in this place and culture I found myself living in, I needed to understand I was Black - these people weren't phrasing it to me as something I had to choose and something I had to give up. And I was old enough by then to understand it for myself and not just take an adults word that that is what they wanted.

But I was listening. And these voices talked and dealt with pain and anger. And hearing it, it helped me identify mine. Because I listened. Because I respected them because previously I had been listening. And I wondered 'Why are they so angry? Why are they so hurt?' And then I realized, I was hurt and angry too. I just hadn't put a name to it, confronted it, lived in it. It'd been pushed to the back of my mind. But here these women were, doing more than surviving, doing more than living behind a scab, numb and unknowing.

The thing about being angry though? About acknowledging hurt and wrongs? It's a point wherein you don't forget anymore. You don't ignore. You notice things. You notice a lot of things, and you start to interpret what you see, without that buffer in the way to divert things to a 'safer place'.

In hindsight, it makes sense that as I grew stronger and recovered from an abusive childhood, I'd incorporate what I was learning into my every-day life. I'd begin to recognize there were abusers I'd been giving a pass to. People and institutions hurting me, that I hadn't wanted to admit were doing what they were doing.

I don't know if the voices that guided me were going through similar with professional help, or if they, perhaps like both our foremothers had to figure it out for themselves, bit by painful bit and imprint the picture on their minds so they wouldn't forget.


Aside: There's a point here I'm not sure how to make succinctly let, about learning in fits and starts about Black American Culture, Being Black In Northern America. That it is a culture, with a history and dynamics of it's own. That it's not all at all about loss and lack and the past. It's a living, growing culture, constantly under attack and being co-opted. But my understanding about that, came about as I began to understand better the concept of cultural imperialism and dominance, and what older relatives had been fighting against. That fighting imperialism and loss of something they'd held on to through the generations, became associated with pushing against ALL USians. All North Americans.

When Black American Culture gets co-opted and pushed as 'just plain ole modern Americana', if you don't know the history? You, or at least I, didn't see a difference. Someone promoting their culture in a certain way, seemed like someone promoting their culture over mine or, unfortunately, not having any culture to lose and try to hold onto in the first place.

It's been hitting me hard, that even now, there's this 'tower of babel' affect going on, actively being promoted, that keeps or at least can keep, various African Descended Peoples from talking to and with one another. It goes on in intra PoC ethnicities as well, because the medium, the messenger is tainted - it's oftentimes being controlled by other than any of us.

Dub & Rap I both started hearing, noticing at around the same time in the 80's. I'm not someone to know which came first, or discuss the difference in rhythms, beat and cadence. I do know that the moment dub became associated with 'American Rap' - it didn't matter to the adults in my immediate surroundings that it was homegrown. It became associated with things - with violent things. And these days I find myself wondering a lot at approach and perception - because if what was being discussed in rap, had been sung in Calypso - I don't think many in my personal extended family would so much have blinked; respect your mothers and the women in your life? Embrace creativity? Remember the past? Hold your head up high? Fight the powers that bind you? Money's important but shouldn't be too important? Sometimes you just want to shake it loose and dance? Y'know, Old School Original Rap?

But that association, with a power that was changing a culture, that consistently seemed to say 'you're good and quaint for a vacation, but really, why are you so backwards'?

Now I understand it as same shit, only slightly different 'flavour' as 'But Black Americans ain't ever done nothing, created nothing, had nothing...etc...' Or as I like to call it ' Ragtime, Jazz & Honky Tonk just sprang out out of thin ass air, cause America is just like that - bullshit'.

TL;DR? I personally took the time to listen, and found a community filled with people I could talk to, with and about certain things. But it's the listening that's the hardest part. In my case it was unfortunately having enough experience to identify with what I'd heard, but until I could recognize the experiences were the same or similar? I just had to trust someone else's lived experience. I had to trust there was a reason for the anger and be in a place to recognize that anger is a damn healthy reaction in the first place. And a healthy reaction doesn't hurt anyone who acknowledges it for what it is.