I remember it like it was yesterday. I was coming down the hallway towards my room in Carter Hall my freshman year when I saw water seeping out of my neighbour’s door. A crowd of girls had gathered around and I stopped to comment ‘No way! Tuition is too high for the plumbing to be this bad!’ A theology major, who was known for being so filled with the Lord’s goodness that she was never rude, replied “Girl, you know you’ve seen way worse than this coming from the islands”. I paused, let the words process, analysed who said them, and decided on the best response – “No the f*ck I have not.”
This memory is just one of many instances where I heard a person speak ignorantly towards me, simply because I was not American-born (my father is from Mississippi but we’ll talk about him another time). Every so often, I venture down Twitter and Facebook to see many of the people I cussed out for being ignorant at volumes that deafened me are still being loud. In hindsight, I see that where I cussed, I could have educated. Here are a few key lessons I wish I had taught when I had the chance.
DON’T Repeat After Me
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery except when it’s mockery. I remember one gentleman in particular thought it would be comical to sing what I was saying back to his own group of friends when I walked by. I remember going as far as to sit him down and explain that it made me feel silly when he did it and asking him kindly to stop. He didn’t. I ended up not wanting to speak at all whenever I saw him coming.
Jamaica is Amazing – But We Aren’t All From There
I salute Jamaica for being able to represent itself through its music, its people, its culture – this island is one of the true Caribbean gems. I say this with great pride as a person of Jamaican descent. However, I feel that Jamaican is the default nationality our American brothers and sisters put on any person of colour whose dialect sounds even remotely close to the modified speech that passes as patois on US television (we’re talking about you Luke Cage). In the same way there is a difference between Maryland and New York, there is a difference between all of the Caribbean islands. In fact, we would love if you paid us a visit.
Weed Isn’t For All of Us
This one was always mind-boggling to me. “Do you have good weed there?” Even if I knew, in first conversation, would I say? Weed is still illegal in a number of Caribbean islands so please – wait until we are at least acquaintances before asking how we feel about controlled substances (unless we volunteer the information).
We Didn’t Grow Up In Huts
The young pastor in the beginning of this post assumed that my socioeconomic status was below hers just by the sound of my voice. Even if I was used to being in the most subhuman living conditions, she was still being insensitive. Believe it or not, our countries are mostly developed with sound infrastructure with exceptions usually being culturally protected indigenous people. There is poverty – but that’s a global problem.
Perhaps I should have led with this but the adage about knowledge being power is the absolute truth. The truth of the matter is race is divisional enough without us further segmenting ourselves from one another. Being a woman of colour, a person of colour, anywhere in the world comes with its own level of challenges – some places worse than other. The sooner we realise, Caribbean or American or European, that we share an ancient ancestral bond – the better. So before you mock an accent or joking ask for a spliff, I dare you to engage in true cultural exchange.