“Poetry is the lifeblood of rebellion, revolution, and the raising of consciousness.” ~ Alice Walker.
I picture myself as being a little contrary as a child. I am probably not unique in this, perhaps all children are contrary by nature, until it is ‘socialized’ out of us and we learn to be conformists (to behave). It is not easy to be anything but well-behaved when you grow up the daughter of a minister (Parson picni). I remember two important pieces of advice we were given when we were getting ready to move to Jamaica. I am sure there were many more, but these are the only two that stayed with me. In order not to offend the cultural sensibilities of the early 60s, we (the females) were to wear hat and gloves to church. Since we did not possess church type hat and gloves, those had to be purchased. The second important piece of etiquette was that, when asked ‘How do you do?’ or some such, we were to reply: ‘Very well, thank you.’ To reply ‘OK’, ‘alright’ or ‘fine’ was considered bad manners!
Thankfully my education was soon taken on by my peers, and I was able to infiltrate Jamaican country society. I made friends fast, I hung out with the children of Chapelton and in many homes I became just an extra mouth to feed. In those days ‘farrin’ (foreign lands) was far away. England became a memory. The USA was an unknown. Little Chapelton in the heart of the hills of Clarendon became my world. As is natural for children below a certain age, my mission was to fit in, to belong, to talk the patwa (patois) talk and dance the dance (at the time ska was winding down and rock steady was coming into its own).
I was ten years old when my father decided to make our return trip to the UK for the summer an educational vacation. We were to fly to Miami (little did I know I would eventually spend most of my life there!) then travel by Greyhound bus to New York. The bus trips would take place at night, and in the daytime we would stop at various big cities along the way for some sightseeing. Buses were not exactly comfortable places to sleep, and summertime on the east coast (even before global warming) was unbearably hot! So my memories of that trip are not exactly positive! My impression was of a huge, hot, overwhelming place. My father’s best laid plans were further disrupted since we were then supposed to sail from New York to the UK, but a strike meant we had to fly instead.
The greatest gift my parents gave me was this education at an early age. I was given the opportunity to immerse myself in a foreign culture and recognize that kids are kids; people are people; and the things that separate us can be overcome with a little openness and effort. They say that travel broadens the mind. A visit to a foreign country can give you a taste, but emigrating and becoming a member of a community forces you to grow and develop skills, and see through the superficial differences to the true common humanity that we all share.
In 1977 I was living in the UK (I had returned to go to nursing school), and the TV show Roots debuted. The nation was rooted to their seats, it was must watch TV. In one week conversations shifted. It was difficult to watch (I don’t believe I have ever watched it in its entirety since) but it was mind blowing. For many people of European descent (aka wypipo) it was the first time they had been forced to confront the reality of the horrific practice which was the enslavement of one race of fellow human beings for the economic gains of another. There had been many prophets before who had tried to raise the consciousness of the ignorant and uneducated. In the early 20th Century, Marcus Garvey had taught and organized and become a powerhouse, until the white establishment deemed him a threat and removed him from the scene. Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and many more leaders of their time worked hard to elevate the status of an oppressed people. But Roots took people back to the not too distant past, and forced people to confront the cancer and legacy of slavery.
The shame is that over 40 years later, it seems as if the same battle is being fought. The movie Harriet is bringing the heroine to the big screen, and hopefully will once again force a nation to visualize what it meant to be enslaved in these great United States. The series by the New York Times commemorated 1619, the year the first enslaved Africans arrived in the English colony of Virginia. So much history has been (pardon the pun) white-washed, that history books gloss over, omit, misrepresent the barbaric practices upon which America was built, and overlook the contributions of African Americans to the development of this country. Not forgetting the biggest lie, that Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ America, a country which was inhabited by hosts of Native Americans. Their story is equally barbaric and they continue to fight for equal rights and justice to this day.
I heard about an interesting study into how the human mind learns. It turns out that we are programed to learn from others, which is great. However, if we are left to our own devices with a new item (for example a toy with numerous knobs, levers, bells and whistles) we will find all kinds of things to do with it. On the other hand, if someone demonstrates how to manipulate the knobs, that is all we do. We are programable, capable of being manipulated. If we do not maintain our ability to think for ourselves, we fall prey to conspiracy theories, lies, gossip and propaganda. It takes effort and energy to think for ourselves, to seek out truth, to ask questions, to persist. It is far easier to ‘share’ a story without researching for ourselves. But we owe it to the future of the world and our children to set the bar higher.
This Friday I hope you will celebrate the amazing contributions of all people to the country you live in. Be a rebel, don’t follow the crowd! Or, as I learned from a box of matches once: ‘Doubt everything, find your own light!’
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!