“We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” ~ Maya Angelou.
Growing up a white kid in the heart of Jamaica provided me with the most mind-expanding education you can be privileged to have. I was young enough when I moved there not to have many pre-conceptions, and since I was welcomed into the homes of local families as just another child, the differences between us seemed what they were: superficial, only skin deep. In the primary (elementary) school that I attended, I was first seen as a novelty, for my schoolmates were less exposed than the people of the town I grew up in; it took a while before they could see that I bled red blood just like them. But once we started playing together we were all children.
If we are lucky, we are raised to believe in a world where superficial differences do not make people radically different from each other. Unfortunately, the world has not reached that level of progress yet, and the data reveals many life-threatening consequences of inequality, not only globally, but in our back yard.
Recently I read an article about Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records (Bob Marley was just one of his famous artistes). He also was white, moved to Jamaica as a kid, but unlike me he grew up within a limited privileged class at a time when Rastafarians were seen as dangerous, low-class and less than. He had a near death experience as a teenager, when his boat ran out of fuel near a remote part of the island. He went off looking for food and drink and was found, exhausted and dehydrated by a Rastafarian from a fishing village, and was nursed back to health. This changed the way he saw Rastas, and he began to listen and love a wider range of music than he had been brought up hearing. He started listening to the local sound, and soon had produced three number one hits in his island home. From that came the business that he is famous for today.
Another story I heard recently was of two young film-makers who embarked on a journey of reunification. The history of the British Empire (with apologies for a very rough summary) has left a legacy of division, oppression and colonization. On the Asian continent, Britain had ruled India since the 17th century, turning it from the largest economic power in the world into a source of economic power for the British Empire. As India struggled for independence, Britain came up with a solution, carving the nation into two countries, India and Pakistan. This capitalized on the religious differences, with Hinduism being the dominant religion of India, while in the regions of Pakistan being mostly Muslim. The British had exploited these differences over centuries of rule, the old ‘divide and conquer’ strategy.
Many Muslims who had been born in an area that is now India, had to relocate to Pakistan, and vice versa. The story that I listened to was of the grandson of a man (a Hindu) who had to leave the Pakistani village of his birth at the age of eight, and move to India. The grandson could feel his loss as he spoke of the beautiful village of his childhood that he could never revisit. The relocation of people from one place to another had been violent, as people were rounded up by force, and some were killed. What was noteworthy in this story was that the grandfather’s family had been hidden by another local family who were Muslims, until it was safe for them to travel.
The grandson, who had an Australian passport, was able to travel to his grandfather’s village, and film (in 3D) the streets and countryside that his grandfather had described so vividly. Armed with hand-drawn map (based on the memory of an eight-year-old child) he was even able to find the grandchildren of the Muslim family that had shielded his grandfather. He went to the edge of the valley where his grandfather had sent echoing shouts as a child. Back home, with the aid of technology and a virtual reality headset, he was able to transport his grandfather back to his ancestral home.
How have we allowed powerful people to keep us so divided? We are quick to judge and see people as ‘other’. Present day politicians are still using the hugely successful mantra of divide and conquer. In this 22nd year of the 21st century we are still being told that it is dangerous to be tolerant, to be accepting, to be willing to understand another person’s reality and history. Our children are being taught that books are dangerous, that truth is an offence, that history must be reframed so that it does not disturb people. It is up to us to resist and persist in telling a different story. We are all more alike than we are different, my friend.
On this Friday morning, I hope you will help to tell the stories that heal, that help us to understand each other better. Whether it is through reggae music, which Chris Blackwell did so much to spread around the world, or through art, we have to keep believing that together we are strong, that we can only succeed as a global village, one where everyone can thrive.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family.