The thing is, I’m not from here. I know that’s a cop out, but that seems to be something I’m good at; copping out. Forget that my twenty-first birthday was just a few short weeks ago and that I’m legally an adult and whatnot, because in spite of that I’m still just a very scared little girl.
I come from a country where the majority of people look like me. There is a sprinkling of white people, a sprinkling of people from Asia, and a sprinkling of people from India. Besides that the rest of us are all black, different shades of black mind you, but black nonetheless. Now I am in a place where there are so few of us (blacks) that I sometimes count how many I see, that once I spent a whole day out and only saw one other than myself. A sea of white people is what I call it. I’m in a sea of white people.
In Jamaica, our motto is “Out of many, one people.” We are taught in school about the voyages of Christopher Columbus; the fighting that there was over the Caribbean Islands among the British, Spanish, French and Dutch; the extinction of the original people who inhabited the Islands; and the Atlantic Slave Trade and how it brought West Africans to the Caribbean and North America. We learn that it is the mixture of all these peoples and their intermingling with each other that accounts for the different shades of our skin and textures of our hair, and that it is a mixture of the languages of these peoples that account for the dialect we speak.
We know about slavery. It happened to our forefathers, in our land, but they fought, and they were freed. We were a colony of Britain, but we gained independence. That was a long time ago. There are no white people whipping us anymore. There were no white people stopping my mother from buying a house, or my sisters and I from going to school. They were all in America and Canada and England. They weren’t with us. Sure. Every February we got reminded of what they did to us and we got angry and we hated them, but they were all in America and Canada and England. We never saw them. I never saw them. As time went on some of us realised that it didn’t really make sense to keep hating these people because of something their forefathers did to ours such a very long time ago. We began to forgive a little. We considered them somewhat as friends.
I’m in America now, the land of the white people, or rather the land that the white people stole (I learned that once I got here), and, again, it doesn’t really make sense for me to hate any one of them because of what I learned growing up. Firstly, as far as I know, none of them have blacks as slaves right now. The white people who actually did that are all dead. Secondly, I work and go to school with white people and they’re really nice. I have no reason to hate them. But then things like Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown happen – and those are the only two names I know because I never followed these stories in the news. I stopped watching the news several years ago. You can take a guess as to why. Apparently killing black people is something that is done here. And it’s fine. As long as you’re white, you can get away with it.
How the heck is that fine though?
Since coming here I’ve heard the word “diversity” a lot. I’ve seen it. I’ve heard it talked about. Apparently it’s something good and it’s something to be celebrated. It’s people from different backgrounds coexisting with all their differences, appreciating those differences, and using them to work toward different, or the same, goals in harmony. Everyone is valued.
Except that’s a lie. I’ve come to realise that a lot of the things being taught to large populations are lies. Just from things I happen to hear or read, because that’s how I come by most of what I know: it is less likely for someone to get a job if that someone has a black sounding name; out of a black and white man of similar build and facial features applying for the same job, both having extremely similar resumes and behaviour, the white man having a criminal record, it’s more likely that the white man will get the job; young black men get followed around all the time by cops, young white men don’t. I don’t really care to list all the injustices or wrongs that have been done to people of African descent by the hands of this nation, but I’m scared, uncomfortable then, knowing that some system is in place that is trying to kill me and everyone else like me. Some system is in place that is feeding and take care of white people. This is despite all the talk that we’re living in a new age of diversity and whatever else is being said that makes it look like non whites and whites are equal all of a sudden.
The truth is, in Jamaica there are corrupt police officers too. They kill poor, innocent youths and plant evidence to make it look like the innocent are guilty. They work on behalf of politicians that are less than upright. It’s unfair and it’s something we have to live with. However, something like that being done on such a large scale, as it is being done in this country, with what has gone on in history between the white race and the black race, with what has gone on between the white race and all other races, looks very different. I don’t know what to call it or what adjective to use to describe it; I don’t want to, but it does look drastically different. And I’m scared being here knowing that even though there are a lot of nice white people, there are still some who are trying to kill me and everyone else that looks like me, who are trying to kill everyone who is not like them. How am I supposed to respond to sketches and cartoons portraying the fear that black American mothers have for their sons? I can’t even relate well to black people in this country because their history is not the same as mine though we have in common the enslavement of our people. I feel like I have to now take on a history that does not really belong to me and live with this problem that is so large and present and I have absolutely no idea how I am to do that because if it was up to me I’d just close my eyes and have it not be there.
I usually refrain from speaking about things like this because of how uncomfortable they are for me and also because I know I am largely uninformed. I don’t think I should open my mouth and speak about something I know nothing, or very little, about. I’m only saying something now because I’m scared. It’s sad that I’m writing this out of fear but, unlike most of my fears, this one seems to have some ground on which to stand. Being a woman doesn’t save me from certain things like one would think. We get hurt in all the fighting too. We also get beat up. We also get shot. We get raped. We get killed.