On Emancipation and being a Black Woman: From Jamaica to North America

The Black skin is not a badge of shame, but rather a glorious symbol of national greatness. ~ Marcus Garvey

 

Ya Black!

Light-skinned. Dark-skinned. However you want to refer to us, one thing remains true: We’re Black! And our skin tone? Well, only the Black community cares about that, because to every other ethnicity/race, we’re still… (you guessed it): BLACK!

Emancipation Day was celebrated on August 1 in most of the Caribbean isles, and although the

Honour your Blackness! Uphold the dignity that comes with being Black! Photo courtesy of: www.dizievents.ch

physical chains became undone for most of us, there are still other chains we have to work on: Hair Texture/”Quality;” Shadeism/Colourism; The Negro Complex; and of course, how we treat the women in our community.

Since our Emancipation from slavery, we’ve been subjected to a number of atrocities. Black men were redlined throughout history, leading many of them to later develop what was called, “The Negro Complex;” (but that will be discussed in another post), and Black women were made to feel inferior in both our appearance and intellect and are often compared to our White counterparts. In effect, we were prescribed a standard for how we should look, dress, act, and be. This, in addition to our expectations when it comes on to being in a relationship with the Black man.

Hair Texture/Quality

Less than half a century after the Emancipation Proclamation in the U.S., Madame C.J. Walker “invented” a hair-straightening system that was the rage. It would straighten out that “nappy” hair at the expense of discomfort and burning of the scalp. And while she stated that her products were not created to emulate whiteness, it was apparent to some members of the Black community that this was indeed an attempt at removing as much of the Blackness from one’s identity as is possible.

Our hair is versatile, and can pretty much do anything.

 

Then, society took it a step further by denouncing our Blackness through our hair. Black hairstyles like cornrows and Afro puffs were considered “unprofessional,” and one’s intellectual capability is forgotten as the application process ended with one look at one’s hair. Even in predominantly Black societies, like Jamaica, for example, one is heavily critiqued for wearing dreads, and other “Black” hairstyles. I recall wearing cornrows to work once, and a co-worker came to ask if I needed someone to comb my hair, while offering her services. For the sake of my students who were seated in my class, I respectfully declined her asinine offer, while looking at her flowing weave under her receding hairline and her newly bleached skin.

Further, cornrows didn’t become ”chic” until some famous, white female, who has made no significant contribution to her own people or ours, started wearing them. It became obvious that our Blackness is only appreciated when it is modeled by women with European features. Emancipation, indeed, as our culture is suddenly rescued by people who have never been exposed to social oppression.

Shadeism/Colourism: the Bleaching Epidemic

The other large topic is that of colourism/shadeism. Being black with kinky hair has become such a travesty for our women, that we invest thousands of dollars per year on straightening our hair, through weaves or relaxer systems. But why stop there? Why not interrupt the natural pigmentation of our beautiful skin (which has the ability to absorb sunlight to an extensive degree without resulting in skin issues) by bleaching? As a Jamaican, I am saddened by how many people – male and female – think that this is a ticket out of poverty. The women assume that they can get better jobs and it heightens their chances of finding a wealthy partner, while the men use it as a method of attraction (for whom, I don’t know…).

Image may contain: 1 person, text

The Black Woman. Photo source: Unknown

At the same time, people who are darker skinned are shamed, by being referred to as “Black gyal” or “Likkle ugly black bwoy!” as the word “black” is often associated with being ugly. And while those uptown (wealthy) bleachers refer to their process as “toning,” the result is the same: skin-lightening. The funny thing is, in lightening the skin, it doesn’t erase one’s blackness. Ya still Black underneath all the chemicals that you have exposed your skin to, and you become a spectacle as it becomes apparent sooner or later that you did, in fact, bleach. Further, if you should move to another country, ya still… (YUP!): BLACK!!

Additionally, bleaching the skin highlights rejecting one’s own identity while embracing the identity of our colonial oppressors. We were basically conditioned to see ourselves as “less than” and therefore view “whiteness” or – in the case of bleaching – “lightness” as superior. Unfortunately, for us as a people, we have not moved away from the idea that we were considered “less than,” because bleaching is a direct perpetuation of that same inferiority complex that makes us feel the need to alter our appearance. The idea here is not to see ourselves as “better” than another race/ethnicity, but to recognize that we, too, have a place in society; we, too, are worthy of recognition, and; we, too, are valuable members of modern society in our own skin.

Jamaican society and the Black woman

The Black man in Jamaican society is always hailed as the breadwinner, the man of men, the King of the home, if you will. Regardless of the woman’s status (high level of education or economic status), she receives little respect and/or recognition from the Black man. The Black man is celebrated for his ability to sleep around while maintaining his status as husband/partner for a particular woman. The relationship is often beneficial to the black man, as he has a secure home along with the additional partners he has on the street.

The authenticity of the Black Jamaican woman. Photo courtesy of jamaicanloveblog.wordpress.com

The rationalization of this is that it is attributed to the attitudes developed during slavery, where one man – a bull – was paired with several women for breeding purposes. This is said to have trickled down into modern society where the Black man is innately drawn to multiple partners, even when he has a partner who deems the relationship to be “exclusive.” If this is the case, have we truly received emancipation?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary states that “Emancipation” means, “to free from any controlling influence.” It becomes clear, then, that our Black men are still in bondage, and the women continue to suffer along with them.

We celebrate our physical Emancipation from the powers that be, but as a group of people, we have not invested enough into ourselves and our well-being to truly achieve that “freedom” of which we speak. In general, our men have neglected to work collectively to liberate themselves from the system, and the women who have stuck with them throughout the struggles continue to feel the brunt of the men’s apathy towards their own freedom.

Being a Black Woman in North America

My perspective of being a Black woman is grounded in my experience as a Jamaican. I have lived in three other countries, and worked in two of the three. I have never felt truly accepted as a part of either of the North American societies that I had the privilege of living in. While one country exudes overt racism, and this is appreciated (I’ll explain why); the other country has the more hush-hush, covert form of said racism.

Image result for your english is good

The grammatically incorrect statement I often hear about my ability, as a Jamaican, to speak English. Photo courtesy of playbuzz.com

While living in a rural Florida community, I would have the one-off experience of people telling me they didn’t know Jamaicans were so smart, or that we spoke “such good English.” This is often expressed in very badly worded English on their part as well, which leaves me to question their level of intelligence, or whether these individuals have ever been exposed to our good friends over at Google. You see the motive to belittle your intelligence as a Black woman from the Caribbean; you understand where it is all going; and you deal with it (however you choose). Easy. Thankfully, I’ve never had to deal with the extremists or White supremacists; and I hope I never have to.

Then I moved to Canada.

Endless opportunities exist here. The overly-friendly nature of most of the people I’ve met throughout the years keeps one feeling safe. But then, overtime, you’ll notice unwarranted questions about your hair texture (and the awkward reminder that your hair is thick), or random people recognizing your accent and immediately launching into awkward convos about the many places they’ve visited in your home country. I recall someone reminding me that Jamaicans are usually dark people, and asked me pointedly if I was mixed or had other people in my lineage. While I do, I had to remind the individual that Jamaica is, in fact, a melting pot. We are a conglomeration of different races/ethnicities and we are proud of that.

But then I remembered that we do make it burdensome to be Black in Jamaica. The light-skinned women were preferred as bankers, and most advertisements for the face of a company, such as a bar, massage parlor, or hotel, specifically requested that only “brown-skinned” women need apply. Often, you’d find the darker women working in housekeeping and completing janitorial duties. Which then adds fuel to the unnecessary fire of bleaching. White/Light-skinned, straight-haired women fared better economically and in finding a mate, than those who were darker-complexioned, especially if they maintained their natural hair.

Emancipation is an all-encompassing concept that covers the idea of “freedom.” The unfortunate thing is that people tend to associate freedom with bars, chains, and bondage, without recognizing that one’s mental state plays a strong role in the level of freedom one has attained. We have a long way to go, my fellow Jamaicans. And no amount of politics, bleaching cream, or weaves can bring about that change; it has to start with how you see yourself as a Black person in modern society, and how you treat others who look just like you!


Jodi-Ann is a Master of Arts in Geography graduate who enjoys helping international students, and represents her native island, Jamaica, at every opportunity. An educator at heart, she enjoys taking each opportunity to offer advice and answer questions about school, life and work. If you want to get to know her, walk with your pet cat, one of Jodi’s published books, and chocolate – the good kind!

Sub-par Journalism, Social Media, Usain Bolt

We get it: reporting has been reduced to sub-par journalism and social media. Nothing to see here. But history was made not once, but TWICE, last night (no, not when Justin Gatlin won Silver… Again!). Usain Bolt pulled a hat-trick for being the first male to win 3 consecutive gold medals AND Andre de Grasse was the first male to win a medal for Canada in the 2016 Olympics. Sure, looks innocent enough right? But how about when it is reported like this:

Rio 1

Headline courtesy of the Metro Halifax Daily Paper

It Gets Worse

Journalism is expected to be fair and balanced, unlike the stuff we see spewing out of FOX and other one-sided media outlets. It is supposed to provide information, mainly to the benefit of the target whilst supplying the viewer (or reader) with all the necessary information that makes up the news article.

But whether the sub-heading was sarcasm is yet to be seen:

Rio 2

Headline courtesy of the Metro Halifax Daily Paper

This is, at best, sub-par and in my opinion, the person who wrote and the one who authorized this headline are in need of schooling. Sure, capture the attention of the reader, but do not stoop so low as to become reminiscent of the people at FOX News.

Both these wonderful men shared a piece of history last eve and one was undermined for the benefit of sub-par, high school newspaper-style journalism. Get your act together Metro Halifax!


Jodi-Ann is a Master of Arts in Geography candidate in Nova Scotia who enjoys helping international students and represents her native island, Jamaica, every opportunity she gets. An educator at heart, she enjoys taking each opportunity to offer advice and answer questions about school, life and work. If you want to get to know her, walk with your pet cat, one of Jodi’s published books, and chocolate – the good kind!

Olympic Fever

As a Jamaican, it is clear that Olympic Fever would have caught on the second all Track events started. But it’s the memes that have me going after Usain Bolt’s electrifying win against the pharmaceutical warehouse, Justin Gatlin. Take a look for yourself:

Up to 80m in, Gatlin was still in the lead; but Usain is a great guy who makes you feel good about yourself, if even for 6.03 seconds.

Gatlin 3Gatlin lost his spark after walking off after he won his heats without so much a word to his fellow athletes. His doping was yet again brought up and his arrogance helped zero. Cockiness, sir, gets you nowhere.Gatlin 2I hope that he somehow lives through this trying time…Gatlin 1Those boos from the spectators were uncalled for, but meh:

Courtesy of independent.co.uk

Then, of course, we Jamaicans had our day (or night):

13962862_10155217947497575_5096064191232861859_oPhoto courtesy of Jodi-Ann Francis

13988205_10155218047667575_9004260726531516919_oThe bus conductor reference is in relation to the amount of “silvers” (Coins, in Jamaica) he has gotten over the years. Photo courtesy of Gregory Gentles. 13923533_10153688248507301_4836916842055936407_oAnd even our religious folks got a chance to chime in! Photo courtesy of Renae Excell.

Justin, leave graciously!


Jodi-Ann is a Master of Arts in Geography candidate in Nova Scotia who enjoys helping international students and represents her native island, Jamaica, every opportunity she gets. An educator at heart, she enjoys taking each opportunity to offer advice and answer questions about school, life and work. If you want to get to know her, walk with your pet cat, one of Jodi’s published books, and chocolate – the good kind!