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Looking in the Mirror

Who am I? Bahamians are a sensitive lot when it comes to identity. I am one of the foremost sufferers from this anxiety of being. This comes from my mulatto / mangra / light brown skin.

As it stands the Bahamian identity is constructed as black, ghetto and male. This construction ignores, deliberately I believe, the 20 percent or so of the country that happen to be white. I have inadvertently asked a few white Bahamians “so, where are you from?” It’s polite conversation with a tourist but it’s the surest, most direct way to insult a native.

To be called white in the Bahamas is another way to say that you do not belong. Those who don’t belong are tourists. Visitors. Just passing through. Seaweed. Driftwood. In Nassau the quickest insult is usually to call me “white boy”. Hit a shot on the basketball court and I will hear “buhy! You let white-boy-archah score on you” or something to that effect. They know that I’m not white, but my skin-color places me in a liminal space. I’m not white, but to their minds I’m not black enough.

This color line is tricky. It’s no where near as rigid as the “one drop” rule that governs blackness in the United States. The Bahamian black/white line is a fluid boundary that varies in different islands and even in different settlements / villages on the same island. For example on the same island of Eleuthera, I am read as black in Tarpum Bay and white in Lower Bogue.

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The passing of my Grandmother

It was a nice funeral.

In the Bahamas we have this strange habit, and I don’t know how many other societies do this, where we let the body repose. This basically means that the dead body is made up to go on display and just sits there in the coffin.

This is seriously freaky shit. The coroner basically becomes a taxidermist. Sometimes they make the face look all rubbery and fat and they put on too much make up. In this case, with my grandmother, who died in December, they made her up so that she looked like she was still alive. I swear that I saw her breathe.

Why they do this, I will never know or understand.

The service was interesting. Nice, as they say. This was the first time that I stepped foot inside a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall since I left that religion five years ago. Nothing had changed. Nothing but the paint on the walls and some of the plants lining the driveway, but that same feeling was there.

I felt a lot of eyes on me though. Judging, probing eyes looking for flaws. It’s so awkward now.

Mum had converted to Jehovah’s Witness in her later years, I’m not sure exactly when. Let’s say the last fifteen years or so. At the time, I was one of them too, so it was a happy day when she got baptized.

When I left the church, she never cut me off like the others did. She always said she was praying for me everynight and when I grew my hair and braided it she never liked it, but at least she talked to me.

Somehow she found a way to stay in the JW church and get her cake too. Birthday cake that is. As JW’s aren’t supposed to celebrate birthdays or Easter, or Christmas or just about anything, she was able to keep one foot in the door and the other with her ‘worldly’ family till she died. A real smart woman. I still wonder why she converted. I wonder what her reasons were. Guess I can only speculate now.

Even after all this time, I still don’t know what to feel. Death is a funny thing. To get through a day of this life we build up walls of clichés, throwing around little stock phrases to stand for actual thought, to simulate actual feeling. Death breaks that wall down and leaves you as you really are. Naked, alone and afraid.

I never know what to say at funerals. I never know what to do. All I have is a terminated relationship and a hell of a lot of questions. Could I have done more? The answer is always yes. Did I ever want to?

That one takes a bit longer to answer.

Bob Kinnear = Bullshitter

TheStar.com | GTA | Rumours blamed for killing TTC deal: “”

Kinnear, who originally promised Torontonians that they’d have 48 hours’ notice of any TTC strike, called Saturday’s surprise strike with just over an hour’s notice.

That, he said, was to keep angry transit users from assaulting drivers and other TTC staff.

One word is necessary to summarize the above: Bullshit.

Maybe that’s two words. But please Mr. Kinnear, spare us the condescension. You put your union members in more danger of being assaulted with your rash decision and broken promise. Why not let the TTC end its operation normally at 2:30? Why not just give Torontonians the 48 hours notice that you said they would get? Your problem wasn’t with the city, it was an internal issue that seems to deal with poor communication between you and your union members. Absolutely unbelievable.

(If the above tirade confuses you, please visit the Toronto Star’s coverage of the surprise TTC strike that paralyzed Toronto over the weekend)

Disney Princesses

Thought I would share this from the March 18th Metro, Ottawa edition. This from the director of the movie Enchanted, which is not a bad flick by the way. The director of the film Kevin Lima is talking about the moment he first met Amy Adams. Listen to this:

She looked like a Disney Princess to begin with — she had the big round eyes, the fair skin, the little perky nose.

Isn’t that just down right white and dandy. If you check it he’s right though. Disney has been making animated films since 1937 and they haven’t ever thought to include a black heroine. Should we count Jasmine from Aladdin? Or did the Anti-Arab sentiment of that movie cancel her out? Hmm.

But wait! There’s a big fuss about Disney’s newest traditionally animated film coming out in 2009. It’s called the Frog Princess and guess what? It includes their very first African-American princess character. It’s set in New Orleans and …

Don’t you already know?

The main villain is a voodoo priest. I really didn’t see that coming.

Obay Phase Two Revealed

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Torontoist: Obay Phase Two Revealed

Well, the secret is out. I was fascinated with the Obay ads as well as everyone else. They were brilliantly done. It’s just that now we know who was behind them, it’s… anti-climactic. I just wish they were promoting something more… um… interesting. Somehow “Ontario Colleges” as the punch line for some thing this cool underwhelms… Oh well.

But, that being said, I was having this very argument with a friend of mine over coffee: University isn’t for everyone. In fact it’s probably a colossal waste of time for a lot of the people there. Academia has become a business though and higher and higher numbers of recruits are needed to keep the profits coming…

And here is the big question for me: If I knew then what I know now, would I have gone to University? I’m still trying to answer that one.

Race and Gender in US Presidential Politics

Democracy Now! | Race and Gender in Presidential Politics: A Debate Between Gloria Steinem and Melissa Harris-Lacewell

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: And so, to pretend that we can somehow take [race and gender] out of the conversation when a white woman runs against a black man, when she tears up at being sort of beat up by him, when her husband can come in and rally around her and suggest that we need to sort of support her because she’s having difficulties, while Barack Obama is getting death threats, basically lynching threats on him and his family…

I’ve been meaning to put this up for a while. It’s still an excellent debate with some good points to ponder… Is there still a race now anyway?

Pimping Black History Month

Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: Pimping Black History Month

Was led to this link and just had to share it. Now that I think about it haven’t seen much about Black history at all so far up north…

Racist graffiti at York University

CityNews: York University Students March After Racist Graffiti Attack:

Hundreds of angry students at York University gave their president the boot from a meeting to talk about racist graffiti found on school grounds.

The “N” word, along with “Go Back To Africa”, were scrawled on the door of the Black Student’s Alliance (BSA) on Tuesday.

Even more upsetting for the students was the University’s lack of response. E-mails and calls to York Administration went unanswered, and when the school’s president showed up to the rally, he was asked to leave.

And this at my alma mater. sigh. The conversations written on the washroom walls and cubicles around York has been dredging this territory for a few years now, so I’m not surprised. (Yes, I do read that stuff) However, for someone to write it on the Black Student Association’s (BSA) front door after Martin Luther King day is, as they say, taking it to a whole ‘nother level.

However, the BSA’s decision to shut out Mr. Mamdouh Shoukri, the new university president, from their awareness event seems shortsighted. First, it wasn’t him who put up the racist graffiti. Second, the man was born in Egypt. Last I heard, that was still in Africa; so the graffiti is as much against him as it is to any of the students in the BSA. Third, the time between the incident and his response was a reasonable 24 hours. Yes, it is a very short response, but the “its too late” rhetoric is way too melodramatic and OTT. Reparations are also ‘too late’, but we’d still take ‘em; why not this little olive branch? And fourth, if they were as interested in getting his response as they claim, they would have let him talk at the event. Seems like a lot of unnecessary grandstanding going on. Maybe they thought that he was trying to steal some of their thunder and the publicity that they drummed up. Fair enough. But haven’t we come far enough to be just a little open-minded? Hear another side, maybe?

What I’m really curious about is a counter-factual. Imagine if the female and white Lorna Marsden, – outgoing York president – was still in office, what would the official York reaction have been? Would she have gotten the statement out sooner than Mr. Shoukri? Would she have even attempted to walk into that gathering? On both counts I’m pretty sure the answer would be NO. And would the BSA members have been so strident in their disrespect had it been her instead of Mr. Shoukri? Again, I think not. Why? I’ll let you think about that one and tell me what you come up with…

But BSA histrionics aside and back to the main point: Anti-Black Racism is still here in the 21st Century. Even in multi-cultural Canada. Shock of shocks.

Debate on Barack Obama.

Democracy Now! | Barack Obama and the African American Community: A Debate with Michael Eric Dyson and Glen Ford:

The above link will take you to an excellent debate on DemocracyNOW concerning the impact of Barack Obama and the implications of an Obama presidency on black people.

I especially like this quote from Glen Ford:

We’re in this era of firsts, and the ultimate first, a first—possibly a first black president. But we already had two firsts. Colin Powell was one of them, and Condoleezza Rice, his successor as secretary of state [was another]. How did that redound to the benefit of black people for the United States to have a black – put a black face on imperialism, on aggressive war, on violations of international law? How does that make black people look better in the world? Is that the kind of burden that black people want to carry around?

Again, a problem is that Obama, through no fault of his own, has to carry a burden for ‘black people’. And this is whether he wants to or not. Just ask Tiger Woods for his opinion on this. I believe that Obama does deploy his blackness strategically, and so the criticisms are warranted. But as Ford points out, a black-face (I mean this in both senses of the term) on imperialism is not something to hope for.

On the Victory of Barack Obama in Iowa

Visual diversity means little.

The white man has convinced us, and some of their own no doubt, that they are a homogenous group. Believe me, if black people did not exist in the world, white people would get on with the far more important work of killing other white people. However, since we do exist and enter their space, we suffice as target practice.

You could have a perfectly mixed and ‘diversified’ sample, and have no actual diversity. Or put another way, a room full of white people can be incredibly diverse. In that room you may have some Jewish people, some from Russia, an Irish descendant from New York, English nobility and members of the Canadian working class and they would in all likelihood, disagree on everything. The myth of racial solidarity is exactly that: A Myth. It was created out of necessity in and around the Caribbean sugar plantations, and has persisted until today. I say this in the hope that Black people will stop talking about “white people” as if they were some monolithic political party, but also in the hope that I can remember to stop talking about “black people”.

If there were no white people in the world, Blackness would not matter, and we would then get to the more important work of remembering why we hate each other. Similarity of color means nothing. Two black people may have nothing to talk about and nothing else in common. The sooner this truth hits us, the sooner we can move on to more profitable stereotyping.

The smokescreen of visual diversity and the political cushion it provides should not be underestimated. People generally assume that color of skin comes along with an ideology. To be Black is to be liberal, and if one lives in the US, a democrat. Black people have rhythm, are athletic and listen to rap music. Right. We also assume that because a certain government administration has x amount of Blacks in high positions, x amount of Latinos, z amount of “non-white” people, it is diverse. You can hire as much of these people as you want and engineer complete visual diversity with every shade of skin under the sun and it could, I emphasize could, mean nothing. All of these visually diverse people who look nothing alike may be intellectual clones.

What does “multi-cultural” even mean? Again, a room full of white people can be multi-cultural. But multi-culturalism is the hot word of the day. The buzz word. Another useless plaything of a word that goes down smooth but has no nutritional value. It’s a politically-correct junk-food tortilla-chip of a word. Multi-culturalism, as far as I can see, only means visual diversity, which is only a useful gauge of telling how many black people are in a room, and as I am arguing, this doesn’t mean much.

I am not saying that we should throw away the quotas and the affirmative action policies; most bureaucrats in their more lucid moments will say that these programs encourage diversity, and perhaps they do. Since we live in a visual society and crave visual stimulation, I guess we will have to settle for visual diversity. Just don’t be surprised when everyone says the same things.

I offer you these observations only because they have occurred to me, not because I offer an alternative or even a point. Do you expect me to come up with everything? I am only a writer. I have no credentials other than what you have just read. If I had a PhD would it matter? Or would it take you that much longer to realize that I am full of shit?

If I have a point, it is this: there are forces that exist out there, forces that are shaping our minds, our opinions, our outlook, and the majority – regardless of color – are plugging in and zoning out. To be awake and alert takes effort, RADICAL effort. We need to forget what people say, forget what color they are and watch and remember what they do. The important thing is the degree of correlation between words and deeds. This process takes a lot longer. It takes a lot more work. Your mileage may vary. But maybe, just maybe, you will go a day longer without being duped.

Another one is born every day and I’d hate for it to be you.