Ugly, Poor, Ignorant and Black!

On Christmas day, I got a blistering email from a man who was angered by my column, ‘Psssst! Hi Sexy!’ He wasn’t vexed because I’d written off out-of-order men who call out to women on the street. It was my “ugly message” coming the day before Kwanzaa. I hadn’t paid any attention to what he called the internalised racism of the fictional female character I’d quoted.

KwanzaaHighlighting colour and class, the woman dissed the gardener who pssssted her. As far as she was concerned, he was too ugly, poor, ignorant and black to be ‘looking’ her. Of course, I was not endorsing the woman’s words. As I said in the column, if the man hadn’t provoked her, she wouldn’t have had the chance to list what she considered to be all his limitations.

When I repeated that point in response to the email, I got a multiple-choice exam. Suppose the “general public” overheard this interrogation: “You have colour, you have education, you smart”? What assumption would be made about the person being questioned? It’s “A. a black person; B. a white person; C. a browning”.

I mischievously replied to say that some of my white friends tell me that white is not the ideal colour in Jamaica; it’s brown. So we could eliminate white right away. But I did take the man’s point: a black woman really should not be dissing a black man in this way. And I should have said that. So I decided to write a conciliatory column this week.

STEPPING UP IN LIFE

But I kept wondering if that angry woman was actually suffering from internalised racism. What if she simply knew the right buttons to push to let her unwanted suitor know how much she despised him? And, notice, she didn’t say ‘black and ugly’. The man’s ugliness was independent of his blackness.

change-and-planning-in-education-systems-and-social-mobility-25-638

And one could make a fairly good case for his ignorance. He didn’t know how the woman would react and he foolishly risked rejection by propositioning her. And why shouldn’t this woman want a man who is not poor? It’s about stepping up in life. And why can’t she express a preference for a man who is not black?

So many black men of all social classes in Jamaica have a clear preference for women who are not black. Do we automatically assume that they are suffering from “internalised racism”? Or is it that they always happen to fall in love with a particular woman who just happens to be not black?

What is good for the goose should be good for the gander. But I know my angry male reader would not buy that argument. In fact, this is what he said in another email: “No wonder the yute dem a bleach out if a ‘cultured’ person like yourself indirectly participate[s] in the transference of self-denigration”.

Let’s assume that this presumably black woman has, in fact, internalised racism. Where does this racism come from? Did she learn it in the womb? At home? At school? From the media? Where are the positive images of blackness in Jamaican society? Do a little experiment today and look at the pictures of the ideal Jamaican family in advertisements. It’s almost always a black man, a light-skinned woman, a black boy and a light-skinned girl.

There was a brief moment in the 1970s when black women were in fashion. White and near-white men married black women. It was a new style of trophy wife who proved that her husband was ‘right on’. Later in life, many of these men reverted to type, choosing wives that looked just like them. And some black men didn’t even pretend that they wanted black women as ‘trophy’ wives.

ON THE SHELF

Then there was a very facety response to the column posted on The Gleaner‘s website: “Most women your age have been on the shelf for years without any takers. They would give their eye tooth to have a man acknowledge them. Relish the attention my dear, it means that you still ‘got it goin on’.”

ageismTalk about ageism! So if you are an old woman you must feel flattered by the attention of strangers on the street. No matter what they say? I posted back, “Me have use fi my eye tooth”. Most women, on the shelf or not, don’t object on principle to a compliment from a well-intentioned man. We certainly know how to distinguish between a compliment and an insult.

The most elaborate compliment I’ve got on the street came from a security guard who was full of lyrics. He said to me, “Yu don’t have no sister”. It was more a statement than a question. I do have sisters but since there’s no law that says you must tell the truth to nosy strangers, I said no.

So here’s his response: “Mi know! Yu have di whole of dem shape”. Mi nearly dead wid laugh. All of the shapeliness of my potential sisters was compounded in me. How could you get vexed with a piece of lyrics like that? I thanked the nice gentleman for his compliment and kept moving. He graciously made no effort to detain me. Knowing how to compliment a woman has nothing to do with looks, social class, colour or education. It’s a gift!

Advertisements

Getting ‘Bun’ In the Chinese Grocery

confucious_institute1

Confucius Institute, UWI, Mona

The Confucius Institute at the University of the West Indies, Mona, hosted its first conference in June. The theme was ‘Dragons in the Archipelago – the Chinese-Caribbean Experience’. This ‘experience’ wasn’t just about the Chinese. It also included their encounters with other racial groups in the Caribbean.

The history of the relationship between Africans and Chinese in Jamaica is quite troubling. And it’s all the fault of the British. In those long ago days when Britannia ruled the waves, the British assumed the right to move people across the seas as they saw fit. Chinese were exported to the Caribbean as indentured workers in the 19th century.

Dr Victor Chang, a retired senior lecturer who taught literature at the University of the West Indies, Mona, gave an excellent talk on the Chinese riots that took place in Jamaica almost a century ago. Dr Chang quoted an excerpt from Colonial Office correspondence between Attorney General Gloster and Marryat, sent from Trinidad and dated April 3, 1807.

Writing about the immigration of Chinese workers into Trinidad, Gloster states: “For my part, I think it is one of the best schemes; and if followed up with larger importation, and with women, that it will give this colony a strength far beyond what the other colonies possess. It will be a barrier between us and the negroes, with whom they do not associate; and consequently to whom they will always offer a formidable opposition.”

CHINESE SEX DRIVE

imagesSo it was a set-up from the very beginning. The newly arrived Chinese were supposed to be permanently at war with black people. But what shortsighted cynics like Gloster did not anticipate is the fact that some barriers can be easily overturned, given the right motivation. The sex drive is a powerful social leveller.

The 1918 Chinese riots in Jamaica were a direct result of the lack of Chinese women. Dr Chang quotes the account of events given by the Jamaican historian Howard Johnson: “Fong Sue, the Chinese grocer, had left his shop on Sunday, 7 July, in charge of his paramour, a Creole woman, Caroline Lindo. He was not expected to return that night.

“Acting Corporal McDonald, who was in charge of the Ewarton Police Station, took advantage of Fong Sue’s absence to sleep with his paramour. Fong Sue returned that same night unexpectedly, at about 11 o’clock, to find McDonald in an intimate embrace with Lindo and, as one contemporary police report delicately noted, ‘in plain clothes’.

“McDonald was given a beating by Fong Sue, with the help of a few Chinese friends, and then made good his escape. He did not return to the police station but remained hidden in the bushes for two days. He eventually reappeared at the police station on the night of Tuesday, 9 July, to resume his duties.”

In less academic language: Fong Sue get bun inna im owna shop. And I wonder about Miss Lindo. Was she just using Fong Sue to get a regular supply of groceries? Trading salt fish for salt fish! And as for acting Corporal McDonald! He seemed to be doing a very good job of acting for Fong Sue. Until Fong Sue, acting like a real Jamaican, beat up his you know what.

I doubt very much that McDonald was wearing plain clothes when he was surprised by Fong Sue. Most likely, he wasn’t wearing any clothes at all. And he certainly wasn’t on official duty – unless Ms Lindo had summoned him to report a robbery in progress. Or to offer herself to be carried away!

VICTIMS AND VILLAINS

So how did this unfortunate episode of Fong Sue getting bun turn into a race riot? Both men and women get bun in Jamaica all the time. Yu either tek yu lickle bun and eat it quietly. Or yu mek up whole heap of noise an carry on bad. But it doesn’t become national news. Unless yu head tek yu an yu decide to act like a mad man or woman and commit murder.

HappySabbathFaceSo what made this particular bun so hot? Well, a rumour started that acting Corporal McDonald had actually been murdered by Fong Sue. And The Gleaner is partly to blame. Dr Chang reports that, “The Gleaner of July 8 provides a more sinister and innuendo-filled account which ignores the sexual aspect altogether.”

Chang elaborates: “It claims that McDonald, ‘on whom a savage act is alleged to have been committed by the Chinese, is now missing … a decent, intelligent young man, and a strict disciplinarian had spoken to the Chinese about violating the law of the land by selling on the Sabbath’.” So Fong Sue is now a villain, not a victim.

How does an allegedly ‘strict disciplinarian’ like acting Corporal McDonald end up in Fong Sue’s shop at 11 p.m. locked down with Ms Lindo? And what’s the mysterious ‘savage act’ that Fong Sue is supposed to have perpetrated? It was rumoured that he had pickled McDonald, possibly for sale as salt meat.

That’s the kind of idiocy that results from using people as barriers. Ignorance breeds distrust and starts riots. Even after McDonald turned up very much alive, if not well, the rioting continued and spread across four parishes! Chinese shops were burnt to the ground. A very high price to pay for one ‘bun’!