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.

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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!

Pure white dolly fi Christmas

Two spelling systems are used for the Jamaican language below. The first, which I call ‘chaka-chaka’, is based on English spelling. The second, ‘prapa-prapa’, is the specialist system designed by the Jamaican linguist Frederic Cassidy. It has been updated by the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona. After the two Jamaican versions, there’s an English translation.

CHAKA-CHAKA SPELLING

Last week, mi go a one uptown pharmacy an mi buck up one a mi fren. She a nyam up herself bout di whole heap a white dolly. She carry mi go look pon di shelf dem full a dolly. Outa many, not one degeh-degeh black dolly.

So mi go aks di manager a who a buy di white dolly dem. Im seh a black people an a dem same one a bleach. Mi glad im see seh di white dolly dem have suppen fi do wid di bleaching. But dat nah stop di pharmacy from sell di white dolly dem. Money a money. An wen di bleacher dem skin burn up, a di said same pharmacy dem ha fi go fi get treatment.

Yu see dis dolly business! A serious ting. Dolly mek fi force gyal-pikni fi look after baby. It no natural. A fi brainwash di poor lickle pikni dem. An a no dolly one. Dolly live eena house wid kitchen: stove an fridge an pot an pan an plate an cup an saucer. Dat a fi mek di gyal-pikni dem know seh a dem ha fi cook.

An dolly house have bed fi mek up an floor fi sweep. Nuff, nuff housework. Wa mek wi no gi boy-pikni dolly fi play wid an dolly house fi look after? Becau man tink a dem run tings an a so dem set it. Certain work dem nah do. An it look like seh di fuul-fuul man dem no understand a who run di kitchen run di world. Mek dem keep outa kitchen. Dem ha fi nyam anyting dem get.

Pon top a dat, wen yu gi one black gyal-pikni white dolly fi look after, a set you a set her up fi mind other people pikni wen she grow big. Weh she a go get white baby fi herself? She mighta find one nice white genkleman fi gi her baby. But dat deh baby still nah go look like di white dolly dem. An di baby nah go look like di muma to dat.

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BIG UP ZACKS!

One next problem wid di white dolly dem a di tall hair. A di dolly dem mek so much black woman eena Jamaica a buy false hair. Well, some a di hair a real-real hair. But a no fi dem. Di woman dem did play wid white dolly wen dem a pikni, an dem waan look like di dolly. It grieve mi wen mi find out seh Jamaica a spend one billion dollar every year pon foreign hair. Billion, mi seh! Wi no have nutten else fi do wid all a dat deh money? No sah, mi cyaan believe it.

Tell yu di truth, mi did put een extension couple time. Mi get ketch wid tall hair. Mi grow pon white dolly. Mi have one sweet-sweet picture wid me an mi lickle bredda an mi white dolly. Mi right hand round mi bredda shoulder, an mi white dolly prims up eena mi left hand. Mi a look after di two a dem same way.

But mi grow out a white dolly an tall hair. Mi done know seh some a dem tall-hair woman an dem deh man weh love tall hair tink seh all like me no got no ambition. A walk bout wid mi ‘dry’ head a gwaan like seh mi have hairstyle an mi tink mi nice. Well, mi ha fi big up fi mi barber Zacks. Im shop deh a Pulse pon Trafalgar Road. Wen im done style fi mi ‘piki-piki’ head, not one a dem tall-hair woman hotter than me!

PRAPA-PRAPA SPELIN

Laas wiik, mi go a wan optoun faamasi an mi bok op wan a mi fren. Shi a nyam op arself bout di uol iip a wait dali. Shi kyari mi go luk pan di shelf dem ful a dali. Outa meni, nat wan dege-dege blak dali.

So mi go aks di manija a uu a bai di wait dali dem. Im se a blak piipl an a dem siem wan a bliich. Mi glad im si se di wait dali dem av sopn fi du wid di bliichin. Bot dat naa stap di faamasi from sel di wait dali dem. Moni a moni. An wen di bliicha dem skin bon op, a di sed siem faamasi dem a fi go fi get chriitment.

Yu si dis dali bizniz! A siiriyos ting. Dali mek fi fuors gyal-pikni fi luk aafta biebi. It no nachral. A fi brienwash di puor likl pikni dem. An a no dali wan. Dali liv iina ous wid kichin: stuov an frij an pat an pan an pliet an kop an saasa. Dat a fi mek di gyal-pikni dem nuo se a dem a fi kuk.

An dali ous av bed fi mek op an fluor fi swiip. Nof, nof ous work. Wa mek wi no gi bwai-pikni dali fi plie wid an dali ous fi luk aafta? Bikaa man tingk a dem ron tingz an a so dem set it. Sortn work dem naa du. An it luk laik se di fuul-fuul man dem no andastan a uu ron di kichin ron di worl. Mek dem kip outa kichin. Dem a fi nyam enting dem get.

Pan tap a dat, wen yu gi wan blak gyal-pikni wait dali fi luk aafta, a set yu a set ar op fi main ada piipl pikni wen shi gruo big. We shi a go get wait biebi fi arself? Shi maita fain wan nais wait jenklman fi gi ar biebi. Bot dat de biebi stil naa go luk laik di wait dali dem. An di biebi naa go luk laik di muma tu dat.

BIG OP ZACKS!

Wan neks prablem wid di wait dali dem a di taal ier. A di dali dem mek so moch blak uman iina Jamieka a bai faals ier. Wel som a di ier a riil-riil ier. Bot a no fi dem. Di uman dem did plie wid wait dali wen dem a pikni, an dem waahn luk laik di dali. It griiv mi wen mi fain out se Jamieka a spen wan bilyan dala evri ier pan farin ier. Bilyan, mi se! Wi no av notn els fi du wid aal a dat de moni? Nuo sa, mi kyaahn biliiv it.

photo(1).jpgTel yu di chruut, mi did put iin ekstenshan kopl taim. Mi get kech wid taal ier. Mi gruo pan wait dali. Mi av wan swiit-swiit pikcha wid mii an mi likl breda an mi wait dali. Mi rait an roun mi breda shoulda, an mi wait dali primz op iina mi lef an. Mi a luk aafta di tuu a dem siem wie.

Bot mi gruo out a wait dali an taal ier. Mi don nuo se som a dem taal-ier uman an dem de man we lov taal ier tingk se aal laik mi no gat no ambishan. A waak bout wid mi ‘jrai’ ed a gwaahn laik se mi av ier stail an mi tingk mi nais. Wel, mi a fi big op fi mi baaba Zacks. Im shap de a Pulse pan Trafalgar Road. Wen im don stail fi mi ‘piki-piki’ ed, nat wan a dem taal ier uman ata dan mii!

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

Only White Dolls For Christmas

Two weeks ago, I ran into one of my friends at an uptown pharmacy. She was carrying on about all the white dolls.  And she took me to have a look at the shelves of dolls.  Out of many, not one single black doll.

So I asked the manager who was buying the white dolls.  He said it was black people and they are the same ones who are bleaching their skin.  I was glad he made the connection between the white dolls and skin bleaching.  But that’s not stopping the pharmacy from selling the white dolls.  It’s all about money.  And when the bleachers’ skin gets damaged, they will have to go right back to the pharmacy for medication.

This doll business is a very serious issue.  Dolls are designed to condition little girls to care for babies. It’s not natural.  It’s to brainwash the poor little children. And it’s not just dolls. A doll lives in a house with a kitchen:  stove and fridge and pots and pans and plates and cups and saucers.  That’s to make little girls know it’s their duty to cook.

And a doll house has beds to be made and floors to be swept.  Lots and lots of house work. Why don’t we let boys play with dolls and look after doll houses?  Because men think they’re in charge and that’s just how things should be.  They’re not going to do certain jobs. And it seems as if these foolish men don’t understand that whoever is in charge of the kitchen rules the world.  Let them stay out of kitchen.  They will have to eat whatever is dished out.

Then when you give a white doll to a little black girl, you’re telling her that when she grows up she’ll have to look after other people’s children. How will she get her own white baby? She might have a child with a caring white man.  But that child won’t look like the white dolls.  And the baby won’t resemble the mother all that much.

BIG UP ZACKS!

Another problem with the white dolls is the long, flowing hair. It’s the dolls that have caused so many black woman in Jamaica to buy false hair.  Well, some of the hair is a actually real.  But it’s not theirs.  As children, these women played with white dolls. And they want to look like the dolls.  I was appalled to learn that Jamaica imports one billion dollars’ worth of foreign hair every year. A billion!  Don’t we have anything else to do with all of that money?  I simply can’t believe it.

photo-8I have to admit that I’ve put in extensions a couple of times.  I got caught with this long-hair fashion. And I was raised on white dolls.  I have a lovely picture of myself, my younger brother and my white doll. My right hand is around my brother’s shoulder, and my white doll is sitting pretty in my left hand.  I’m looking after both of them in exactly the same way.

But I grew out of white dolls and long hair.  I do know that some of those women with long hair – and those men who love long hair – think that women like me have no ambition.  Acting as if our short, natural hair is stylish and we know we’re attractive. Well, I have to big up my barber Zacks.  His shop is at Pulse on Trafalgar Rd.  When he’s finished styling my natural hair, not one of those women with long hair is hotter than me!