I teared up when I heard the news that reggae has been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, recognized for “its contribution to international discourse on issues of injustice, resistance,
love and humanity.” I teared up because, let’s face it, Jamaica is a tiny island, a dot in the ocean, and an icon who changed the world with his music and lyrics came out of that tiny island. My
aunt worked with Bob Marley who popularized reggae music and sent it forth into the world. I remember my mom telling me about the day my aunt introduced him to her and my
“He was so shy. He looked down, couldn’t look me in the eye.”
Maybe it was because he was intimidated by my uptown family. Maybe he didn’t know what they thought of him. My generation recognized his greatness, but for sure my grandmother’s
generation had a different view. He was radical and different. He promoted equality and black pride.
Years ago, in the early 1990’s, I went to Australia and met some older Jamaicans who had migrated in the early 1970’s. They asked me about Jamaica. They had never been back.
“Is that horrible man’s music still popular?” they asked.
“Which horrible man?” I asked clueless.
I was shocked. “Yes, he’s extremely popular. More than ever.”
I kept quiet while they voiced strong opinions: Jamaica had changed for the worse. People were primitive to embrace this awful music. Dreadlocks and rastafarianism had become a style. People
were embracing what they thought to be backwards and barbaric. It was too Africanized for them. At the time, my young mind thought they were old-fashioned, out of the loop, far removed
from the Jamaica they’d left. I vowed never to be the same. Now, with age and a lot more understanding, those people and the rest of us Jamaicans, are products of a colonial legacy: the
legacy that white is better and that anything black can’t be good whether it be language, skin colour or music. We’ve come a long way. We’ve embraced so much but we still have a long way
to go. It is evident in the amount of people bleaching their skin (It’s not only Jamaicans. Indians and other cultures bleach too).
Actual conversations that blow my mind:
My relative to one of her workmen: “Why do you bleach your skin?”
Workman: “Life is easier for a light skinned man.”
It’s evident in the disparaging comments made to people.
Jamaican-Indian mother-in-law to daughter-in-law after a holiday in Brazil: “What did you do to
your skin?! You look like a n_____.”
Finally, it’s evident in the amount of people who think that it’s an accomplishment that their
offspring or offspring’s offspring have light hair, light skin and light eyes, as if that’s important –
as if that’s a great achievement akin to working hard and gaining financial independence. Oh
please. It’s sickening.
So why did I tear up? I’m proud of the accomplishments of my little island home, and although
we’ve come a long way, we still have so much further to go.