Black Genes

My daughter is dating someone. He’s Eastern European. I told her to make sure he knows she has black genes because I don’t want any stupid situations. By that I mean the stupid situation of my cousin who doesn’t appear to be black, he’s that light-skinned who married a woman whose parents cut her off and their three blond, blue-eyed grandchildren. They could not accept that their daughter had married a “black” man and chose not to attend the wedding or be a part of their lives. I shake my head in disbelief and disgust. My daughter being half Norwegian, doesn’t appear to be a person of colour (although someone in Norway did tell me once that she’d be considered ‘exotic’ since it was clear she wasn’t 100% Norwegian – she had dark eyes and her hair wasn’t white blonde).

“Just make sure he knows,” I reiterate, “because I’m not having that racist crap in my family.”

“My mum said to tell you I have black genes,” she told him.

“Okay,” he said, a little confused. He wasn’t sure why having black jeans was important.

I feel I have to say it. I didn’t have to say it in Jamaica. But here in North America, it’s necessary. I say it because unfortunately I’m more aware than ever of the silent yet persistent dislike of people of colour. Before I had children, I was blissfully unaware, going through life living in my own head, not always seeing things as they really are. It took having children in North America to see what I’ve never acknowledged. If a racist incident happened to me, it was one person. That one person was probably uneducated and knew nothing about the world. If people treated me badly, I thought it was because they were rude and their parents had not instilled good values and manners. Even when I worked in a factory to earn myself enough money to go around the world and a worker kept telling what he called n***** jokes in my presence while glancing at me for my reaction, I convinced myself it wasn’t about me. But it’s hard to ignore when someone tells your son to go to the back of the line because he’s chocolate. Or someone tells your daughter that it’s a shame she has monkey blood. Or someone tells your niece that she can’t be a princess because of her bushy hair. Or someone calls a little girl a n*****. It’s hard to ignore then. Because it’s not one person. Although people think only America has this problem, it’s here in Canada too. It’s just more subtle. As my Syrian student told me in his halting English when he tried to talk about racism, “In America problem on table. Everyone can see. In Canada, problem under table. No one can see, but still problem.”

The problem persists and it’s here in the country where I live. But one thing for sure: I don’t want it in my home, in my family or my inner circle and that’s why I tell my daughters who don’t look like people of colour: Mek sure you tell dem you have black genes, you hear. Tell dem.

Staying Silent is Not an Option

I once had a comedic friend who regaled us with jokes. His company filled us with laughter until he cracked some jokes at our expense: racial jokes. The joke I remember most often is ‘the Jamaicans have moved in. Everybody lock your doors.’ At first, I laughed. He made jokes about everybody. But the second and the third time weren’t funny. Then I noticed other things he said. “She was black but attractive.”  Or when he made reference to someone being a lazy Jamaican. He would lower his voice to a whisper when he said the word ‘black person’ as if the very word made him uncomfortable.

I often wonder why I never told him how his racial jokes made me feel: annoyed, reminded that society thinks people of colour are inferior, that we’re stereotyped the way the dominant race rarely is. Was it because I wanted to avoid confrontation? To be liked? To show I had a good sense of humour? To avoid stirring up conversations that make us all uncomfortable? Probably all of the above. It’s akin to someone hurting you but you stay quiet so that the behaviour continues. How will the person ever know that they’ve done something wrong? Now that the world has become aware of how pervasive racism is in our institutions and belief systems, it’s time for us to have those uncomfortable conversations. Yes, there will be awkward moments as we start challenging hurtful behaviours and words, but I, more comfortable at home than in any protest, think we need to be activists, acting to make the world a better place for everyone. Like the saying goes, ‘you’re not growing if you’re not uncomfortable.’ It was hard for me to publish this blog. I’m uncomfortable but silence is not an option. Not if we want a a fairer more equitable world for everyone.