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.

Healing Difficult Relationships

There is a way to magically heal relationships and release bitterness and pain from past relationships. Admittedly, I was skeptical. When I first tried this simple yet effective exercise, I didn’t think it would work. I wish this idea was mine, but it isn’t. I read it in the book The Magic by Rhonda Byrne and what I learned completely changed my life. It works for any broken, difficult, troubled relationship.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re currently in a relationship or one that has ended. It works if you’ve been holding anger towards someone in your life or if you’ve recently had an argument with a loved one. The relationship doesn’t have to be a romantic one. It can be a neighbour, sibling, boss, friend, etc.

The exercise is simple yet it works.

Step one. Think of the problematic relationship you want to improve.

Step two. Write ten things you’re grateful for about the person. _Name___________, I’m grateful for _what___________?

Before you dismiss this, there are many reasons why it’s important to rid ourselves of anger and bitterness towards another no matter how they’ve wronged us. Resentment, anger and bitterness cause illness. They rid us of energy and hope. They kill our drive and lead to a downward spiral of negativity. They make us unattractive. As our thoughts stay angry and bitter, our outer appearance transforms to deeper frown lines and drawn down mouths.

As you read this, you might be thinking, how can I be grateful to the person who treated me badly, or who thinks they are always right? Don’t worry about them. This is about you. Maybe you’re thinking you have nothing to be grateful for to the person who hurt you. Dig deep. Find ten reasons to be grateful to them. Don’t stop halfway. Find ten reasons in lessons you’ve learned from them, gifts they’ve given, children you share, places they’ve taken you, insights you’ve learned about yourself through them. There has got to ten things. This exercise was difficult for me the first time I did it. Then it got easier. I know it may sound ridiculous to some, but it works. It really does. Gratitude for others changes our lives. The person might still be difficult. You could still choose not to have a relationship with him or her, but your anger, your hurt and resentment will melt away. You’ll feel lighter, freer, stronger. Give it time, though. It doesn’t happen overnight. If there’s still no change, repeat the exercise until those negative emotions disappear. And they will.

Masks in Public, Please!

My daughter called me recently. She was distraught and terrified of getting the coronavirus. She lives on her own and has been working at a pharmacy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. An elderly woman came in hacking and coughing without covering her mouth in the food section. She bought saltine crackers and soda water and she was clearly sick (or perhaps I’m assuming this and she was a smoker with a terrible cough). Then 15 minutes later, a man came in who wasn’t being intentionally unkind, but as he checked out, he plied my daughter with conspiracy theories, including telling her that the mask she was wearing could be from China and purposely infected with the coronavirus. That was the last straw. She broke down. Her manager was kind enough to send her home. She was in no position to work that day. Twenty years old, taking the bus to work in a town far enough from home, living by herself and missing us terribly.

Everyone is experiencing this time differently, but I do know one thing. We have to change our habits and be mindful of other people. As I write, I know there are people who are not practicing social distancing. There are people who go grocery shopping and stand right beside other people. I get it. We are creatures of habit. But this is NOT a normal time. I’ve also heard of people harassing their hairdressers, gym owners, bars and other businesses to open up.  I’ve heard of people still inviting friends over for dinner. I’ve heard of people coughing or spitting on products in stores. I’ve heard the worst and I’ve heard the best of people. I’ve heard stories that have horrified me, and stories that have inspired me. I don’t have all the answers and I’m sure that one day, we will know more about this virus. We’ll find out if the conspiracy theories are true. We’ll have a vaccine for those who wish to be vaccinated (I’ll be one of those). But now, more than ever, we need to be considerate of others. It sounds so easy, so cliché but we have been living in a cultural climate of ME, ME, ME. It is time to take the focus off ourselves.

Not everything one wants to say, should be said. Keep conspiracy theories to your close friends who care. No one else wants to hear it, especially someone who is busy serving the public.

Stop inviting people to go out or come over. Not at this time. It will be over soon. In the meantime, read a book or something.

Wear a mask when leaving the house for any reason. ( I’m still waiting on my masks from Amazon but I got creative with my grandmother’s old handkerchiefs and two elastic bands).

Give people space in supermarkets and drugstores. There’s nothing more annoying than having someone come up right beside you as you both stare at the shelf. (This is especially for the father and his teenage daughter who thought it was okay to stand beside me at Shopper’s Drug Mart while they chose hair products. Couldn’t you have waited till I moved? After all, no one is in a rush right now.)

I’m writing the obvious, but stay home if you have a hacking cough. If you must go out, wear a mask obviously.

Most importantly, be kind to each other. If you’re out of the habit, just practice. It gets easier.

Say nothing, do nothing, that you would not tolerate being done to you. That piece of wisdom was said thousands of years ago. It’s still relevant.

Silver Lining

Before the COVID-19 lockdown, my life, like many, rushed by at a frantic pace. I was frazzled trying to keep up with the demands of work and family. I stopped doing what I love most: writing. My heart goes out to all those who are suffering, mentally, physically, financially and otherwise because of this virus. It’s not an easy time and most of us have never experienced anything like this in our lifetime. Yet, for some, there can be a silver lining. It’s easy to fall into a malaise, a Netflix induced stupor or allow anxiety and boredom to creep in. My mother who paints says she doesn’t feel like painting, and I don’t feel like writing most days, but that’s exactly what we must do. We must push ourselves to learn and do something every day. When all this is over, and it will be over, wouldn’t it be great to say, I learned ten new recipes, I worked on my garden, read the Bible, started a meditation practice, a business, a book, practiced a language,  got in touch with friends and relatives? The list is endless. Whatever it is that you have always wanted to do, but could never find the time for, now you have the time. There are days when I feel low at being isolated from the world and I have to talk myself out of it. Isn’t TIME what I’ve been asking for? Wasn’t I wishing to sit down for meals with my family instead of eating on the run on the way to my kids’ track and baseball practices?

Before the entire world shutdown, a friend of mine in Jamaica went to Italy and was quarantined for two weeks as soon as she came back to Jamaica. She wasn’t even able to go home. To be honest, and as crazy as I sound, I envied her. I wanted two weeks locked in a building away from everything with only my computer and a notepad. It would force me to work on my writing. Now I’m on lockdown. I fall into a malaise, I get lazy, I turn on Netflix. Then I catch myself. I have time. I finally have time to read the books I’ve been meaning to read, to eat dinner with my family, to keep in touch with friends and family and to write. What have you been meaning to do?  

Perils of Perfectionism

When people ask me if I’ve been writing lately, I mumble something about not having time because of the demands of a job, children and home. That’s a much easier answer than the truth, which is that I suffer from the debilitating, paralyzing disease of perfectionism. Perfectionism is not so much the desire to be perfect as it is the fear of failure. What if I write something controversial, or make a grammatical mistake and I’m an English teacher? Even “worser” than worse, what if I write something so utterly uninteresting that people say, “who cares”? It’s unfortunate because I write such interesting, wonderful blogs in my head and I come up with really amazing story lines that never see the light of day.

Perfectionism is such a sad, mentally incapacitating disease because it can prevent us from achieving things that we’re entirely capable of achieving. The cure? Take chances. No-one is perfect and everyone makes a grammatical mistake once in awhile. So what if something is controversial? What’s the worse that can happen?

This year, I’m fighting perfectionism. The alternative is to sit at the computer, fingers frozen on the keyboards, eyes staring at the blank page, until I finally shut the computer, shove it under the bed, and succumb to a Netflix addiction followed by sleep. That way I bury the unhappiness that comes from a creative person who is not being creative because of fear of failure.

Not There Yet

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
grandmother.

“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.

“Bob Marley.”

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.

Don’t Ever Ask This

It was Saturday. I’d run out of my medication. The doctor’s office was closed. I called the pharmacist who said, “I can’t help you. Why didn’t you refill it on Friday?” Her question raised my hackles up. “I was busy and at work all day. How can you help me now?”
After pondering why I was so irritated, I decided that I will never be that person who asks myself or anyone else, ‘Why didn’t you…?’ It has to be the most pointless, asinine question. The question is rooted in an unchangeable past and is the source of much unhappiness, at least for me. It is a question that keeps one stuck in regret and blame, and unable to move forward to problem solve quickly and effectively. Why didn’t I file the tax papers away so I could find them easily at tax time? Why didn’t you do your homework? Why did you leave your essay until the last minute? Pointless! The thing is already done. Not to mention that after this accusatory question is asked, what follows is a comment, usually in our minds, ‘What a dummy I am!’ (or, ‘what a dummy you are!’) I could hear the pharmacist’s unspoken words: Why are you so disorganized? I wouldn’t
have made such a mistake, the perfect person that I am!
Every time we ask this question of someone, we’re demoralizing them, basically saying they weren’t intelligent enough to make a better decision. We’re human and we make mistakes. Upon  reflection, I’ve decided to curb myself of the habit of uttering this futile and unproductive question, of myself and anyone else. I’m sure it may slip out on occasion. I may even think it, but I hope in time that I’ll completely eliminate it from my vocabulary and focus on problem-solving. After all, what happened in the past is already done. Why make myself or anyone else feel badly about something we can’t change?

Missing Her

My second daughter has left for university. Because of a misunderstanding with dates, I was in Jamaica when she moved in to her dorm. My husband and best friend moved her in. I came home from the airport and felt my heart sink when I didn’t see the light in her room. I couldn’t go into her room because I couldn’t bear the pain in my heart. I went to bed sad and woke up sad, close to tears. I couldn’t understand my reaction because this daughter is the one who drives me mad. In dark hours of frustration and anger, I’ve told her horrible things like, “I can’t wait for you to leave home,”  “You’re living in my house. If you don’t like it, leave.”  “Are you sure you don’t want to go to the University of Ottawa, or even the University of British Colombia?” Our fights are turbulent because she is what Canadians would describe as sassy. Jamaicans might say facety (meaning rude and disrespectful. Origin: feisty – full of spirit). It comes across as disrespectful when I am the recipient of it but when she displays this trait to other people, I watch in amazement and awe when she gets what she wants.

When she was sixteen we went across the border to New York. Upon returning, we handed the Canadian border officer our passports. Her passport was Norwegian.

“Where do you live?” he asked her. I started to get nervous.

“Canada,” she said.

“Well I see nothing here to indicate you live in Canada. Your citizenship card is not valid. We don’t use that anymore.”

Panic started to set in for me and my girlfriend. Her anxious face reflected mine.

“Her Canadian passport is coming in the mail,” I said hoping my voice didn’t shake.

My daughter did not panic. She looked at the officer with that expression of indignation and self righteousness and said, “Well, Canada is the only country I know and I’ve lived here since I was two. I have all my report cards to prove it. ” She said it with such sass and finality that the officer looked at her and said, “okay, but there’s still nothing to show you live here.” She looked at him and gave him the one shoulder shrug, the shrug that teenagers use when they don’t give a crap about what you’re saying. He handed us our passports and let us back into Canada. I let out a sigh of relief as we drove into Canada. She however, merely said, “What was he going to do? Deport me to Norway, a country where I’ve never lived, can’t speak the language and separate me from my family. Whatever!”

In Jamaica, we went to Sugar and Spice for patties. She wanted a chicken meal. The picture showed chicken with french fries. They gave her a box with chicken and rice and peas. The server was slow and rude.

Daughter: I don’t want rice and peas.

Server: (shrugging) You ordered the chicken meal. It comes with rice and peas.

Daughter: Well, I don’t want it. The picture you have has french fries. There’s no picture with rice and peas.

Me: Just eat the rice and peas. (Not wanting to make waves. We’d already been waiting a long time.

Daughter: No. I don’t want it. You shouldn’t have a picture of french fries then.

Server: I have to call my supervisor. (This took about five minutes).

Daughter: Fine because I don’t want rice and peas. I want what’s in the picture.

Server: It’s more money with french fries.

Me: (rolling my eyes and muttering under my breath.) Why do you have to make everything so difficult?

Daughter: I ordered what was in the picture. That’s what I want.

I paid the extra and my daughter got her french fries. She left the building with her head held high, her shoulders back and her face set in a determination to take on the world.

As I write this, I can barely continue. Why do I feel so heartbroken? After all, she’s only an hour away. As tears fall down my face, and I don’t feel like getting out of bed to start the day, I think it’s because my family feels like it’s shrinking. Or maybe it’s because life as I knew it has changed so suddenly and abruptly that I’m lost. Maybe it’s because all these years of childbearing, childrearing and wanting freedom, now that I’m getting it, I realize it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Being surrounded by family is what I really want. Having my house filled with my children and their friends is what I really want. Or maybe I miss her. Yes, I think perhaps it’s all of the above but mostly I just miss her.

Giving Up Peanut M&M’s For Good

I had this bad habit of enjoying peanut M&M’s far too much. “The person who invented chocolate and peanuts is a genius,” I’d say to myself while chomping down on this delicious combination while watching a movie. Peanut M&M’s and movies on Netflix or in the cinema are a perfect match. Incidentally, my father shares this same weakness. Peanut M&M’s are the reason I love Halloween so much. My kids just know that when they walk through the door on October 31st and empty out the pillow case of candy, the peanut M&M’s go to me.

A few weekends ago I took part in a course (Neurolinguistic Programming) and one of the challenges was to change an undesirable behaviour. I chose giving up peanut M&M’s. The instructor asked me if I was sure I wanted to give them up since once I’d done the exercise, I probably wouldn’t ever want to eat them again. I was sceptical but I said yes. After all, I know what they taste like. They aren’t anything new or exciting. Binging on peanut M&M’s is simply a bad habit and an unhealthy sugar addiction.

As I sat in the comfy recliner chair and relaxed, I was asked to think of food I didn’t like. I imagined runny egg yolk. Peanut M & M’s covered in egg yolk didn’t work. Then I thought, “vomit.” That should work. But it didn’t. I could still imagine eating peanut M&M’s covered in vomit. I was asked to think of the worse thing I could eat. Cockroaches, I thought. Not the small kind found in infested apartments in North America. No. I’m talking the big ones that fly in from outside. Big tropical cockroaches that when squashed, a nasty yellow oozing mess comes out of them. That did the trick. In this course, eating peanut M&M’s was linked in my mind to eating huge cockroaches.

The test came that night. There was the bag of peanut M&M’s on the dresser. My husband and I settled in bed for a late night movie. He reached for the bag and offered it to me. I declined, completely repulsed. He crunched away with the bag between us. “That’s wicked,” I said. He moved the bag to the other side of himself and continued to munch on them. “Perhaps I could pop one in my mouth,” I thought. I looked at the bag. It was easy to reach for one, but I could not, simply would not put the M & M in my mouth. It was no longer a peanut M&M. It was a big crunchy cockroach.

That’s what the mind is capable of, more powerful than we can ever imagine. What obstacles do you want to overcome?