I think I am going to forego the Black History Month thing this year.
I mean, it isn’t like there has been a year when I give it any extra thought at all. I have no way to relate to the notion of Black History Month. It’s not something I have ever had any investment in or any experience with. I think the reason for that is that for me, and for many Jamaicans, the Black History Month celebrations tend to center around U.S. centric milestones, heroes, and accomplishments. In fact, I put in a search in Google just now for “black history month jamaica” and the article that was at the top of the search results was a piece our Carolyn Cooper wrote back in 2011 saying much the same thing:
So we’re celebrating Black History Month again. Like Valentine’s Day and Halloween, Black History Month is yet another commodity we’ve imported from the United States.
Tidbits like this one “Many of us still don’t know, for example, that Africans came to the Americas before Columbus” are not known to me. In school, I was taught that “Columbus discovered the new world”. Even then it felt odd to me that black people were standing up in a classroom full of mostly black students telling them that the Amerindians who were here before Columbus didn’t count as “discoverers” because the only people capable of “discovering” lands and countries were the Europeans. It felt so very wrong even then. And now, my own historical knowledge is sadly lacking. I keenly feel the gap in my knowledge about my true ancestors and the history of my country; my region; my people. I have been starved of education. Is a good t’ing we nuh need knowledge to live – don’t?
I have nothing against the U.S. or their celebration of Black History Month. I have no comment or opinion about it. It’s just not something I think I have the right to have a comment or opinion about. So don’t get me wrong – I am not decrying the practice in any way.
No, my issue is simply that I have no frame of reference for the celebration as it is currently framed. I was born and raised in Jamaica. My frame of reference for black history is a far different ball game. Our heroes were heroes of the slave rebellion and the abolition movement back in the early 1800s. In the 1930s, a whole century after slavery was abolished in Jamaica, the United States was still struggling with inequality and prejudice on a level that I can only begin to imagine … this for several reasons outside the obvious. The most glaring reason is that I grew up in a time and a place where race was not an issue for us as much as class was (and still is, to a large extent). We aren’t struggling, in Jamaica, against racial bias; we are struggling with ‘colourism’ or ‘shadeism’ and ‘classism’ – a separate but somewhat related struggle.
In Jamaica, our heroes are Marcus Garvey, Nanny of the Maroons, Sam Sharpe and the like – the people who fought for an end to slavery in the 1800s, not people who fought against prejudice and racism in the 1950s. It is a whole different cultural dynamic let me tell you.
But I get it. I get it and I step back respectfully because just because it is not in my frame of reference doesn’t mean I cannot respect the idea and the ideal. Usually, I just nod and smile in silence. This year … instead of keeping quiet, though, I think I am going to do a little “going back to my roots” thing. The Jamaica Tourist Board is running a month-long promotion called Reggae Month. They have tons of activities and stuff lined up. I can’t participate physically, but I can get into the spirit of it. So I am going to do a weekly thing where I talk about reggae music stars who have made an impression on me and who I think deserve worldwide recognition for their contribution to reggae and to Jamaica’s legacy. I am not a huge music fan and I am certainly not a big reggae fan either. But I think I can call on a few names who have caught my ear over the years …
I’ve missed a Monday … so I’ll make it up maybe next week with two artists. Today is Bob’s birthday though. There isn’t much I can say about Bob that isn’t already out there. Well, except for the fact that he was born a few miles away from where my own mother was born. She is a bit older though, and they never met – so that fact is trivial at best.
Still, I will just leave this here: