“Fighting against isms and schisms”~ Robert Nesta Marley.
Jamaica is a land of diversity. Some are not prepared for the range of colors and races that co-exist in that small island. The country’s motto is: “Out of many, one People”. The outward appearance may reflect an origin in India, China, Africa, the Middle East, or Europe, or may be an interesting mix of any of the above. But once the owner of the appearance opens their mouth, they are immediately identified as Jamaican. I (for those who don’t know me) am white: blue eyed, once blonde, born in England of English/Welsh parentage, transplanted to Jamaica at a young age. Once, after riding in an elevator with two young Jamaican men and overhearing their conversation I told them: “You know gentlemen; it’s not nice to use that kind of language.” Of course they were shocked that I had understood their colorful terminology! We were automatically friends after that.
I learned to speak patois as quickly as I could. I desired nothing more than to blend into my environment, to be one with my friends. My early attempts must have been amusing. One of my schoolmates felt it did not look good for someone with ‘high color’ to speak that way. I couldn’t understand what she meant – as far as I was concerned I had no color! With her beautiful mahogany complexion I thought she had far higher color than me! But even among the diversity there existed color and class lines. The civil rights struggles in the US in the 60’s and the Black Power movement in the 70’s helped to break down some of the remnants of the colonial power structure.
It is natural for human beings to respond to outward appearances. We assess, interpret and catalog others when we meet them. Unfortunately, our tendency to want to assign an identity to others also leads to a desire to label them. My children, born as they were with strands of African and European DNA twisted within, have an outer appearance of ‘mixed’. They are often greeted by strangers with the question: “What are you?” Apparently human being is not a satisfactory answer. My daughter used to reply: “Purple!”
It is sad that almost 20 years into the 21st century, we still find it necessary to divide and conquer. Currently we are seeing the ugly side of the American dream. The political season has exposed the continued existence of a stream of racism that runs deep. Outwardly the USA may appear to be a country of inclusion; of integration. Anyone can have the American dream, if they only try. But that the loudmouthed, crass voice of the bigot who represents the Republican party has continued this long unchecked speaks to the acceptance of the sad truth. Racism is alive and well. And for those who tried to delude themselves that the election of President Barack Obama signified the end of racism; the emergence of ‘the donald’ proves otherwise.
And it is then no wonder that in such a society, discrimination and hatred against all who appear to be ‘other’ gains a footing. Combine that with easy access to murderous weaponry and a community has to cope with yet another set of funerals; another endless loop of tragedy repeating on our TV screens. How is this the land of the free, when going out to a nightclub can be a death sentence?
Once again, it is human nature to fight violence with violence. To respond to negativity and hate with more of the same. But if we are to survive, to prevail as a people of decency and dignity, we have to dig deep into our wells of compassion and forgiveness and do the opposite: we have to love one another, even those who are different from us. Even those whose beliefs contradict our own. Even those who dress in drag, or tweet racist comments day and night. This is hard! But it is the only way we can reclaim our world. I saw a nice thought the other day. It read:
My race: Human
My religion: Love
My politics: Freedom
In Jamaica, the term ‘one drop’ is associated with a rhythm that has led to a string of dance worthy songs. In reggae music the guitar strums on the backbeat, and Bob Marley’s song (quoted above) gets you bobbing to his ‘one drop’ as soon as you hear the intro. Yet as always, Bob has a message in his music, and he seems to be incorporating the musical design with a deeper meaning. Many years ago, the US discriminated against those who had even ‘one drop’ of African blood. And I wonder if Bob was combining the ‘one drop’ of African blood with the ‘one drop’ of the music.
‘So feel this drumbeat
As it beats within, playing a rhythm
Fighting against ism and skism’
In the end we all bleed red. In the 1990’s, Junior Reid, another reggae artist, recorded the song ‘One Blood’ reminding us that regardless of where we are from, we all are one blood, all human beings. We need to remind ourselves and each other of this truth. We are more alike than we are different. We have more in common than we think. But we have to actively live this, by embracing those who are different from us. By moving beyond our own culture and clan to reach out, to show those who may be ignorant of this basic truth that our society has no place for hatred and intolerance.
This Friday morning I am saddened by the violence in our society. I cannot understand why guns have more rights than people. I cannot understand why good people stand by and do nothing in the presence of racism and bigotry. We must do better. One blood.
Have a peaceful weekend Family.