Comforting Words

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Black Women Need to Wake Up - By Abigail

The following article was written by my beautiful daughter and posted on her Facebook page. I have her permission to re-print her on Comforting Words. Her words speak for themselves and I hope our sisters of colour read and take the words of a young woman to heart.


Today at school we watched a movie documentary. It was Chris Rock's Good Hair. The film basically shone a light on the extent black women go to when it comes to their hair to fit in to what society has deemed as ideal beauty. Long straight hair that blows in the wind, and moves with you.

While my classmates sat and laughed at Mr. Rock's wise cracks, I couldn't help but feel for all the black women out there that go to sometimes extraordinary lengths to fit in... weaves, extensions, relaxers. Women across North America are literally putting themselves in debt in an effort to fit in. Did you know you can take a payment plan out on a weave?!!!!

For years, let me correct, centuries black people have been made out to be subhuman, less than, not deserving of anything good, and this has extended even to something as simple as our hair. We have been indoctrinated into a culture where the prototype of beauty is the exact opposite of us. There's a saying in Jamaica and it goes, "if you're white, you're alright, of you're brown, stick around, if you're black, stay in the back". Now it's "if you're nappy, you ain't happy". LOL

There was one point in the film where a three yea old was sitting on her grandmother's lap, and the grandmother said she just got her first relaxer two weeks ago. When Chris Rock asked her if she likes getting relaxers she said no, then he asked her, if he thinks his daughters should get relaxers and she said yes. When he asked her why, she simply said, "because you're supposed to". This is very sad, from the time we are children we are inculcated with the idea that if you are a black girl, you must get a relaxer!

Now I myself have fallen into the trap of the "creamy crack", relaxers, hey I even tried out weaves a few times, but the stress of having to maintain what wasn't me was just too much. I had friends in high school, that would refuse to leave their house, they would rather miss school, work, church, if they didn't have their weave sewn in. Some of them, I have NEVER seen there natural hair, under all the Kanikelon, Remy, and every other variant of extensions there are out there. I've seen many girls walking around with no hair in their temple area due to all the tension and stress constant weaving causes, walking around thinking they're all cute with their weaves, WHICH half the time aren't even sewn in properly!

Now I know weaves can be handy, and they are a creative expression of your individuality. They can even be good for your hair when done right, for instance black hair tends to be drier, and weaves and braids can be a great protective style in the winter months in Alberta's dry climate. What I have a problem with is girls that don't see themselves as beautiful in any other way. Girls that will consciously make the decision to destroy what God gave them to fit in and be acceptable to who??? Girls that make the excuse oh my man likes me with long hair, and blah blah blah, so many other excuses. Who cares if your man likes long hair? If your man doesn't like the way you look in your natural state then why are you with him????

It's a form of self hate when someone looks in the mirror and can't recognize the beauty in themselves. There was a time when black women were made fun of for their wide hips, big behinds, and thick lips. Now women of every race are running out and getting but implants (I know this because I have seen it live), and fillers in their lips. Some are even getting their hair braided, I have been paid to braid non-black women's hair too.

I wish black women would just wake up and stop trying to fit into a mold that they will never fit, stop being victims of chemical burns and traction alopecia. My wish is that black women would start to recognize more and more that their black is beautiful. ALL OF IT! Not just from the neck down.

I know my black is beautiful, and whoever don't like it can bite it!

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sad State of Affairs

"You have any suss'?" usually comes about five minutes into every conversation with my daughter.

'Suss' is gossip and as the months go by and our relationship deepens into a friendship, my daughter and I swap stories from our daily interactions with others.

On my drive home this afternoon she called and after telling me about her day at work Abi said "by the way, I have suss fi' give you!"

What she told me was not funny but I found myself having to pull over onto the side of the rural road to control the laughter that had overtaken me. Tears were flowing down my eyes, my sides were splitting and my belly was on the verge of bursting and I had to ask Abi to hang up.

Sitting on the side of the roadway my laughter turned to tears – of sadness and gratitude.

The 'suss' was about a young lady, same age as my daughter, who lives in the St. Catherine community from which we migrated to Canada. They have remained friends across the miles but their lives have evolved so very differently. My daughter's friend has an high school education but has been unemployed for at least a year now and has a three year old child for a man who is MIA.

Despite her lack of financial resources, employment and help from the child's father, this young lady's picture can be seen on Facebook each week with a new 'weave', in the latest dancehall outfit and on the arms of some DJ or a 'money man' as she captioned the last photograph.

Today, however, after partying the weekend away with the crew Miss Dancehall Queen called my baby girl who had just come home from her second part-time job to ask for $50. Apparently her three year old baby needed a fireman outfit to attend career day at his school!

"What the @$&* you just said Abi?" I screamed in the phone. When I get really annoyed my Jamaican accent and patois comes pouring out. "Har tree ear old hav' career day?!!!

"Are you %@@ kidding me? Which tree year old have career day? Did you ask her if you a di' baby father?"
By this time Abi was dying with laughter. My daughter is way too polite and calm to have asked her friend that. She merely told her that she did not have any money to send. I on the other hand could not let it go.

"Career day mi' backside!"

The more I thought about it the more ridiculous it seemed that a three year old had to attend a career day in a country where the 23 year old mother could not find a job. And the more I repeated it the laughter started to build and I had to pull over.

When I got back on the phone to Abi my laughter had been replaced by gratitude.

"Now you understand why we had to get you out of that place?" I asked Abi.

I have great confidence in my parenting and in my daughter's common sense but peer pressure can be a very powerful thing. So too culture and sadly the culture of Jamaica and many developing countries fosters the mentality that one can beg their way to heaven.

This has been the case for many moons now. I can recall in days long before internet and Western Union, writing many a letters for my mother to "friends" who had migrated basically saying "begging you kindly to please to send a little help."

When the responses would arrive, the envelope would be hurriedly torn, the letter shaken open to see if "anyting' in deh." The letter was of no importance if there wasn't a $10 or $20 bill "in deh." And this was not isolated to my home…it was a scenario played out in many homes then and even now that had someone " a foren" (overseas).

Jamaica's economy has been propped up by remittances since the 1970's. Despite recent reports that there has been a plunge due to the global recession, remittances to Jamaica "over this decade grew between 9.1 per cent and 20 per cent per year – averaging 12.6 per cent per year in the last eight periods," states an August 2009 report in Starbroek News. "Between 2000 and 2008, the transfers grew two and a half times from US$789 million to US$2.02 billion, amounting to 14 per cent of gross domestic product."

For the last seven years, I have been one of those overseas family member and friend who have been helping to keep the Jamaican economy marginally afloat each month by sending money to my mother.

I really do not begrudge doing that. Yes, there was a time I resented having to do so, especially when we were dancing on the poverty line here in Canada. However, as my faith strengthened and my forgiveness quotient increased, I visited and continue to visit Western Union every month and do what most Jamaican living overseas do – send money home.

But I pray that this cycle to will one day be broken. The call for $50 to buy a fireman suit for a 3 year old's career day is a clear sign that we are a ways away from that day.

Of course I recognize the disadvantage and the unlevel playing field that countries like Jamaica have to kick its ball around on. Yet, I cannot ignore that generation after generation have refused to get on a backhoe and start digging. Instead, you have young people like my daughter's friend dressing to the ninth to party and then buying a phone card to call "foren" to "beg a little help."

My daughter is a wise young woman. As we both continued to laugh at the image of a three year old dressed up in his fireman outfight attending his career day, she said "Actually I wanted to ask her if is me and her lie down to get the baby, but I didn't 'cause it's useless."

That's a sad and painful commentary about the land of my birth but many days, like today, I wonder whether that is the truth – "it's useless."


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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Excuse Me But Simply Giving Birth is not the Holy Grail

It has been a while that I have written a post that generated so many comments – some public but most in private emails.

Is it because I have not been writing a lot lately or was it the topic?

Judging from the nature of the comments, I venture to say it was the latter.

The biblical passages, depth psychological, forgiveness, rebuke, etc were some of the advice thrown my way after reading that Mother's Day is not a merry occasion for me – at least not one where I celebrate the woman who gave birth to me.

I know I might anger, annoy, distance some with my next comment but those who really know me will understand that I don't really care. Popularity is something that has long not been important to me.

Truth is my gal.

Giving birth, planting a seed in a woman's womb, nursing a child via breast milk or the bottle or sending money occasionally does not a parent make.

By now it must be clear that mine is not the school of thought that subscribe to the notion that because a woman gives birth to a child she is a hero, worthy of undying love despite the hell that child was raised in.

Neither am I of the belief that forgiveness means pretending that something never happened. It is therefore useless to send me biblical passages, rebuke, admonishments, etc because I know them as well as you do. The difference is, I don't read the Bible as written by a God who would tell a woman to forget that her father offered her to be raped by visitors to his city.

My dear friends and reader, I read the Bible as a piece of literature written by people a long time ago, chronicling their experience of the world and of God.

So sending me biblical passages because you have assumed that my non-celebration of a woman who stabbed her child not once but twice is due to my lack of forgiveness – you are dead wrong.

One very dear and special friend has even said to let the distant past go. That is easier said than done when the past tries desperately to drag you back to its level of darkness, greed and lack of remorse.

I have no doubt that somewhere in my mother's heart there is hurt and sorrow. At least I hope so.

Yet, after many attempts on my part to ask her to be real with me – even as recently as this past Easter (2010) – she continues to deny doing anything wrong, making any mistakes, plotting with my ex-husband to take my child away from me because she disapproved of my then relationship.

It is clear that my understanding of forgiveness is different from many. Forgiving is not forgetting. 
How do you forget your mother telling you at 14 years of age that you should "go catch man" (get a man) to help pay her bills? How do you forget your mother turning a blind eye and even prostituting you to get her bills paid? How do you forget being told constantly how useless the man who sires you was and how your birth ruined her life?

When you walk in those shoes and then turn around and pay "mother's" bills (medical, rent, debt, etc) for 21+ years – to the point of your own bankruptcy then you can tell me about forgetting.

I will never to my grave forget the beatings, the molestation by the long string of men my mother brought into our lives and who she refused to believe me was having their way with me. I can never forget my mother standing in a town square praying to God to strike me down because I refused to turn over my money to her and her latest boyfriend.

I am a mother now – for 22 years – and I do not take that for granted. Ever since she was born to this day I have been telling my daughter she is a princess. Princess Chulumba is what I called her when she turned 7 until this day.

When I turned 7, I was called useless. That changed to bitch, ho'. By the time I was 25, the only calls I got was for money.

I can never forget not hearing to this day "I am sorry," from my mother.

My respect for my readers and friends is enormous but my self-respect is even greater. I am not a hypocrite and will not be cowered into submission by any amount of biblical passage or words about their understanding of forgiveness by people who have never trod this road.

I received a phone call on Mother's Day from one of those women – Dr. Green – a woman who has been there with me through the days when the woman who birthed me only called to demand more money. Dr. Green as far I know never physically gave birth to a child but she has held me in her arms – literally, spiritually, emotionally and psychologically – through many moments of near insanity that my birth mother has driven me to.

I love my mother for the life that she allowed to pass through her but I have learned, on my own, to love Claudette more.

Without a doubt I hurt but through the love of other women who have mothered me for these many years I survive. It is they who I call mother.

And so again, I respectfully ask, stop judging people like me. Our truth is ours, just like your pain is yours and not for me to judge.