Backward

Still processing dance workshop I attended the other day, during CARIFESTA lead by Dr. L’Antoinette Stines and members of the L’Acadco Dance Company in Jamaica. At some point she asked us to do a movement and said, “because we can do?” And waited for us to respond. (I came late so I just waited to the others to respond). “ANYTHING!” the whole class said. And I was like “same”.

She meant it, of course. With her dance company she has engineered a movement vocabulary that combines elements from the different movement traditions in the Caribbean. In a single phrase and body I could see the ballet, classical Indian, dancehall etc. I was happy. I had been in search of flight this whole time and here was this class of Caribbean ppl illustrating for me a core prerequisite for flight; hope.

“We can do anything, Caribbean people,” she echoed.

In this work w SoM, it’s been important to me to find myself and ourselves in this work. Caribbean ppl, black ppl, queer ppl, ppl of diaspora, children of the enslaved. I found something of ourselves not in the familiar words Dr. L’Antoinette said but in the way she said it. It was not the same as when the muppets on Sesame Street or Dora the Explorer say it. It was not laced with clouds and nurseries.

It felt like defiance. Like something earned. Like a self-conferred permission. In that studio, after she said that, I felt expansive. I have long been in search of flight and it was as if she was confirming for me that we already had wings. And that gravity had forgotten our names.

But wings r hard to see sumtimes. Just like the future, they are behind our field of vision. So only the logic of the future can articulate them. What we see is past, the sunlight reflected around us is old and weary of travel the distance of space at a speed they alone can manage, yet because we see it we base our logic there, in a geography we know. We forget that the light has travelled behind us too, to fields we haven’t mapped yet. It is the same with loss. Sometimes the loss becomes the geography we base our logic in. Slavery, colonialism, tourism, the land, the body, the tongue. The logic is a gift; it has given us survival.

What gifts are blossoming the fields behind us? We could dream or we could turn backward. We could map hope. It makes me think of this quote:

“And, Wind, I am still crazy. I know there is something larger than the memory of a dispossessed people. We have seen it.” – from the poem “Grace” Joy Harjo

So when I hear Dr. L’Antoinette’s words in my head I think, wow, she knows! She has seen it too! But of course she does. We all do. At some point, we born of no land and no language were bound to realize we were flying, and singing and probably pelting waist while we at it.

Bitter Cassava III

The play is about women. The cast is majority women. It feels accurate to me, in a society considered matriarchal. At one point I couldn’t help but lol because two women were having an argument about something Sister Lucy (an elder woman who sings in church) does. One of the characters is adamant on her point. She is not adamant because she remembers or has experienced. She knows because is what she mother tell she. She repeats “MAMMY say”, “that is what MAMMY say” to emphasize the truth in her opinion. It true because Mammy say so. The mother, the woman is the authority here.
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Inasmuch as is abt the disposability of the black woman is also abt her power. Justina greets Death. She introduces Death to her children. She breaks through concrete wall between the spirit world and ours. Her words ring true, they are where her powers lie.
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The strongest moment of the play for me was where Justina come back in spirit. Surrounded by spirits (all women). In contrast to most of the show the lights are deep blue, the costumes are uniform, and mostly black. The skirts are dark hues of blues and green and the vocalization is recorded as opposed to live. The dances are powerful, the women’s legs are wide and almost vulgar, gyration for so. They are the aggressors. And in their dancing they make the only man on stage, Sam, bazodee. He dancing but he dancing like he in a trance. The women leading they having fun and he schupidee. And Justina in the back, she laughing. Just as in the end, before the first blackout, she emerges again, this time from the house. In death, she witnesses her own curse from the place she was denied in life.
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Wow i rly wrote an essay

Bitter Cassava II

Bitter Cassava II

Several things abt last nites Bitter Cassava performance illuminate certain truths about this place.
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I’m still in awe at the ease with which a play with such harrowing violence can be written, directed and viewed in the way it has been. The music is joyful and light, so are the dance numbers, humor abounds. Yet the themes of mental illness, domestic violence, suicide etc are all very present. It’s ofc a dynamic we know, our calypsos embody this duality of light music with heavy content. But it was still wild to me tbh, the way violence and mental illness r normal for us even though the systems to address them seem sparse.
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The way that actress played Justina WHEW. In life she wore tattered clothes, she could barely dtand. We first see her thrown onto the ground by Samuel, a woman dispossessed. And then thrown down several more times. In life she village cast she out, laugh and throw she panty at she and tell she “allez”. But boy when she come back, she come back in style, she posessed her body then, after she had lost it, given it as a ransom for a broken heart.
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The play is about her. Beaten and buked by the man she loved, the father of her chirren and the village she belonged to.
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The first time we see Betty, on the other hand, is in all white on her wedding day. She tells Sam “You know damn well I not taking no lash from you!”. Sam never once hits her, although he tries and when he does the whole village defends her. Betty is given the space Justina never had to mourn her dead child.
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The disposability of the black woman. Sam moves from a black and rural woman to a red woman from town. It is a familiar social ascension often sought black woman to red, or better yet to white, rural woman to urban, or local woman to foreign.
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In the end Justina becomes disposable to her own self as she offers her body. It is the price of her broken heart.
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It is also about man, who, till the end, never once say sorry, or admitted any responsibility. He never saw the blood on his hands.

 

Bitter Cassava I

Bitter Cassava I

So lemme hit yall my synopsis of the play I saw (Bitter Cassava written and directed by Lester Efebo Wilkinson. In the play, a policeman comes looking for a man called Samuel Blondell (forgive my spelling thruout this piece) who was reported to have killed a woman and a child. Boom, Pa Seafuss decide well he wanna tell the whole story of what lead up to the event. The entire play is his remembering, moving between the present conversation with the police officer (who has other places to be, it is carnival sunday after all and by the way) and the past events that lead to the killings.

As it turn out dis Sam (he calls himself the #1 International Husband) or something to that effect, was livin “husband and wife” with a woman, Justina. Justina give him three chirren. And then he put Justina out with the three chirren because he find a red woman name Betty from town and want to married she and put she in house. Well paps Justina come back “for she man” on the ppl wedding day. Stand up straight straight and barely in posession of she own body far less for she clothes. And the whole village tun she way.

The woman went mad and kill she three chirren the same day. Dat evening she come back and kill sheself on the porch and she say when Sam and Betty first child turn 13 she “comin back”.

Tings chill wateva, and well as u prolly expect, she did come back and then cause the wife to go mad. She kill she own daughter cuz she thought was a douenne and then she kill sheself.

Boom bang bang paps and laps blow me down braps.

Crumbs

Gyul well I here I am thinking too. Hm… I pulling and tugging at memory because if u kno me u kno memory does quick to leave me. Two blu tick cuz if memory had a fone he mighta leave me on read too. I mighta pretend I aint need him. And then go back begging for a little piece of past. The scraps he give me wudda hav to be enough.

Just meager crumbs of sea and Kerry falling in it and wetting up he whole clothes. D same roaches at midnight nibbling on me, me staying quiet (cuz I don’t want to ruin the vibe) Amanda asking the million $$ question (she stay makin those POINTS), “wunna feelin anything biting?” . And me not waiting 4 the answer lmao. These little white creatures making dinner of me.

And a crumb of moonlight, cuz if I was seeing white it means I was seeing, that whatever the night, the moon was giving we she all. It reach quite in my palm.

In the little scraps I wudda find yuh mudda, how she reach and she aint even bother to go by the door, no she went & she greet the sea first. When she leave she take some bush with she.

I wudda dig round too in the scraps memory give me, to find that sea singing on a mornings, the lightness of clouds, or Neala’s pajamas or Aunty Carrol cheesepaste or better yet, of Aunty waving from behind d closing kitchen gate, & d home echoing in all of we waving back.

Somewhere in them scraps I wudda have to find that face Fawzia give me, I dont kno what I say that make she face crumple and then make we laugh together.

And I wud hope in them scraps to find my very own Maury moment, cry-running off d ppl stage. Some crumb wudda remind me of u standing with me in that mirror, hugging me, or of Amanda and Aunty Carrol at my door. I wud hope to find Amílcar’s comforting words, “nigga, they send meh fuh yuh.” And in all that I wudnt find none of d shame, but all of d lovin.

Somewhere a crumb wudda remind me of comma splices, & thousand island tangents. A crumb or a scraps or a little piece of yellow, of frenships budding around words, of saving a meal for the late sleeper, or unsolicited tea bags & prunes & Catch chocolate bars.

Scraps wudda hav to make do.

Profoundly Staying

Profoundly Staying

in June, I attended Double Edge Theatre's Summer Intensive in Ashfield Massachusetts. It was my first return to America since I left in 2018 after having spent five years living there. The following is a photo album of sorts that combines pics I took mostly using the HUJI app (makes the pics look vintage) with excerpts from a digital journal I kept. It is a love letter to that time and place which became for me the fulfillment of a hope I had fought hard to find.

31.05.2019

People is YOUNG on this trip they all look literally 12. Except Silas. I hope I look 12 sheeit tryna keep my looks young and spruce. Antyway

Shit is cold out here tho for a “summer” intensive. They say they hav blankets tho. God rly is the homie (“all the time”).

Was feelin nervy in the beginning as I got there to the shuttle and stuff. Idk y. Just the whole “ok who’s gonna talk? R we gonna talk? Am I gonna b the social lubricant? Again? Are yall weird? R we all weird? Is this it? Where’s my husband? R yall twelve? Can we open these windows? Will all my bags fit? How long is this drive? Who do I be?

Then I remembered that time I tried to be like different when I got to a Elliot’s and then fell into my old patterns of lovin on ppl and talkin a lot and other tings. I cannot escape me. I don’t want to anymore. So here I am.

01.06.2019

I remember the running. The placing of my shoulder against another (Will’s tiny shoulders next to my oblong ones). I remember the holding of hands, how strange and short the moments were, how normalized in a given context. And the smiles boy these ppl love a smile boy. And of course how the smile compels my own - and my resistance to it. I remember throwing my arms forward to Maddie when I found her in search. Her throwing hers back, the both of us sharing whatever it was, letting it carry us to the floor and take us back to standing. I remember presences; Michael’s, Travis’, Carlos’ and Jeremy’s to be specific. Omg and Brandice’s too! She was present af.

The individual. And group training. What’s the relationship between em. Like etc etc tho not just one question just one frame.

02.06.2019

My mind wandered lmao. I prayed for presence though that was lit. And for God’s presence to be lead into God’s presence. We SANG bitch. The John and Jennifer duo lead us in sum group singing v reminiscent of Mollie Stone. He gave us parts and we moved while we sang. Whew I was TIDE to go. Then Jennifer BREATHED with us. Shit was rly intense. They basically combined breathing and vocal exercises with actual physical exercise and it was wild as one would expect.

The light was great tho. And when Jennifer was doin her thing she truly was transfigured and I thought to myself I knew she was a witch. And I also am still trying to figure out what it was about her in that moment. Amazing. Those moments. Something abt the movement with vocals was v south African but tbh I was getting tired and found it hard to like REACH so to speak.

Anyway bitches aint shit and they aint say nuthin a hundred etcetc i beez in the trap is rly what im getting at.

Carlos resembles me we hav similar socio-oriented spirits. He was talmbout this groundhog who was hiding in a hole and he said dont bother him he’s a good neighbor I was like bitch ME. Then sumbody asked him how old the trees were and he was like yeah u can tell then he was like im ignorant then he made a guess anyway. ME. And he kept bringing up things he had forgotten. BITCH ME.

This session gave me something. I think I learned how to fly? Or rather, I flew. Travis and Amanda slayt me: gifted me.

The spider who was an audience.

Reach to the roof

Palms outstreched and open and reaching

Spinning, dizzy, blurs of color and movement

Something abt control and the loss of it. Abt the body at the limit of itself.

 

I think there is flying in it.

Joy comes in a circle

03.06.2019

How to escape my body? What about spinning is so enjoyable? What about touch is so special? How can I achieve the comfort of touch and contact alone? How to balance? How to fly? How to have courage without hastiness? Process without

Anyway Jeremy just spoke to us about maintaining our attitude of trying. Mainly trying without judgement. We worked with tools today. The spool, the ball and the harness thing. I tried to balance and she say “you, my friend have to take it in stages.” Patience I’m guessing. I’ll admit I was thinking I cud do that, maybe it was a little steeped in judgement of the others. Mostly tho I felt lots of support, I loved supporting the folks. Why does that feel so good? Noah SMILED when he started getting it. Amazing how each person jumped on. Wow.

My feet hurt like a bitch. Both. They r twinning.

Interesting to me this affinity i have chosen for the bridges here. Also to the landscape beyond them. Cuz like it’s beyond right, I cannot reach it, it is a there and there’s something abt that quality that preserves its beauty? Or maybe im just imagining

...

also iust had a convo abt friends and interconnectedness. Will said “realizing u need peeople sucks” lmaooo and I identified. Bíborka talked abt being different with different frenz and how refreshing it is to revisit those selves. Michael talked abt the frenz that grow up w u and know u and hav been thru suttin with as important ppl cuz they share sumthin integral with u. And that sharing never goes away. It got me to thinking abt how frenz remind us of who we are.  Esp the frenz that go thru different spaces with u. I told Michael in response to his comment that place doesn’t matter, cuz wherever u are, with them, u are all of those selves. They close the gap. Ideally. Which is not to say we aren’t always those selves, or that we dont have specific selves reserved for those frenz, and family ofc, but that all of those disparate selves r welcome there, wherever they are.

04.06.2019

“In this last place of light: he dares to live

Who stops being a bird, yet beats his wings

Against the immense immeasurable emptiness of things.” - “Dying Man - Theodore Roethke”

I remember the drums. YO I was FEELIN it when those drums came on and the beats they used. Lots of water bending movements. We sang while doing movement floking today which was interesting also did some speaking.

How to trust?

How to hope?

How to have faith?

How can these help a bitch fly?

How to transcend the body by going into it?

How to find balance?

I tried spinning and jumping. I tried with my hands behind my back and imagining my feet and hands were restricted. I tried jumping w restricted hands and feet too. Massai style jumping. Also played with Pearl Primus jumping. Sang “send me the pillow”.

Then i wrote sum stuff. Then a chicken ran up on me.

Night:

Carlos is literally me. I luv how he just does his own thing most times even it seems less structured than Jennifer and John’s approaches. More chaotic. Hes great. He rly encourages me in the space.  Realizing that I haven’t been employing much metaphor or imagination to provide a point of entry for presence. I wonder has the action become a metaphor for itself? When does that happen? What do we gain?

Boy this morning Adam put me on the like harness and bitches was FLYNE. it was delightful challenged myself to go high to stay straight engage those cores. I was rly tryna FLY bish. Adam has given me something too. Also he was so much fun to train with he playful, not afraid to touch. Also todays morning training was like rly loose like it felt like a pordy so I felt I cud follow and then tangent into something else and stuff.

I really enjoy Loving.

Anyway Travis was like “Don’t fall asleep Amir.” He also said “Don’t walk” cuz honestly I was TIDE this whole training. Im generally tired I think. I wonder if it’s Lagos? Idk what it is. Anyway Lord praying for energy. Eric the email guy who sends daily words gave a WORD today talmbout how when u do things do it as tho ur tryna do ur best for the Lord and not for anyone else. That was rly helpful. I think ive been getting caught up in doing tings right, the double edge way, in impressing the folks here or in challenging my body as opposed to working with it. I wanna hav more fun. So praying for that too.

Also a bitch can hoola-hoop who knew?

06.06.2019

Im mad a tthem lmao. They tore our asses UP. First Travis with his walk work, his jumping and general high energy shit. Also his quiet feet shit😂😌. Called my ass out for having shoes well not rly but it felt like that. And of course we were DED and THEN this man took us to THE BARN. WHERE JENNIFER AWAITED. Like WAT. THEN they made us lead different things and then keep rhythm with our feet in a circle while folks tried different movements within that rhythm and THEN SHE ADDRD TEXT. SO BITCHES HAD TO SAY THEIR TEXT OVER THE RHYTHM. We were all DED. My t shirt was literally a blanket of sweat. I came to the stream after and before that drank sum gud ass water.

Im rly social so tryna figure out ways of approaching Individual time in a way that explicitly attends to that part of me?????? Daz a question

After rehearsals r nice too cuz we r all like rly luvin on each other and stuff.

Jeremy talked abt the duality of keeping the concrete reality before us (what we are doing), and the inner intimate reality (that we don’t know yet). Reminds me of that quote solly chose “I dont know which of my two selves wrote this.” Hm.

I remember; nae-nae-ing with Will. Honestly most of it was with Will we hit the nae nae we hit the wahh, we flew we fanned each other we lead and was lead, we swung, we balanced, we did it all it felt like and we kept our energies, hyped each otha up and stuff like that. When i leave its easier to tap into music to re-enter. Havin a strong beat is best i luv when ppl hit the beat in the movements we supposed to follow cuz that’s easiest. Hated when folks did foot heavy stuff I cuddda fought Xinbei ass. EVERYTIME they pick her to lead a movement in a circle my girl runnin with HIGH knees. Im like

Anyway I farted a lot today too.

07.06.2019

Thinking a lot about last nite and that moment with Andrew where I bumped into him a second time and he took my hand and ran theu the space with me. Just symbolically how i had transgressed and the person who i had transgressed kind of was the person who brought me in.

09.06.2019

Finding it hard to rly tap into the significance of things.

“Right now

I'm as divided

as you were

by that sea.

But I'll

be able to

find my way

home again” - Olive Senior meditation on red

“If a color cannot cure can it at least incite hope?” - Maggie Nelson bluets

 

10.06.2019

Anyway good morning. Solly just told me good morning but only cuz Hakwon and I made fun of him for being a grumpy morning bitch.

Is this love?

Hakwon’s experience rly is teaching me a lot about how these processes we learning involve trust. Are designs of trust in some way.

11.06.2019

I mourned Carlos. He was completely transfigured and it felt as though he was gone. I had just found him too and myself in him. So i wonder if performance is a recurring death of the self?

Adam stepped on me and I was like okay it didnt feel no type of way. More like a blessing.

The transfiguration I saw in Carlos esp made me realize there was another plane of movement happening that I can’t articulate. Maybe spirit? Maybe it’s that thing of the sign and signifier. Sign signifier and that third ineffable thing.

From our conversation with Milena <3:

Form as an entry point. She works a lot with form as a way to attain presence. Presence for her looks like the physicality, the mind-body presence, like just based in movement not so much in metaphor. Injury as not as limiting as we think but opportunities for us to more creatively approach things.

WHO IS WATCHING ME? - like imagining the external eye and interrogating where the projections and judgements come from

12.06.2019

Carlos gave me hella elder vibes at one point and i went off. I went off several times ofccuz its african af music. I was rly off the henny at some points not gonna lie.

Worked a lot with will and with Zoë today which i quite enjoyed. Will and i kneeled two separate phrase/times. I was saying a line I quoted above by olive senior “i m as divided as you wrre by that sea but ill find my way home.” And Will came in with “theres a place i used to call home and i always manage to find my way back” and I was like UGH. Zoë started singing my song. The three of us also had moments.

Zoë sees some of the work we do here as transcending dimensions. And honestly same. Rly into the idea of presence as encounter with God.

Travis stay givin me life too. Idk sumhow thru interaction I get energy.

13.06.2014

It feels as though I have been given something I cant yet quite articulate. Home, would be the short way to say it,but I feel the need to say that the gift I’ve been given feels final, and also forever. It’s set up, I can recognize in Amherst’s hills and white ppl a surprising familiarity, an undulating return. I can see in the Double Edge barn, in those hills, something similar, a certainty that I will be back. Thank God our spirits can be as spirits. Part of my spirit is called here. Western fucking Mass of all places. Part of my spirit is always looking in this direction. I feel the need to articulate that the gift, to be understood, has to be lost, and I, lost to it. At least sometimes, at least for these weeks and months. Comin to terms with the fact that for now, wherever I go, there will be another place I think about, that excites me, that brings me questions and affections rushing, sometimes fleeting and sometimes profoundly staying.

I want to remember staying.

Letters from Lagos: to Children of Slaves Returning to Imagined Motherland(s)

Child of Slaves,

In the mornings, it is quite okay to sip tea while overlooking Adegbola drive. Sit there till three and you will observe the rhythm of the place. The men come singularly to replace each other peeing in the still waters of these drains give no knowledge to you, no sweet scents of beauty. Do not let the softness of their bread fool you. Their is little softness otherwise here. I know you will think it kindness, that woman laying her head’s burden of bread she intends to sell with the help of a stranger but it is not kindness insomuch as it is an instance of need met and moved on from. An absence of profit.

Yes, for Child of Slaves no language you know has power here, except for your half-American English which that you gained during your studies. You will find quickly that they quicker recognize American English than they do your Creole. Though, even when the former emerges from your mouth, they will find it hard to understand, drenched in song as it is. They will find their words in your mouth funny. They will laugh, expect as much, do not take it to heart. Laugh with them. 

They will ask you where you are from. I encourage you to have them guess if they are willing. When they say Kenya,India, Palestine, Ethiopia, Somalia, Brazil or the United States, you’re allowed to be flattered for whatever those exotics offer you. You’re also allowed the surprise, and then the resentment that none of these people know you.

As sure as God created the world with a few words, know that you needn’t recreate your own for every uber driver willing to listen. Resist the urge to remind them that slavery happened, that it began here, and ended there, that we in some way are connected of even family. If you cannot resist the urge, tell them  (if they understand your words). From all this telling one thing will become clear; it is your story not theirs. Their ancestors made no journey across the Atlantic, hence their presence here. No, their ancestors remained, and forgot.

Yes, Child of Slaves, the lost Africans are barely remembered here. Where are their monuments? So there is far less hope for the remembrance of their children. Far less hope for you.

Child, I know you long for drums. You will find them, no doubt. The bearers will dance your dances and you will dance theirs. They will sing you their songs as they follow your movement overlooking a river. Yes, you will feel, I’ve returned. You will mention the drums proudly, it is your inheritance after all. And when they ask you which kinds, I know you will not be able to name them. When they show you one I know you will nod, that shame will follow you in your neck. Then, you will song your Spiritual Baptist Yoruba song.  When they ask you what it means, you will barely know. You will swallow the hope that they would tell you. 

 Someone who studies your people will recognize your country. He will and clap and gasp and lunge to shake your hand. You are allowed to show him your mother and grandmother on your phone, he will say they are Igbo jokingly. He will call all your foods’ names, having visited. He will say your bushes grow here. He will lament that your palm trees don’t bleed liquid like theirs. He will say, “you’re home, you’re home”.

Do not believe him. But try to. Such belief is dangerous but it has its lessons. Which your body will teach you. If you believe such a thing you might believe their soups would sit still in your tummy. It won’t. You might want to try their street foods. The yamkara will appease your tongue but wring your innards outward. You might think your own country was hardcore enough to prepare you for this. It wasn’t. You might even believe that your home was similar.

But let me tell you,

Even the grass is different here. Their palm trees season their food and give them wine.  Their pidgin might be the same words at times but it is not the same melody of your Creole.  I have not seen their mangoes but I have seen their mango trees and they lack affection – I have not seen a hummingbird near one yet. Their breezes carry heat and their waters are a sullen thing, there is no blue in them.

To say your are home here says either that you are them or that they are you. For you to be them, what story would account for the way your English tangles their ears? Which body will lie and digest their onugbu leaf for you? For them to be you, who could be what they cannot remember?

Your ancestors’ homes died in the water, as the familiar dirt and mountains and trees became memory. As much as they might have denied it, their homes were elsewhere, along with their lives and their lineages. Which we draw now, with pen and paper and no ink. Seeing, we use our hands to trace the topography of our own etchings to imagine. But even our imaginations cannot surrender the past and give us our freedom. 

Your body, which only knows (its) present, will be the one to tell you. It will heave their soups out your system. Your body will burn. Your belly will rumble. Your body will betray your exhaustion. It will fail you here.  For it was not made to carry this much uncertainty, aggression and loudness. No, your body is one of mild breezes, the stillness of rivers, the silence of lightning before thunder and the safety of Aunty’s bed underneath holy corrugated iron rooves. It is one of occasional chaos, of sweet release, the certainty of fruit and the power of soca, your body is of a place elsewhere. 

At some point, hopefully before your seventh sickness, the body will turn around and face you so you can see it against this landscape of pastel sun and smokey sky and taut anger. You will now see that your body’s dimensions in this place are as dissonant as palm oil in pelau (I shudder to imagine it). Then you will know. Listen to what your body tells you.

Truth be told, every discarded child of diaspora perhaps experiences this remembering. There will always come a point when you want to know yourself. Remember your past to take you to your future. Even I want to believe that we are more than what we are. So we lean on a memory we cannot attain. For it is in this wistfulness, that we acheive self-actualization. Not only can we, the imagination-bearers, not see ourselves, but no one can. But we are better for having tried. And we feel better, knowing that some memory informs a self we cannot place. For to place the self is unsatisfactory. A definition is anticlimactic. Memory gives us drama.

When in fact, the self we are trying to define is as present as a full stop. As wide and as deep in dimension. We are right here. We cannot bear to be seen by our own eyes so we turn away, (backward, to be specific) and we place the shadows of our ancestors on ourselves as though they are not our very bodies. 

So then, what are we to do with all that memory? We are afraid that all we remember we must also forget. For what else can we do with poverty? With Africa?

I’m not certain. But do not confuse memory with home. If you begin living there, you may not find a body to return to. We were slaves once, we cannot be slave too, to what we have lost. 

If you want to be free come, try to find your home here. Lol I even dare you. 

Remember the pillow under your mother’s head? The dirt under your father’s drying bones? The sun not reaching them in the shameless rectangle of earth audacious enough to claim him, is the author of your skin.

You are at home exactly where you meet yourself.

 

Home Again: A White Tropics

“I want to feel
though you own
the silver tea service
the communion plate
you don’t own
the tropics anymore “

from Olive Senior’s “Meditation on Yellow”

 

Until we write it, historical anti-black racism and white imperialism will continue to whisper to us, the shadow of our specific strain of xenophobia.

So I’m writing it today.

Anti-black racism refers to the specific and directed racial oppression of people based on their blackness – the darker one is, the more susceptible one is to experiencing it.

White imperialism refers to the system of privilege that benefits white people of imperial nations such as former colonizers England, France etc, and neo-colonizers, most notably the United States of America.

Nigerians and Venezuelans, aren’t the only immigrants we host in Trinidad and Tobago. Guyanese, Jamaican, Vincentian folks and folks from other islands often immigrate here for varying reasons. The other immigrants we host, (more often called “expats”)

are immigrants from the United States, England and other European countries.

Anecdotes about the mistreatment of immigrants from non-imperial nations rarely if ever mention immigrants from the US or Britain. Truth be told, there isn’t very much information available on the experience of the US and the British in Trinidad. However, the immigration privileges these nations (as well as others) hold show a clear difference in who is welcome here, and to what degrees. Imagine, British passport-holding citizens do not require a visa for vacation, business or employment. Imagine, US passport-holding citizens do not require a visa for vacation or business for up to 90 days.  Other countries with similar freedoms to walk in and out of our nation include Denmark, France  and Sweden. That makin sense?

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Actually, if we consider white imperialism it makes perfect sense. According to the itemized list provided by Trinidad and Tobago’s immigration website, developed countries constitute the majority of countries offered the privilege of movement through our nation. There must be reasons for this, some could argue that inviting folks from the developed world specifically, to do business here could benefit our economy. Or that citizens from these countries are less likely to remain in ours beyond their appointed time and therefore less likely to drain our resources. However, because the citizens of these countries are predominantly white, what these policies communicate is that white people have greater access to our country than others. The law enshrined in our foreign policy offers access. Culture’s domain is welcome. And the welcome we extend to communities of immigrants and/or visitors, relates curiously to national identity.

CARICOM members, predominantly black nations, have similar immigration privileges to those of imperial powers. But then, what accounts for the differences in the experience of a citizen from Britain, and the experiences of a citizen say, from Jamaica? Why do citizens of CARICOM nations, with identical privileges to citizens from Britain, experience xenophobic discrimination and stereotyping?

White imperialism and anti-black racism intersect in the Caribbean in this way, to ensure that, even here, white people always have more privilege and freedoms than black people.

We treat citizens of CARICOM nations differently partly because of our colonial heritage. The intrinsic disdain and distrust of black people and black culture inherited from white slaveowners made poisons of our ancestor’s languages and “witchcraft” of their religions, demons of their deities.

We learned to envy the enslaved in higher, more privileged positions on the plantations for their access and their perceived alliance to whiteness, at the same time hating the enslaved in lower, less privileged positions for their potential to replace us, and relinquish our earned freedoms. “Crabs in a barrel” is a term used to describe this trauma. This trauma lives on in culture.  To this day, we respond to black people with various prejudices, each informed by the original anti-black rhetoric we inherited from European colonizers. And each of which serve the singular purpose of blinding us to our own humanity, and therefore distancing us from each other.

To put this in perspective, Haiti is the only nation in the CARICOM roster that requires visas for employment, business and vacation.

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Haiti was the first black nation in the Western Hemisphere. Theirs were the first enslaved to achieve liberation on their own terms. For fighting for their freedom, European nations and America, forcefully ostracized Haiti politically and economically. As a result Haiti has become one of the world’s most impoverished countries. Haiti’s attainment of their freedom inspired other revolts, and made it clear that slavery was no longer economically viable to Europe thereby ushering in emancipation. We owe Haitians a great deal more than we owe Europeans (Europeans owe us by the way, but that’s another tory). And now, we have communicated with our immigration policy that the citizens of the oldest black nation in the western hemisphere has no place here. Or at least not as welcome as their CARICOM counterparts, and certainly not as welcome as white people from Europe and the US.

What does this say of us? We are anti-black. I mean it shouldn’t be news to us tbh. We been anti-black. Our policies, the ways in which we exhibit xenophobia make it clear that black people are not as welcome here as white folk. And in so doing, we continue the intent of colonization, to make our lands, our economies, our cultures and our peoples accessible to white people, on their own terms.

The other intent we achieve, by our disproportionate xenophobia toward black people, is the severance of diaspora community. Haiti’s situation demonstrates this most. Haiti, surrounded by black nations, still experiences exclusion based on their blackness and their offense to the white world (the offense was an assertion of their freedom). We, who have benefited from their struggle, now turn our backs, and pander to white folks. And where we do, in policy, extend welcome to black nations, such as those in CARICOM, the welcome ends at the airport, once they open their mouths elsewhere, they are greeted with set-up faces, whispers, steupses and so forth. With particular irony, for we consume other Caribbean cultural products no end, while maintaining xenophobic rhetoric around other Caribbean islanders’ presence here.

We inherited the nation, and the definition of citizen from Europeans. Our young nations began as subsidiaries to European nations, our industries served the only purpose of contributing to Britain’s economic growth. They never meant for the nation to enhance us. We were never meant to be citizens of their nations, and barely meant to govern ourselves as citizens. Enshrined in this vision of nation and citizen is the idea that only citizens deserve the fruits of the nation, and only the nation should derive benefit from its citizens. Beyond that, when we consider the major brain drain we suffer when our best and brightest leave the country to pursue education elsewhere (in the US and Europe primarily), and when we consider which visitors and immigrants are welcomed to do business here freely, we should see, with clarity the real underlying intent of the concepts of nation and citizen. The intent? White citizens deserve the fruits of all nations, and white nations, should benefit most from the world’s citizens.

Friends, we cannot continue to allow ourselves to act as vessels for the colonizer’s intents. We must radically extend welcome and acceptance to black nations, both in terms of foreign policy, AND in terms of our culture. Mistreatment of a person based on their status as an immigrant in Trinidad must be actively discouraged. Yes we love we ole-talk, but when you encounter ole talk at the expense of an immigrant population, we have to say aye, that is we people too. Haitians is we people too, Nigerians is we people too. They might seem harmless, the ole talk, the derision, but encoded in each of those, particularly when disproportionately applied to black immigrants, is the colonizer’s notion that black people are less human than white people. And that we do not deserve unity.

Welcome is about small acts. It’s about hearing a foreign accent and greeting it with wonder, not disdain. It is giving an immigrant sale, supporting a business. Providing directions to a desired service, lending local expertise of place to people that do not have it. Small, intentional actions express welcome to people that need it.

White people will not save us. England and Europe will not save us. The US will not save us. Only we, our multiple creole, selves have the power to save ourselves. As Haiti so dexterously showed us centuries ago. Radical welcome to black nations and immigrants who need refuge such as those from Venezuela, is more necessary now than ever before. As our nation’s economic buttresses of oil and gas break, as our economy and governments transform, as the old whithers, an opportunity flowers. What possibilities arise with the combined capacities of multicultural people, who exist in the same land? We do not know it. We have references, the Creole, pelau, London, Swahili, America. But we do not know what happens when all people find welcome in addition to access in a land. We do not know where every creed and race finds equal place. We do not know the history we can write. 

Until we write it.