Gentle, Critical and Necessary Reckoning
My dear Rasta brother/friend Pazo asked me this summer, why I don’t wear my hair down. His hands warm through my hair. “You have such beautiful locks and you tie it up all the time. You must leave it down.” Here in so called Canada I wear my hair up, less visible I think. Maya looks up at my gathered locks on top my head and says, “Really mom?”
I feel deep insecurity, self-consciousness here in so called Canada. With a long history of genocide, slavery, cultural thievery. I slink around wondering how I am judged or how I judge myself for this head full of locks. Most times I recognize how involved my ego becomes, how self- absorbed it all feels, these feelings of insecurity and judgement and I also recognize what a great source of self- reflection/gentle interrogation of my own story ie. Adopting/adopted into another culture, an escape from the very culture I was born and raised within, a monolithic and superioritizing culture of whiteness.
Memory (1996) Dad writing me in response to a letter I wrote him, me pouring out new revelations as a result of me living in Grenada, revelations around whiteness, around systems of domination, around privilege, around global white supremacy, around an afternoon in Tanteen park, St. Georges, Grenada with Fidel Castro, his translator and a park full of past and present Grenadian revolutionaries.
Dad in his response insulted by my awakenings. Dad taking it all too personally, defensively, as we humans do when faced with different perspectives, ideologies, world views that might cause unconscious (I believe at a cellular level we know what’s going on, we know our complicated histories, we know what we’ve bought into/colluded with in order to maintain privilege and the comfort that privilege brings) shame and guilt that shake us to our core and then comes out in all kinda ways, such as blasting a daughter for disrespecting a way of life that got her to Grenada in the first place; for dissing everything Dad stood for capitalist values/virtues individualism, hard work, determination, discipline lifting him from his own family’s brutal poverty. Race was not something he was willing to discuss as a factor in the upliftment of himself and others coming from such dire economic hardships.
Dad said something about me wishing I was Black, wishing I was born within another family, culture, race. And perhaps I was yearning for culture as a result of not being brought up within the richness of culture; an absence of Irish and Italian culture lost in the struggle of my ancestors trying to fit in, grieving dead babies on boats, repressing emotional memories of a history warped in violence, discrimination and poverty; a deep longing of home/culture/land that was fled from due to hunger, death, war; a buying into racialized capitalism in order to sooth the trauma of one’s past. White culture, a culture stripped of ceremony, ritual, mother earth honoring, adornment of body as temple not fashion; stripped of community and collaboration, curiosity and wonder of neighbours and strangers. None of this to excuse what we white settlers bought into, colluded with and benefited from at the expense of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
And here I am in so called Canada for an extended time with a head full of locks embarrassed and proud, proud and embarrassed. Pride coming from stories built, deeply embedded, interwoven, converging stories… my story, Theo’s story, Maya’s story.
Can I hold both? The love, celebration, beloved community of this Grenada story lived and wedded for almost 30 years and still hold the devastation, the understandable judgement and harm my visual presentation (white woman with locks) must bear on many folks; an understandable rage at yet another visible reminder that cultures/people have not only been annihilated but now gentrified/appropriated/adopted/thrived upon? Can I hold both deep insecurity and pride? Can I imagine Pazo’s hands through my hair when I am feeling deep shame at being part of a history of cultural annihilation and thievery while honoring my own story that is deeply integral and interwoven with Maya and Theo’s story, with my Grenada friends, family, community story?