(Written: Wednesday, January 28, 2015)
Tonight, as I settled in my dorm room, I connected my hard drive to my laptop and scrolled through the list of recently procured movies that had been making the rounds among foreign students. Since being I China, I have given up trying to be in the loop about what is going on, and instead, have just relied on chronic movie downloaders to supply me with my movie fix.
I scrolled through and decided to watch one with a provokingly eye-catching title, “Dear White People”. Sometimes I’m a movie skimmer, and tonight, I decided to skim through before watching the movie…terrible I know. I skimmed through and saw groups of black college aged students, then groups of white college aged students then white and black college aged students together, separated, but still in one group.
What did I expect from the movie? Exactly what the name suggested, Black Americans (I assumed since it was an American Movie) fighting the system to combat racism in America. Nothing new; Should be an entertaining watch. What I didn’t expect was how riled up I would have become by this movie and how much I could have identified with some of the issues that were brought out. Except, I didn’t identify because those things happened to me in America, I identified because those things happened to me in China and if I had watched this movie 4 years ago, I probably would not have had the same reaction.
I grew up in Jamaica, the “Out of Many One People” land. All my life I have been surrounded by people of different shades and that seemed pretty normal. And if that wasn’t enough, my mother made sure that I would never be self-conscious or ashamed of being black. It would have been a cold day in hell before she gave me a white doll to play with. All my dolls were black dolls. At first I protested because I wanted to be like everybody else, but then when I saw how beautiful the dolls that I got were and I was pacified, plus I still got to comb their hair (their hair was straight).
I also remember in high school, when a past student who had gone away to America to study, came to my Personal Development class with his Black American girl friend or girlfriend, I’m not sure. They came to conduct some research for their assignment. During the class, she was in such awe of how diverse our high school class was and kept saying how our school was like a university because there was such diversity. Maybe I was alone, or maybe everyone else was thinking what I was thinking, “…OK then. What’s the big deal?”
So the point of those two stories are that, growing up in Jamaica, a stones throw away from America, I was always aware of their race issues (through cable) but I never felt it affected me in anyway. In fact, I always thought, poor things, thank God I don’t live in America.
Then I came to China, and maybe the thing I thought I was above had seeped into my subconscious. The majority of my friends were black, I felt more comfortable around black people than I did anyone else. Of course there was integration, but for the most part, people of the same race hung out together. Then there were the constant complaints about how racist Chinese were. I personally have never suffered from blatant racism, but there are stories of people applying for jobs and being told that they are too black. Though it’s never happened to me, I couldn’t help but feel solidarity with my friends.
It was just the little things that made me aware of my colour. Overtime, whenever I saw another black person, it was like we would have a bond even for just that 1 second. Understanding the struggle other persons go through when they are asked 100 times a day if their hair is real or fake and having random people touch your hair without asking, really creates a strong bond. Having people ask if I am black because it is so hot in our countries, even after telling them that it gets even hotter in Beijing than in Jamaica, can make you pretty infuriated. I thought this was just in China, then I saw these issues come up in the movie.
I’m not sure how into movies other people get, but I tend to get deep into a character’s head. I feel their joy and their pain. It’s the best way to enjoy a movie. So when Sam, the lead character had to make that decision between the guy she really liked who was white, and a guy she felt she had to like because he was black, I felt her pain. I understood how she felt, it’s the struggle of being true to yourself or doing what people think you should do based on a part of your identity over which you really had no control. Comments have been made to me before along the lines of, “You always like white guys”, or “You would only like guys from Country X if you like brown people”. I have to admit, I felt swayed to defend my love of black men.
I could also identify with Lionel, the “Everybody Hates Chris” guy, when people said he was White. This isn’t because I have been called White before (I have), but more when people say that I am not Jamaican. It’s a similar feeling. This would happen after people hear me speak, or they see me standing to the side when a “daggering” song comes on, or they hear me say that I don’t like Vybz Kartel. Then the constant touching of his hair gave me flashbacks of how unsure I always am as to how to react when someone does this. I mean, I don’t really like them touching my hair, but at the same time I understand their curiosity. Maybe if I let them touch my hair, they will leave a more informed human being and the next black person will be spared from having their hair touched. Now, I am okay with people touching my hair if I know them and if they ask. But when random strangers look at me and see a free petting zoo, that is not okay. I could also understand how being called Hershey (chocolate) made him feel – another one of those, how should I react to this feeling.
Racism isn’t over. I always say slavery was only abolished 200 years ago (a little less than 200 actually); Jesus’ words, the words of one man have carried for over 2000 years. How can something like race issues be wiped from the minds of entire nations within 200 years? The only way I see Black People being okay, is we have to be okay with our colour and then look past it. If we can’t, how can we ask anyone else to look past it. Does that mean it would be ok to make jokes about skin colour? No, because that’s not looking past it, that’s just be recreating stereotypes within society. They always say, there is some element of truth in a joke.
I would love a society without racism, but that’s just us as humans. The day we stop putting things into groups – the day we can look at a Dalmatian and a Beagle and say, “There’s no difference, they’re both dogs,” is the day racism will end. However, I hope that I will be able to change my view of the world.
I will no longer watch cable tv and think, “Oh poor African Americans,” because I’ve realised their struggle is my struggle. It may be in different countries, but the idea is not to separate our existences but to have empathy for our fellow humans and well…I love animals so I’m just going to drop this in there, and for all God’s creatures. I really think empathy is what will allow us to move past race, gender, sex and whatever other issues there may be.
One article may not make a difference, but I hope that I can look back on this in a few years and see how far I have come, how much I have grown and I hope not how boxed in I have become. More than anything else, this post is a time capsule.