A Quick Note: Oh yeah…I am Black.

Self-portrait, August 2010, photography by Diedré M Blake

Self-portrait, August 2010, photography by Diedré M Blake

Preface:

Simply shocking…this article.  I am taking a momentary pause from my hair issues to write about something that has really been on my mind lately:  racism.

—-

From reading articles about racial profiling to even a Black woman being chased and threatened that she would be raped and lynched, I have had enough.   Black women have been seemingly under blatant attack over the last few years…or better yet, centuries.

It seems that as Black women move up in society and make a place for ourselves, as we demand recognition for our work and our intelligence, as we endure hardships from inside and outside of our community, there are some who are trying their very best to stifle our voices and reduce us to those caricatures that plague mainstream media.

We are neither “hoes” nor are we “bitches” nor are we “mammies” nor are we “domineering,” nor are we “baby mammas,” nor are we “welfare queens,” nor are we any other form of degradation that many may want to lay at our doorsteps.

Indeed, consider us strong and proud women, who are unique in our self-expression and our external beauty; there is no shame in that.  I hope you will agree.

—-

Here we go…
I am beginning to understand just how much in the “dark” I have been over the years.  Sometimes I think that being from the Caribbean prevents and has prevented me from really understanding the mental and social plight that many people who look like me experience on a daily basis.

Recently I said to my partner, Matteo, that I see myself as being an extremely privileged Black woman. You may wonder why.

The reason is this: I grew up in a predominantly Black society until adolescence. I was never overtly taught about racism. It was only later in my early twenties that I came to understand that there was indeed a form of internalized racism going on in Jamaica.

That is, from childhood we are subliminally taught that those who were considered to have “pretty skin,” or “pretty hair,” or “pretty eyes” were those who had a lighter complexion, less coarse hair (think hair types 3c and above), and to have lighter coloured eyes (not dark brown like mine).

I remember blatantly hearing people who were very dark-skinned being referred to as “duppies” (ghosts) amongst other terms.  Now back to my privilege.

—-

You see, I am:

  1. a brown-skinned;
  2. highly educated;
  3. well-spoken (read: I do not have a discernible accent that “marks” me as Black, in other words I sound “White”…whatever that means)–I still remember my mother drumming into my head the fact that I was never to speak patois and speak only “proper” English;
  4. well-travelled;
  5. thin/average-sized;
  6. cosmopolitan Black woman.

Even my very English/Scottish name is not easily “marked” as being a “Black name”...again whatever that is suppose to mean–I will say that I have shocked many people over the years with my very non-White (perhaps afrocentric) appearance…and have been greeted with the ever-so-clear “Ms. Black” instead of “Ms. Blake” Freudian slip.

For the love of the universe, I grew up listening to heavy metal, classical music, reggae, alternative rock, and country. I suppose I could add some more to that, but you get my point. 😉

The result of these characteristics is that I am a non-threatening entity to a potential dominant White majority. That is, I fit better into that world rather than in one that is dominated by people who look more like me–as I have often been accused by other Black people of being an “oreo,” i.e. Black on the outside, White on in the inside.

It is a sad thing to realize that because of all of these factors, I am shielded often from the prejudice that people who look like me face on a regular basis.

Even here in Italy, where racism is rampant, I was bluntly told that because I am perceivable “attractive,” then I would certainly not experience racism here.

What?? Let me state that again, I was told that Italians are only racist against Black people (or in my case, women), who they do not consider attractive.  Really?? Okay…

This is not to say that I have not experience overt and covert racism as well as sexism.  Indeed I have, both in my personal life and my professional life.  I have been told things like “Oh, you aren’t ugly like other Black women;” “Oh, you are just like a man, intelligent.”

In high school in Florida, I had wanted to attend Berklee College of Music.  The band director knew of my desire and had many times lauded me as an excellent musician…

I was, however, not given a letter of recommendation (even after multiple requests) , even though I had proven myself and was acknowledged as a multi-instrument composer and musician, who even led her own Baroque woodwind trio.

A more extreme example happened in college.  I was directed not to file a complaint against a White student who assaulted me, because it would be difficult “for someone like me” to prove my case.  Instead, I was moved to temporary housing.

While travelling as a student and even beyond, I was routinely stopped and search.  Perhaps it is because I had

  1. loc’s, (think marijuana), or
  2. a Jamaican passport at the time (think hard drugs/marijuana), or
  3. nowadays because I wear a head-wrap (think terrorist)–

although, I really should thank those airport personnel for the many head massages I have received as a result, and that one rather cute airport screener in London, who felt it was her personal duty to shove her hand down my pants.  You know!  😉

headonbwAugust2010I have been denied upward mobility in my career, by even being denied the possibility of my master’s thesis project being presented to and approved by an internal review board…

The result of this was a most necessary improvisation on my part and a scaled-down version of the project.  It didn’t stop there.

Anyway, I could go on forever about the slights I have experienced…just like many other women of colour.

—-

You might be wondering why I am posting what could be perceived as a “rant.”

The reason is simple:

it is time for all people, regardless of socially-defined race and nationality, to wake up!

The colour of your skin, the organ that lies between your legs, the texture of your hair, the structure of your face, your height, your accent, your perceived physical endowments DO NOT dictate the state of your mind.

  • They do not dictate your capabilities.
  • They do not dictate your potential.
  • They do not dictate your intelligence.
  • They do not dictate whether or not you are a “good” or “bad” person.

Seriously, isn’t it about time that we stopped all of this tomfoolery?  Why must we remain so divisive in our words and actions whether within or outside of our own “designated” groups?

And before anyone may think to dismiss this issue as simply another stereotype of the “angry Black woman syndrome,” or blow it away like a speck of dust thinking “this has nothing to do with me,”  or try to cheer me on as a “strong Black woman” who is speaking the truth and trying to effectively “Stick it to the man;”  think again.

I write this because I am afraid.

I am afraid of the news that I see coming from various countries on the treatment of women who look like me (yes, I care about men too, but I am a woman first).

I am afraid that with the growing belief that racism no longer exists, we are becoming too complacent and letting our awareness slip noticing the everyday occurrences of racial/ethnic/sexual/gender/physical biases that are happening right in front of our very eyes.

Until Next Time,

D.

A poet’s view on immigration, a translation….

I like disclaimers as many people know.  It’s a thing with me.  I simply like to preface everything to ensure that I am being clear in my thoughts… Of course, this doesn’t always work.  Actually, in general conversation, I have a tendency towards being quite shy and quite quiet… unless you get me talking about politics or psychology or poetry…

Instead of talking, however, I thought today I would write a little about all three topics.  No, not relating to the U.S. (nevermind the picture).  Actually, I wanted to briefly draw attention to the situation of illegal immigration here in Italy.

I will preface this by saying that I do not know very much about the situation.  These thoughts are just my impressions and my understandings based upon observation, discussion and reading.

Photograph by Diedré M. Blake

Photograph by Diedré M. Blake

In Rome it is common enough to see Bangladeshi and African vendors on the side of the road selling knock-off wares and roasting chestnuts.  It seems that there are levels to legality in the process of being a street vendor.  There are those who sell scarves and jewelry on tables, who are sometimes accosted by the police to show their license to sell.  There are those who sell chestnuts and small arts and crafts items (watercolour paintings and sculptures made from carrots, etc.).  Then there are those who sell items on tables made from cardboard boxes, such as scarves, knock-off bags, sunglasses, umbrellas, etc.  It is really about these last that my thoughts are with today.

Photograph by Diedré M. Blake

Photograph by Diedré M. Blake

There is a particular occurence that happens here in Rome perhaps more often than I realize…  What is it?  It is the emergence of street police and scattering of the last-mentioned vendors.  It’s a bit strange really, because if you wander around Piazza Navona, you will notice clearly that the Carabinieri and regular police officers are there.  They, however, do nothing when they see these vendors, even though their presence (I believe) is illegal.  It is sort of a game really…  a sad one.

These vendors sell these items all day long, regardless of the weather, are chased by police, looked down upon by Italians and tourists alike, and make very little money.   Again, I do not know much about this topic, but I do know my observation… and it also helps being a black woman in understanding certain attitudes that can be levied against people of colour here.

As many of you know, I am in the process of learning Italian.   Recently, in my Italian course, I came across this poem by Adrian Sofri called “Nei Ghetti d’Italia Questo Non E’ Un Uomo.”  My professor tasked us with the work of attempting to understand and to translate as much as we could.  Given my love for poetry, I happily began reading the poem (with dictionary and pen in hand).  It is about the experiences of being an illegal immigrant in Italy.  Below are the original and my translation.  Again a disclaimer:  I am new to Italian, so please do not judge translation harshly.  If, however, you would like to give me some help with it, then I gladly welcome it! 🙂

It is long, but worthwhile to read.

Until next time!

Best,

D.

Photograph by Diedré M. Blake

Photograph by Diedré M. Blake

Nei Ghetto d’Italia Question Non E’ Un Uomo

By Adriano Sofri

Di nuovo, considerate di nuovo

Se questo è un uomo,

Come un rospo a gennaio,

Che si avvia quando è buio e nebbia

E torna quando è nebbia e buio

Che stramazza a un ciglio di strada,

Odora di kiwi e arance di Natale,

Conosce tre lingue e non ne parla nessuna,

Che contende ai topi la sua cena,

Che ha due ciabatte di scorta,

Una domanda d’asilo,

Una laurea in ingegneria, una fotografia,

E le nasconde sotto i cartoni,

E dorme sotto i cartoni della Rognetta,

sotto un tetto d’amianto,

O senza tetto,

Fa il fuoco con la mondezza,

Che se ne sta al posto suo,

In nessun posto,

E se ne sbuca, dopo il tiro a segno,

“Ha sbagliato!”,

Certo che ha sbagliato,

L’Uomo Nero,

Della miseria nera,

Del lavoro nero, e da Milano,

Per l’elemosina di un’attenuante,

Scrivono grande: NEGRO,

Scartato da un caporale,

Sputato da un povero cristo locale,

Picchiato dai suoi padroni,

Braccato dai loro cani,

Che invidia i nostri cani,

Che invidia la galera,

(un buon posto per impiccarsi)

Che piscia coi cani,

Che azzanna i cani senza padrone,

Che vive tra un no e un no,

Tra un Comune commissariato per mafia,

E un centro di ultima accoglienza

E quando muore, una colletta

Dei suoi fratelli a un euro all’ora

Lo rimanda oltre il mare, oltre il deserto

Alla sua terra – “A quel Paese”

Meditate che questo è stato,

Che questo è ora,

Che Stato è questo,

Rileggete i Vostri saggetti sul Problema,

Voi che adottate a distanza,

Di sicurezza in Congo, in Guatemala,

E scrivete al calduccio, né di qua né di la,

Né bontà, roba da Caritas, né Brutalità, roba da affari interni,

Tiepidi come una berretta da notte,

E distogliete gli occhi da questa,

Che non è una donna,

Da questo che non è un uomo,

Che non ha una donna,

E i figli, se ha i figli, sono distanti

E pregate di nuovo che i vostri nati

Non torcano il viso da voi

—-

My Translation:

In the ghettos of Italy, this is not a man

By Adriano Sofri

Again, consider again

If this is a man

Like a toad in January,

Who sets out when it is dark and foggy

And returns when it is foggy and dark,

Who collapses on the side of the road,

He smells of kiwis and Christmas oranges,

He knows three languages and cannot speak any of them,

Who competes with the mice for his dinner,

Who has two spare slippers,

A request for asylum,

A degree in engineering, a photograph,

And the hidden beneath cardboard boxes,

And he sleeps on cardboard boxes of Rognetta,

Beneath a shelter of asbestos,

Or without shelter,

He makes fire with trash,

Who if he stays in his place,

Is nowhere,

And if he emerges, he is in the way of a shooting range,

“He has made a mistake!”

Of course, he has made a mistake,

The Black Man.

Of the black misery,

Of the black market, a from Milan,

By the charity of extenuating circumstances

They write in large letters: NEGRO,

Rejected by a corporal

Spat at by a local poor devil

Beaten by his bosses,

Hunted by their dogs,

Who envies their dogs,

Who envies their prison

(a good place to hang oneself)

Who pisses with dogs,

Who bites strays,

Who lives between a No and a No,

Between a town policed by the Mafia

And an Ultimate Welcoming Center,

And when he dies, a collection

Of his brothers of a euro an hour

He is sent beyond the sea, beyond the desert

To his earth—“To that hell!”

Meditate upon the fact that this has been

That this is now

That State is this

Review your learned books on the Problem

You who adopt from a distance

Of security, in Congo, in Guatemala,

And you write warmly, neither of here nor of there,

Nor kindness, the stuff of charitable, nor

Brutality, the stuff of the internal affairs,

Tepid, like a nightcap,

From which the eyes cannot look away

Who is not a woman

Therefore who is not a man

Who does not have a woman

And the children, if he has children, are distant,

And pray again that they were born yours

They never turn their faces from you.

Related Post & Citation for Poem: Neobar – Blog site:  http://neobar.wordpress.com/2010/01/28/adriano-sofri-nei-ghetti-ditalia-questo-non-e-un-uomo/