I was born in England but my parents are from Jamaica.
I feel odd when I think about Jamaica because I think about my ancestors being kidnapped there to pick sugar cane. It feels somehow artificial because I think my ancestors did not choose to go there. They were placed there due to slavery. Having an allegiance to a place in which it is possible that my family did not choose to migrate to seems relatively odd to me. I cannot celebrate where I come from without acknowledging that there is a huge “elephant in the room”. I see my ancestry as displaced. “Where am I from?” I cannot answer that question rationally without first thinking about the kidnap and brutality that happened to thousands of people who were then plonked on this island to make England great. Some would say “get over it” or look wearily at me and say, “you have such a chip on your shoulder”. But the question ‘where are you from’ continues to be uttered and somehow saying a small town in Britain is never quite satisfactory for the person posing the question.
I have never been to Jamaica. Shock horror!
In some parts of Jamaica, the legacy of the land means that for some the fight for survival continues to be a struggle. We are all too familiar with the glossy brochures selling bright blue seas. However, for many folk in Jamaica, it is far from the tourist attraction that is frequently presented to us. Buried deep into its infrastructure lies a forgotten story of European domination, slavery, and brutality. Which has left many of its inhabitants impoverished and struggling to survive. England to them is a land steeped in imagined riches and anyone from there is considered as relatively rich by association. I am bracing myself before I go and see the real side of Jamaica that tourists don’t get to see. Beyond the hotel walls lies a land steeped in culture, a middle-class black population that protects itself behind gated walls. Scholars, educators, academics, creatives, philosophers who are all beneficiaries of an outstanding but strict educational system. Additionally, there are also people who have been ravaged by Jamaica’s slave plantation heritage. It is a fact that the descendants of black slaves tend to be the poorest classes in Jamaica while white and mixed race descendants tend to be better off.
Despite this Jamaica prides itself on its willingness to accept people from a diverse range of backgrounds.
So when you next ask someone where they are from bear this in mind. My complex relationship with Jamaica continues when I remember my Chinese great grandfather on my mum’s side and my Indian grandmother on my dad’s side. I met my grandmother at my Father’s funeral for the first time, I was 15 and had been told all my life that I looked like her. She was a tall, beautiful Indian woman and meeting her for the first time really made me connect to my roots and the complex history of Jamaica’s past. Now when people want to categorise me I feel that it is important to tell people that my ancestors were displaced so, therefore, it is very hard to give a completely accurate description of where I am “really” from due to past injustices.
In October, I will start my Ph.D. exploring alternative /punk culture from a black perspective. I really want to travel to Jamaica to explore where I get this punky rebellious side of me from. I know the answer lies somewhere in my fearless Jamaican ancestry which I am keen to document. As a creative academic working at Shades of Noir as an editor and education developer, I am very lucky that my work involves making sense of my complicated past. My work is a great healing space in which I have the privilege of creating meaningful change. As a black woman of mixed raced origin in a mixed relationship with mixed heritage children. I am extremely fortunate to be working in an environment that encourages the creation of safe spaces for marginalised groups to articulate experiences regarding oppressive structures and thus, liberation through the development of new discourses and practices within society and education.
Image credit: Delilah Holliday