Janicejopie's Blog

February 21, 2016

When tragedy struck

Filed under: Uncategorized — Janice Gittens @ 9:32 pm

 

The day started at unceremoniously at around 5am, I had been jolted from my slumber by a sharp pain that seered through my stomach. My pregnant tummy felt like it had been tied in a knot and was now rock hard, enlargened and concrete to the touch. I crawled out of bed leaving my boyfriend and daughter fast asleep, each face reflecting that of the other, both oblivious to my discomfort and fears. Moving cautiously I made my way to the kitchen where I made a cup of tea and looked out of the window, all the time my mind worrying, thinking something is very wrong.

 

My worries were laid aside momentarily as I watched the soft flakes of snow falling gently, tumbling out of the dark sky. The nights shadowed silhouettes contrasting against the whiteness of the first fall of that winters snow. I watched the snow it softened my mood and painted the ugliness before me, transforming it, merely by touching it, resting and holding fast. It provided a cover, a veneer for turning ugly things into something picturesque and appealing.

 

I stood there transfixed looking at my external environment and wondering what was happening to me internally; that which was unseen.   This had not been a usual pregnancy, I had been quite sick and my baby was not growing as well or so I thought even though all the checks confirmed that everything was fine. I had not been overly happy when I discovered I was pregnant because I had just started a course of study and knew that I would not complete it and did not have the energy to continue. It was a game of masquerade, pretending to do what I had no heart to do, but yet silenced from speaking the truth.

 

As usual I was living at least two lives. My boyfriend’s family knew I was pregnant and rejoiced with me. Having babies was celebrated as it was about reproducing your own and if you liked you own then there was comfort in there being more like you. This was acceptable here but not the same perspective was voiced by my own blood family. I dare not tell my own parents I was pregnant even though I already had a child. I wore big baggy clothes, no one asked and I did not say. The hell and stress of living under such codes of conduct, one where a pregnancy was never celebrated because it always came out of wedlock but yet the child from the pregnancy once given birth to would be accepted. I struggled with this but colluded and conformed to the code, it was shrouded in secrecy, deception, a supposed Christian moral value an unreality as we had all been products of illegitimacy, an ancestral predisposition, masked in shame perpetuated by an ideology of self hatred.

I sipped my tea, not feeling terrible, but fearful that something was wrong. I went back to lie down hoping that it would go away and that I would sleep. Sleep came but I was awakened again by nausea this time, turbulence in my stomach, the pain came again this time stronger. I beckoned to my boyfriend that I needed to go to the hospital the pain was getting stronger, and I had had a show of blood and was now too scared to walk. We called the ambulance and they came quickly, I was rushed onto a ward and my stomach had all sorts of sensors covering it to check my baby’s heart beat. The news came, my worst fears confirmed that there was no heart beat my baby had died within me and now the doctors were concerned for me as internal haemorrhaging threatened my existence.

 

I had to give birth to a dead baby, the memory acute, and the pain of labour just as intense. I pushed encouraged by the medical team, It was tiring and they coaxed me, I really did not want to do this waves of exhaustion took over as the journey through my womb was not being helped by a living fighting baby but one that had lost the battle so laid motionless within. My chickens had come to roost or so I had thought. My deliberate actions of self destructions had seemingly taken their toll I felt beaten up and powerless unable to see this thing through. The medical team cajoled me to work harder, push for longer, I tried I conquered the baby was released and a cascade of blood like a dam bursting it banks flowed from me. It splattered all those that were around the bed Emergency conditions followed the blood banks were wired to me and I laid there motionless but fully aware of what was going on.   Somewhere in this ordered chaos word had got out that all was not alright and that there was a danger or shall I say a possibility of losing me. Death beckoned, the doctors responded with medical prowess and specialist expertise labouring over me, battling to save my life. I was physically drained but mentally knowing, wondering what all the fuss was about. I did not for one moment believe or acknowledge that my life was in any kind of danger. All I wanted to do was sleep and they would not let me. it was so annoying, the incessant voices of those around me insisting on keep me awake and my eyes open with such words as “ can you hear me”, “you need to stay awake”, “you have to co-operate with us” “look at me”. They brought my boyfriend in to join in with the tirade, a chorus that evoked me to anger and frustration wondering what on earth was the matter with all these people I simply wanted to sleep, rest, fade out….the murmurs continuing and continuing.

 

I was weak and had no place of rest the fuss continued, muted voices explaining my condition to my loved ones, forming an echo in the background. Why I had become dumb, stupid, deaf all of a sudden was news to me and to make matters worse I was now being told by a sweet enough nurse albeit that I needed to see a priest, vicar a man of God. They were really pushing it now and I was fine if only I could just get up from this bed I could prove to them that there was no need to worry about me. I motioned to the nurse that I did not go to church and did not need a priest. She left me for a while, but continued to hold my hand and sooth my brow. She was tender and caring a real nurse and obviously very concerned about me being escorted from this world into the next with the correct credentials. Charming, but rather unnecessary in my opinion, my mind was sound even though my body was weak. I laboured, not for one moment did I realise how ill I was which on reflection was probably a good thing as my inner reserve kept me going or so I thought from my limited perspective.

 

 

My nurse resumed she asked me three times if I wanted to see a priest, weary and to get her off my case I said to her that I was baptised a catholic and I guess that would be most appropriate person for me to see. He appeared gentle, calm and carried out the last rites, committing me to Jesus and asking him to forgive me of my sins. My mood changed drastically, arrogance removed, stripped to the core, I then for the first time in my life was faced with the fact that I had done some really mean things and wanted to say sorry for them. My heart was convicted, remorse flooded my soul a plea to be forgiven uttered forth. Gosh J what was happening to you, I felt renewed forgiven and ready, what for I was not sure, but in that moment life made sense regarding choices and consequences. I was thankful for that nurse and that priest two people doing their work here and for a higher purpose. I do not claim to have understood this concept at the time, but something was happening which I can only describe as peace flooding my being. My irritation was gone, pain, weakness of no consequence. I closed my eyes and found myself being transported to the most beautiful place of light and tranquillity imaginable, I wanted to stay it felt like home.

 

Home, this could be no place on earth, it was bright, light and went on for as far as the eye could see, but there before me stood this figure, friend not foe, I wanted to stay with him such safety and security I had never known. His essence was kind, loving and gentle; standing there with his arms open welcoming me but someone not allowing me to stay, it was not my time I had a role to fulfil. He said J….. you cannot stay you have to go back to look after Christel. I somehow knew he was right, I had wanted to stay it was beautiful, complete and a place to come back to. I gazed at his countenance, gentle, loving, his clothes shone with a radiance as if his robe was made from light, white, glimmering, shining, the rays went forth no darkness existed just light. I had never felt such joy before from being in the presence of another, this was real no fantasy but unexplainable as I did not know the route by which I came, nonetheless I was transported back, the instruction indelibly written in my memory, a responsibility to Christel I could never shirk.

I awoke alone in the theatre clutching my dead baby, he no longer felt warm and cuddly as I had remembered before drifting off. He was stiff and cold and dead very dead, I did not want to hold him. I lurched and thrust the body away from me, a nurse was at my side instantly, she took the baby and seemed glad to see me move. I had no recollection of what had happened I just wanted to be away from my dead baby, it was horrid and scary. They had made me hold him when I had given birth to him, it was suppose to have provided me with closure and I am sure it did, but now I was scared so very scared. I had life and my baby was dead, life and death seemed to belong in separate camps and there seemed no purpose in mixing the two.

 

Sleep came; I woke the day after on a ward alone without my baby, my tummy the only reminder of what had been. The visitors came comforting me and affirming my living status, that it was better that I lived and my baby died as Christel needed a mother. Confirmation, affirmations resounded all day, my experience now firmly buried in my unconscious, a flicker only when an astute visitor said “you look so well, like your trauma has been erased” I glanced at him our eyes met and I said I am so lucky to be alive. I knew without the shadow of a doubt that I had been given the chance to make my life count.

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February 13, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Janice Gittens @ 6:08 pm

How the impact of slavery can be seen in contemporary Britain

Britain is experiencing a number of social issues that impact on its Black population. These include:

  • Low educational attainment
  • Mental health problems
  • Gang involvement
  • As perpetrators and victims of crime
  • Unemployment
  • Dislocation from Society

Concern is growing about the ability of Black British people, especially those of Caribbean descent, to manage and survive in British society. This leads in turn to further social marginalization. This poses the question. What can be done to stem the process of disenfranchisement that often produces ghettoisation and social isolation for people of Black descent?

We argue that new academic rigour and social policy development needs to be set in train in order to bring about targeted social action and a system that provides good and appropriate education for all.

In this paper it is my intention to show that Caribbean people have had a history of overcoming enslavement and a series of political structures that have both oppressed and ostracised them from Society. In turn, they have been able to dismantle and overcome these barriers through:

  • social reform
  • the formation of political parties
  • a communal appetite for education has been a vehicle for advancement and social mobility.

Historically, the pathway from slavery to democracy in the Caribbean has been built on:

  1. Leadership that engenders the “buy in” of the people. Good role models that people will follow and in turn foster social reforms
  2. An education system that encourages ambition and aspiration and that teaches the skills and values that are needed in mainstream British society.
  3. Personal and cultural identity.

To set the context, Dr. Carl Roberts, the High Commissioner for Antigua and Barbuda in London, gave me an overview of the history of the political landscape in the Caribbean. He, himself, came from humble beginnings, but that did not stop him aspiring to and achieving a leadership position. Unlike Britain, where there are fewer Black role models and more class divisions, the Caribbean provides an environment with role models of similar appearance, culture and class.

For Dr. Roberts these were contemporaries, sharing his history and providing ‘local hero’ exemplars that articulated his beliefs and were accessible to him.

A trip to Ghana was being planned to learn more about his African socio-cultural story and its origins. This underpinned my belief that heritage is key in establishing one’s identity.

Rev Les Isaac is the Director of the Ascension Trust and the Street Pastors Initiative. He was born in Antigua and came to Britain as a young boy. In order to survive racist attacks in working class inner city London, he learnt quickly that he needed to fight and follow the mores of gang behaviour in order to prevent being bullied and victimized. This was the common experience of Black children and young people in the 50s, 60s and 70s. The environment was harsh, unfriendly and hostile. I remember my brother coming home beaten, spat on and ridiculed for being different. I, too, found out very quickly that I resembled a wog, until then I had never heard of one.

Armed with an empathetic understanding of why young Black people join gangs, Rev Isaac watched with concern as the number of young urban Black youths involved in these activities grew. His concern was heightened after three young women in Birmingham were gunned down in front of a hairdressing salon in January 2003, causing public outcry. He decided to travel to Trench Town, Jamaica to see how they were dealing with similar crimes and came back with the idea of a social action outreach program for the Church. The vision was for the Church to become focused outwards – becoming visible in these notorious neighbourhoods as guardians of the street, demonstrating Christian love, care and protection in a practical way.

In Summary

Black British people of Caribbean ancestry are descendants of African slaves. Ours is a traumatic history, of enslavement, loss of cultural identity, broken attachments and casual cruelty. The long road to freedom is signposted with rebellions that sought justice and recognition of a ‘free’ human status.

Based on my travels and conversations, the key factors that were emerged to contribute to the Black experience in the UK were the existence (or not) of:

  1. Political Leadership
  2. Education
  3. Identity and culture

What was evident in the Caribbean is that political leadership often takes the shape of ‘the hero’ (someone who is willing to stand in the face of adversity and provide leadership). The hero has usually been the democratic conduit for progress and has not been without its drawbacks, as inevitably the hero falls from grace and sometimes transmutes into the lever of tyranny, especially if the same methods and techniques employed in the past by slavemaster are unconsciously mimicked.

Successful leaders in the Caribbean often demonstrate the following qualities:

  • Eloquence, confidence; exhibits the common touch, and fights popular causes.
  • Accessible, able to hold his own with other leaders at home and abroad. Inspires national or local pride, a statesman
  • He demonstrates the courage of his convictions, is respected and provides a role model for others.

Importance and respect is accorded to the role of education. Teachers are revered for being pillars of society; academic competition is fierce and free education valued as a Godsend. Education represents liberation and self-empowerment leading to social mobility. It is regarded as the key to helping the community and advancing future generations. Securing a grammar school place or earning scholarships are the currency of progress towards a good career. Local communities celebrate their achievers; results and successes are broadcast for all to share. This collective expression of a shared ambition drives social role modelling and acts as the engine for student ambition. Ignorance is not cool in this society, nobody wants to be a stupide.

The Caribbean is a fusion of many cultures, each with a clear island identity. The collective island consciousness has to do with past experience as slaves under colonial masters. The idea of class is informed by race and colour, consigning the Black man to the bottom of the social ladder. Traditionally, the status of Black men and women has evolved through union action, adult suffrage and education. These have resulted in white and blue-collar employment opportunities and increased social mobility.

My trip to the Caribbean enabled me to meet with the prime movers in the community – the historians, political leaders, church leaders, teachers, students and those with an interest in improving where they live. This gave me an opportunity to gain insight into the mindsets and frames of reference informing my cultural perception of self. I was able to get a sense of “me” as the “norm” and not as the other.

 Political Leadership

To understand the development of political leadership in the Caribbean we need to place it in the context of slavery. The Caribbean was colonised by European powers within the framework of slavery as a trading activity. During this period the slaves transported from Africa were conditioned to subsume their humanity to become economic units of production. They were punished severely, given no power or decision-making privileges and were the chattels of the slave master. The present day Caribbean people are descendants of these slaves and therefore a socially constructed man-made group, stripped of their ancestral cultural, values and beliefs.

Freedom arrived on the 1st August 1834, which was Emancipation Day throughout the Caribbean. When the clock struck midnight slaves became freemen. Freedom was like passing out of a dark dungeon into the light of the sun. There was no frolicking; nearly everybody went to church ‘to tank God to make we free’. Emancipation was the first formal acknowledgement that Black people were human beings and the beginning of freedom for the people of the Caribbean.

The Caribbean had its first taste of freedom with emancipation and even though power and self-rule did not arrive until more than 100 years later, there was hope. The overthrow of the “Planter Class” – those who owned the plantations – marked the beginning of the democratising of political leadership in the Caribbean.

Adult suffrage was granted in 1951 to the Leeward and Windward Islands, and earlier in Jamaica in 1944. This was a revolutionary step, a clear marker for democracy for the Caribbean people. They could now advance, influence reforms and decide on who held the power in their islands. Unions played a very important role in the road to independence.

Leadership

Throughout the islands the working class hero is honoured for challenging the establishment and seeking to free the people from its more oppressive measures. The many slave revolts are said to have been the main trigger for the downfall of slavery, as it became increasingly economically unsustainable. Caribbean people have always used the only weapon at their disposal – revolt – as a means of getting the attention necessary for social reform.

The rise of Eric Gairy is a good case in point. Herbert Preudhomme, Acting Prime Minister for GULP (Grenada United Labour Party) at the time of the revolution in 1983 and actively involved in politics since the 1950s, shared the story with me personally. He said Eric Gairy’s rise to leadership started when he returned to Grenada from Aruba in 1949. Gairy resented the prevailing economic and social order that excluded him from the closeted world of predominantly white and mixed race people of the middle class.

Gairy had worked in the oil refineries in Aruba until he became involved in trade unionism and Blacklisted for mobilising the workers to stand up for better conditions. Gairy was a situational leader. Wages had changed very little since emancipation and discontentment was widespread. He became the mediator between the official world of government and the labourers, negotiating on the workers behalf and fought for their right to better working conditions. The strikes of 1951 brought the country to its knees.

The unrest was such that the British sent two battle ships from England to suppress the trade unionists. Collective power was evident; civil unrest rose and the island was brought to chaos.

Gairy was elevated to the status of local hero. His followers created a song, “ We would never let our leader fall”. He was trusted to represent the masses. He held the crowd in his hand – there was nothing they wouldn’t do to help him fight for fairer wages for them.   Acting PM, Herbert Preudhomme described him as a “true leader, charismatic, good looking, eloquent, spoke impeccable English, someone to be admired and an object of desire.”

In his book, ‘The Hero and the Crowd in a Colonial Polity”, A.W. Singham emphasizes the rise of the situational leader: “After slavery legal systems were formed which created the rise of the charismatic authority and leadership – The Hero”. Dr. Nichole Phillips, described this as ‘one mannism’ – of following an individual as opposed to a party ideology, based on doctrine.

The President of Joy Town Community Development in Kingston, Jamaica, Major Cooke summarises the somewhat equivocal view of the inherently conservative middle class, “unions are a necessary evil in the face of injustice”. Injustice generates resistance and creates rebellion. From the 1930s the Caribbean was rife with union activity. They provided a platform for power and an engine for the dismantling of the colonial system of governance. Unions were the drivers for social change and important in bringing about elected leadership for the people of the Caribbean. Major Cooke talked in glowing terms about the leadership of Sir William Alexander Clark Bustamante because he championed the common man. Bustamante was a mixed race, middle class Jamaican and leading spokesman for striking workers in 1938. ‘Buster’ started the labour movement and led Jamaica into independence, eventually becoming the first Prime Minister of Jamaica, holding office from 29 April 1962- 23 February 1967. Cooke also admired Norman Manley, referring to him as an intellectual, who fashioned social thinking.

Former Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, VC Bird was a campaigning champion for the impoverished Black man. Joy Laurence, author and poet said, “ VC Bird was a trade unionist and activist for better conditions, his philosophy was to keep the poor man working”.

 The People and their Leaders

I interviewed many people who listed the leaders they admired and how they had impacted on their political mindset, sparking their interest in politics. The leaders referred to were ordinary people, standing out from the crowd and not prone to showing fear. Head of the University of the West Indies, Adrian Fraser said “the local people know these men, they see them in town, know their families, what school they went to”. The relationship is intimate and their followers expect loyalty to the cause. They show others that ordinary people can do extraordinary things, even in the face of overwhelming adversity and poverty.

The leaders who rose to prominence were reformists who demonstrated to their followers that they understood the cause and would fight for it. Men like Sir Eric Gairy, King Court, VC Bird, George Walters, Paul Bogle, Nanny, Maurice Bishop, Bustamante, Norman and Michael Manley. These leaders made history by understanding it. Such leaders are usually eloquent, intelligent and strong-minded – champions of the cause. Caribbean people expect their leaders to be part of their experience and to transcend it.  This is a highly personal stance and leaders are regarded as being part of the human branding of the country and people they represent. Leaders who are academically inept, puppets or a social embarrassment are given short shrift.

George Brizan was an educator, historian, author of “Grenada: Island of Conflict” and a politician.

He entered politics as a response to the execution of Maurice Bishop and Jacqueline Creft, who were killed by their own party members, along with 10 others during the Grenadian revolution in 1983. Brizan admired Bishop. Maurice Bishop was his protégé, a high achieving student, cultured and charismatic. Like other leaders, he had the ability to create followers who would support his vision. Like many others, George Brizan felt that Maurice’s execution had been as a result of Bernard Coard (the other leader in the People’s Revolutionary Party) being jealous of Maurice’s popularity with the masses. A good example of ‘one mannism’ versus party ideology.

Maurice Bishop came from a priviliged middle class family in Grenada. As an unknown student in England, he found it difficult when confronted with racism and marginalisation. He became very angry, got involved in communism and the quest to bring down the establishment. He achieved a mass following amongst the working class, young professionals and students in his fight against the bourgeoisie to re-distribute wealth.

In his Independence address to the nation in 2014,  Antiguan Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer said Prince Klaas (real name was Court) and 87 other slaves who took part in the 1736 slave conspiracy to overthrow the planters “represent and epitomise the symbol of our struggle, our resilience, our freedom, our indomitable spirit, the ultimate sacrifice and commitment to the cause of full liberation.”

When we look at the political structures in Britain today it is easy to understand why Black Britons feel alienated from the main parties as they do not represent them or their needs. The Caribbean settlers to Britain of the 50s and 60s were politically motivated, valued the right to vote and were strong union people. Unions were growing in importance in the Caribbean in the 50s and 60s and the immigrants arrived expecting to be treated fairly. They were in Britain to work, invited to join the burgeoning public services industry exemplified by London Transport and the NHS.

My time in the Caribbean proved invaluable in gaining an understanding of the political structures and the fervent loyalty displayed by the people to the party or person they supported. ‘T’, a young man, I met in Spanish Town Jamaica, told me that people take politics seriously. He explained that families sometimes disintegrated when members supported different parties. During election times, he said, “This could become tense and dangerous, as people were attacked, homes burned down and threats made to individuals.” This was the Jamaican electoral landscape looked in 1980 when Michael Manley won with an overwhelming majority.

 The Governments of the Caribbean are the largest employers and it is to them that people look to find work. “The masses remember what you do for them, how you helped, gave them a job, or financial support. Party ideology does not play such a big part.” Adrian Fraser, Lecturer at University of the West Indies observed.

Marc Isaac, writer and publisher, New Today newspaper, said that “Grenada operates on a political economy; you get special privileges”. “People wear colours. You show your colours.”

Evident during my visit to these islands was the involvement of the community in local political rallies. They are advertised in the local media, by loudspeaker and would always draw a crowd. People are interested in what their politicians have to say; they have a stake in the debate and find the message relevant. The meetings take place in public places like market squares and parks, in schools and community buildings. All members of the family are typically present and will hear first hand the thinking and plans of their political leaders. A crowd is a physical manifestation of collective power.

Dean of School of Art, Sciences and Professional Studies at TAMCC, Dr. Nicole Phillips commented, ‘I went to rallies with my parents, both were politically aware and played their part”. She was sent to group activities aimed at children and young people to develop their political consciousness. The groups were Pioneers for ages 9-14, Cadets and National Youth were 14+. Under the People’s Revolutionary Government regime there was an activity for everyone.

Politics is accessible to all in the Caribbean – not reserved for the privileged classes. Where there are such huge disparities in wealth and social conditions in close proximity and without a welfare safety blanket, the drive for change grows from within the community.

The message transmits via peer groups. In Britain today sections of Black youth estranged from society are being drawn to gang culture. Many are failing to gain educational qualifications and get involved in quasi-legal and illegal activities for economic reasons and seek gang affiliation for protection and a sense of belonging. They do not see themselves as part of mainstream society and are therefore not connected to its function. They do not see any relevance in a law that is territorial, works to its own internal logic and in consequence become prisoners of disadvantaged postcodes.

Mentoring and Social Enterprise

 The Deputy Chair of National Democratic Congress, Jude Cameron, nowadays a resident of Grenada, after having lived in the UK and USA, has devoted his life to politics, social reform and community development. He first became interested in politics as a schoolboy because of the positive influence of a local estate owner, a fair employer, who treated his workers well. As a young man Cameron interacted with local people of influence, who would debate politics. They would offer solutions and in an informal way act as mentors and role models.   They challenged and shaped his thinking and introduced a sense of personal responsibility to society.

Major Cooke in Jamaica,  his father told hims “you must make a contribution to your fellow man.” He is today running an organization that works towards helping the nation. He believes that the only thing that lasts is “investing in people”.

Along with other church leaders in Jamaica and the UK, Major Cooke’s mission is to bring purposeful affirmation to people, seen in his work in Trenchtown Jamaica. This is a very poor neighbourhood, a base of gangland activity, low achievement and poverty.

He started Joy Town Community Development Foundation in 2001 with Bobby Wilmot, Pastor of the Covenant Church Kingston. Their mission is to transform lives by providing the resources and skills that will enable young people and adults to improve their circumstances and those around them. The Joy Town team has worked tirelessly to raise funds to refurbish a disused building in Trenchtown and turn it into a learning centre. Here volunteers are teaching numeracy and literacy to adults, building parenting skills and running homework clubs for children and young people.

Community needs are targeted by this team in education, health and well-being and behavioural practices. A program specifically targets sex workers in Kingston to provide them with skills training, remedial adult education and spiritual knowledge. As part of the program clients are given voluntary counselling and are tested for sexually transmitted infections.

The Pastor Errol Henry of Praise City International Church, a social entrepreneur with a community conscience, launched a factory producing banana chips. This venture gave local people jobs and taught them new skills. It was a thriving social enterprise for those who would otherwise would have access to these opportunities. Unfortunately, the project failed due to the anti-social behaviour of some of the employees and subsequent looting. This has not stopped him from continuing his efforts to support the community as he realizes that the only strategy that will successfully counter marginalization, ghettoisation and anti-social and violent behaviour is consistency and steadfastness in providing opportunities. He practices Christian love in his mission to educate and create positive experiences for the people within his ambit of influence.

He went on to purchase buildings in Trench Town for those desperately in need of housing. With three churches in the area he implements assertive outreach, providing support and care for the people he wants to attract. The people he helps are not in a position to reciprocate. He sees it as part of his Christian duty to serve these people and help to improve their lives. He is a business man, a director of an Insurance company, who uses his financial resources to fund these projects. He opens the door of his home in the salubrious Beverly Hills to the inner-city children of Trench Town.

Another of the growing breed of Christian social entrepreneurs is Bruce Fletcher who regards it as his duty as a church leader to fend for the poor and those ostracised by society. He started an organization to address this need called Operation Save Jamaica(OSJ). Pastor Bruce says that ‘love will address the lawlessness’. He is moved by the habits and mindsets he encounters that lead to crime, violence, ignorance and vulnerability. OSJ provides support, education, training and counselling to help these marginalized groups to gain skills, change attitudes and develop different values to enable them to make better choices and turn away from violence.

Pastors are working together in Jamaica to combat gang activity and present themselves as role models, mentors and educators for the poor and disenfranchised. Their work is extremely encouraging and effective; lives are being changed and communities impacted by this work. The aim is to improve living conditions, educational chances, provide sustainable economic opportunities and growth for the people of Trench Town and other communities, ultimately creating a way of life that restores peaceful communities. Together they have been effective in curbing gang membership and activities by providing positive project-based activities such as pig farming, business development and mentoring.

A reformed gang member, C shared his story with me. He had been shot in the face by another member of his gang and the bullet had gone through his cheek. He had got involved with gangs in his late teens as the lifestyle appealed to him – promising money, drugs, a car, girls and excitement. He explained the gang structure: The man at the top is ‘the Don’ – very powerful, with money from extortion and drugs. Next in line is the ‘Head Soldier’ and then the foot soldiers. Life is precarious as there is always someone wanting to take your place and get the love and respect of the Don. If you say something negative, however trivial, about the Don you expose yourself to danger. As a demonstration of love and loyalty soldiers will offer to maim or even kill in order to win favour with the Don and to be promoted to Head Soldier. C is now married, working and a member of a church where he is being mentored and supported to stay out of trouble.

There was a marked difference between the islands in the level of gang activity and the response to it. Jamaica has a huge problem with gangland activity as it is a seductive option for those without education and jobs.

I witnessed no go areas in Trench Town where outsiders were not allowed in unless given permission. These communities erected roadblocks to prevent entry. The pastors working in these areas had managed over a period of time to win the trust of these gangland residents and were given entry to provide education and training to the community.

Some communities are ruled by Dons who wield a lot of power and have people doing their bidding. They provide financial support for others, sometimes paying for education and in so doing buying huge local respect. Arguably, the Don has taken on the role of the social welfare provider for the area; paid for in a currency of silence, protection and intimidation.

Education and Curriculum

Education is very important to the people of the Caribbean and today is a much sought after commodity. Slaves were forbidden to read or write as their slave masters did not want them to question their allotted position. The first society to educate slaves was the Moravians. In Antigua it is common to see a picture of a teacher posthumously mounted on lamp posts in memory of their hard work and service to the community. Joy Laurence, an Antiguan author wrote “my teacher praised me and read my work out in class”

In schools I attended in the Caribbean, I observed that the children all address their teachers by their surnames. Adults are called by their title i.e. Mr., Mrs., Miss, Dr, or Professor, never by first names. This instills a sense of formality and respect, creating a clear distinction between the student and the professional, avoiding any form of familiarity, which is deemed ill-mannered in Caribbean society.

 

Children are seated in rows, or clusters, with the teacher at a desk, affording them a panoramic view of the classroom. Here again, symbolic emphasis is put on the teacher being in charge and easily identifiable in the room. The strategy is not to blend in but to stand out and hold your position. It teaches children boundaries and where authority and responsibility lies.

This contrasts with the British custom of teachers being on first name terms with their students, which is friendly and I don’t stand in judgement. The cultural differences, of course, lead to the potential for misunderstood normative behaviours and even disrespect. These differences, arguably, would benefit from being addressed as part of an induction process for people coming from different cultures. This will help to avoid some of the misunderstandings that arise when these people arrive in a new environment.

Educators are honoured in Caribbean communities. In Britain some feedback from teachers suggests that in many cases Black children do not succeed in comparative terms in schools after arriving at the secondary stage. It is also perceived that Black parents are less likely to attend parents’ evenings or seek to find out how well their children are performing at school. ROTA (Race on the Agenda) published a report that posited the view that Black children were being discriminated against because teachers’ expectation of their ability was lower leading to similarly lower academic attainment. Reasons suggested for poor achievement include socio-economic class position and financial status.

The link between social class and educational success is an obvious one but I would argue that equally important are parental values and belief in education as a vehicle for social mobility. Where this is present, within a nurturing educational environment, we can see evidence of children from lower socio-economic groups doing well. Most of the people I interviewed in the Caribbean came from very humble backgrounds and yet have succeeded academically.   Receiving a good education, in a disciplined environment with support from teachers, parents and the broader community tends to produce success.

When we look at those that succeed in mainstream British society and the skills they have acquired it is evident that the process of socialization and assimilation of these skills in Black communities in deprived areas often falls short of the ideal.

The Jamaican social entrepreneur, Major Cooke, refers to the case of a friend of his, a high achiever, who left his home in Jamaica and studied at Edinburgh University. His own children, however, have fallen short of his expectations for their education. He blamed this on British teachers for having low expectations of Caribbean children. He concluded that teachers with ambitions for their pupils and who encourage aspiration, gain better results.

I conducted an interview with the teacher, Lorna Stanley, in Trench Town, Jamaica. This is a socially and economically deprived area of Kingston, that experiences low levels of academic attainment. She runs the Operation Restoration Christian School and trains pupils that have graduated from her schools and others in the community to become teachers. Her work is successful whilst full of challenges. One of her pupils fell out with some gangsters. Ms Stanley received word that these gangsters were planning to come to the school to shoot this young woman. She sent a letter home with her pupil, explaining the situation to her mother requesting that the girl should not attend school. The mother could not read but fortunately asked a neighbour to read it for her and was alerted to the situation. This showed her that not being able to read could have had disastrous consequences for her daughter; crying she told Lorna that she was going to take up Literacy classes immediately.

Staff development is another challenge facing Ms Stanley as her trainee teachers are not formally trained and may not have completed secondary school. Ms Stanley takes the view that some help is better than none. There are also huge financial challenges as her schemes are not government funded and depend on external sources of financial support to exist.

The pupils at Ms Stanley’s school live in the socially and economically deprived area of Kingston Jamaica, a locality known for its gangland activities. It is where Bob Marley was born. This is a very young community where people with little or no formal education struggle to gain acceptance within mainstream society. Lorna told me that people from Trench Town are discriminated against based on their postcode when applying for work. Similar experience is evident in the UK.

In contrast, it is apparent that uptown children from a middle class and /or more socially stable backgrounds are able to exploit educational opportunities in a similar fashion to their white middle class British counterparts.

The Antiguan author Selvyn Walters was born into a middle class family and his mother had learnt to read at three. Selvyn passed an island scholarship at nine; was a lover of history and ascribed his curiosity and subsequent progress to a teacher who encouraged debate and questioning. His interest in politics arose from reading the Bible, creating within him a sense of social justice based on morality and equity. He loved debating and won school competitions. Debate, he feels, inspires reflection, knowledge and creates a respect for the opposing view. In contrast, the gang culture with its oppressive and bullying culture does the exact opposite.

An earlier Governor General of Grenada, Sir Paul Scoon, started life as a schoolteacher and held the role of Education Officer, overseeing schools on the island. He said his mother was a huge influence on him as she passionately believed in education. She made him read regularly and was a disciplinarian, reinforced within a large extended family. He received a bursary to go to Leeds University and later studied for a Masters in Education at Toronto.

The former Grenadian PM, George Brizan, won a primary school scholarship, one of only 20 awarded on the island. He went to Presentation College run by Irish Brothers from the Catholic church. The Brothers who taught Classics instilled in him a strong sense of ambition. Students were encouraged to debate and the school had a thriving debating society. This was important for him as it helped him to understand alternative viewpoints, world views, develop ideas and the ability to reason.

The Caribbean curriculum is still based on British principles and history. The more recent changes to the curriculum especially in Jamaica have turned the tide in a different direction with Jamaican history taught in form one and its early years curriculum containing modules such as Celebrating Me, People in our Community, Celebrations and National Heroes Day. The college lecturer, Nichole Phillips is of the strong opinion that textbooks should be made available on Grenadian history for school children. She feels that all aspects of Grenadian history should be taught in schools, as children need acquaint themselves at an early age with their own historical landscape.

The retired cricketer, Reginald Scarlett was educated via a British curriculum. He was encouraged to read by his father, so saw education as important. He emigrated to the UK on a cricket contract, acquired a British accent and was seen as a ‘man of the people’. Mr. Scarlett worked with disadvantaged young people in the UK, running a scheme at the Haringey Cricket College for aspiring young professional cricketers. He also started the London Community Cricket Association. Mr. Scarlett believes that these young people need their horizons broadened in order to enjoy richer experiences outside of their closed home environments. Many young British Blacks are engaged in conflict based on territory and do not feel safe outside of their home turfs. He took a group of young Black British men to Jamaica to experience first hand where their parents or grandparents had come from. These young men were touched by the welcome they received and the acceptance of the people who were willing to share their knowledge with them and make them feel at home. He felt they benefitted from this new understanding of their roots, their culture and for being accepted for who they were. Self-image was being conspicuously repaired through this healing and affirming process.

 Conclusion

This was an exponential leap in knowledge, awareness and understanding for me based on spending an extended period in my ancestral environment and learning firsthand from everyone I met. I am convinced that history, ancestry and political literacy strongly inform one’s identity and community purpose. It forms the basis of outward engagement, the springboard of desire to shape events and helps to create vision.

Without education, passion and aspiration there is no cultural incentive to improve conditions and expectations for the generation to come. This is predicated on the belief that to receive one needs to contribute, even if our contribution is freely inspired love, respect and ambition.

Black Britain and its leadership needs to create a coherent agenda of up-skilling through education of Black youth so that second best is no longer an option. Our marketplace is no longer our neighbourhood but the world. The importance of education has never been higher as a trunk route to social mobility. Social policy that equivocates over Black Britain, accepts failure, poor achievement and social exclusion has to be challenged. The traditional low expectations for Black British children, ghettoization in poorer neighbourhoods with high unemployment and an acceptance of benefit culture will no longer suffice.

This cycle of under-achievement has to be broken. A life prospectus for young Blacks that offers hope and aspiration instead of sullen despair and a route to criminality within prison finishing schools must be top of our agenda.

Recommendations

  • Governmental and non-governmental organisations expressing a desire for increased participation from Black British people should aim to work with the Black Church to reach the disenfranchised sections of British society. The Black Church remains influential and reaches across the generations. Many Black Christians are professionals and should be encouraged to get involved in politics, social reform and policy despite the public perception of fundamental religious beliefs. Collaboration will change mindsets, encourage diversity, and ratify the respect of views of others.
  • The introduction of mentoring schemes at national and local government level for all age groups. Mentorees will gain access to organisations and professionals who will broaden their horizons, demystify certain environments and allow the opportunity to develop and harness new skills. Older people will learn how to lobby for the changes they want to see in their communities. Greater access to Parliament, local government offices will help break down the elitism associated with party politics in Britain and make the somewhat forbidding surroundings more accessible.
  • Introduce to the school curriculum courses that explore the journey of the Caribbean people and the impact of slavery on both Caribbean and British people. There is a popular misconception that Black immigration began with the Wind Rush generation. Few know that Catherine of Aragon arrived in 1501 with an entourage of Moors, Muslims and Jews. A more accurate picture of Black migration to Britain needs to be taught in order to break down barriers to integration. We need to celebrate, for example, the soldiers of colour who served in World War II
  • There needs to be recognition and teaching within teacher training, counselling courses and other programmes for educators, social workers and professionals on post-traumatic stress disorder as part of the experience of Caribbean slaves and more recent mass trauma. The learned behaviours from trauma are passed on to subsequent generations and informs their frame of reference, forming collective memories that damage pyschologically and foster risk adverse behaviours left buried in the unconscious.
  • The creation of Parenting programmes for young parents that introduce the effects of broken attachment on the development of the child. The encouragement of parents to nurture and discipline their children without using corporal punishment, so often the default position of Black Caribbeans. The beating of children to control behaviour deemed as inappropriate is still prevalent in the Caribbean and Britain. The emotional and psychological development of the child needs to be of utmost importance as parents without guidance are sometimes unaware of the damage they may be causing to their children. Parenting centres and residential homes should be considered for young mothers where they can continue their vocational education. The mentoring of adolescent parents by pairing them with families to provide guidance on bringing up children would provide a safety blanket and an extension for family support.
  • Consider School exchange trips to the Caribbean for young people to develop a cultural identity,  experience Black people in positions of power and leadership as the norm. For those at risk of marginalisation this will enable them to experience their ancestral culture first hand and gain an appreciation of the educational opportunities available to them and perhaps take for granted.   This will broaden their minds and create new perspectives about what being ‘Black’ is. They will experience other Black young people who are educated, ambitious and on their way to gaining professional status. Black young people in the UK lack professional role models, often accepting the example of gangsters and street personalities peddled in the media or via the communities in which they live. A young woman I took to the Caribbean was confounded when she met Black doctors, lawyers, businessmen and other professionals. Her opinion was that Black people did not achieve academically, were ‘ghetto’ and were incongruent with professional lifestyles.
  • Encourage volunteering programmes abroad with charity work of this kind driven by schools, colleges as part of mandatory study. This will foster an attitude of giving.
  • Make more scholarships and bursaries available for gifted children in primary schools. The majority of problems are born in adolescence and a better environment and education can be a game-changer. The people in the Caribbean that were unable to pay for education benefitted from these schemes and in consequence experienced different life journeys.
  • Introduce psychosocial culturally relevant interventions and coaching for people of Caribbean descent that address trauma, loss and broken attachments. This will address unconscious responses and default behaviours by helping to reset belief systems that limit and marginalize. The roots of social problems need to be targeted in order deal with the symptomatic behaviours such as criminality, broken relationships, substance misuse and family dysfunction.
  • The Caribbean islands lack the resources to provide extensive programs for professional development once they have gained their qualifications. They are beset with challenging social issues such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, abandonment issues, emotional and psychological problems, mental health disorders and many more. An annual international conference tackling these issues with British professionals would be a good way to build relationships with social care agencies, develop strategies and make paradigm shifts in thinking. Talking therapies have not been a formal part of Caribbean cultures, but the use of stories and parables to convey a message are commonplace.
  • An interesting proposition would be to encourage schools in the UK to play the British national anthem to unite and celebrate British culture with their pupils. This typically only happens at present in public schools or at sporting events. This should not be seen as cultural apartheid, but an inclusion in what is British. Currently, being accepted as British and heralded as such is a position earned when a Black person does something good e.g. wins a gold medal. The Caribbean people travelled to Britain regarding it as the mother country and wanted to participate. They were faced with racism that led to disillusionment and rejection. If Black British people are made to feel like outsiders they will not integrate and a rise in radicalization will result.
  • We need more leaders that can transcend the social strata without mimicking inherent mores and culture but act as role models within an inclusive framework.
  • It would be a positive step for the UK to mark Emancipation Day on 1 August 1834 when the slaves became free and equal to all men

 Final words

Slavery has affected the psychology of both the people that experienced its cruelty and those who administered the punishing regime it evoked. It resulted in the perpetrators of slavery having a cognitive dissonance to the suffering and feelings of those they deemed to be inferior and not fully human.  This is seen in the lack of empathy clearly demonstrated in the sentencing of  young black man when they commit a crime.  For the victims of slavery reliving the traumas inflicted on them, caused from post-traumatic stress and being prone to repeating these cruel behaviours, having internalised them.

Today, it is important is to recognize and change the learned behaviours and attitudes that grew out of slavery. Racism still thrives, affording privileges to some groups of people and denying others the same opportunities. As Black British people we are faced with discrimination and marginalisation on such a profound level that the paradigm shifts needed to be made in both Black and white British mindsets to address these issues seem overwhelming. As social constructs, both groups of people have been and continue to be divided. I attended a Caribbean hosting before the 2015 election and the prevailing view of MPs from all political parties when asked about justice for Black people is that Black people should gain qualifications, positions of power and influence to ensure they get a fair trial. This leads me to conclude that Black people cannot expect justice from a system that continues to exclude  and other them.

Some of the social problems facing Black Britain can be culturally attitudinal in nature that condone as a norm abusive behaviour such as domestic violence and physical abuse of children. At a conference in Grenada in 2014 on Domestic Violence I articulated my view from the platform and in the press that domestic abuse should never be tolerated and that nobody has the right to physically assault, manipulate or control another person.   I was shocked when a friend called me the day before I left the island to tell me she was leaving her husband as he had been pushing her around and had been abusive for years. When I drove an elderly lady home her husband shouted at me from the balcony, “I see you come down here stirring up a lot trouble”. These examples and the feedback from the conference demonstrate that people are desperate to challenge the norm and to do so from a position of knowledge and not  collusion with a social conditioning that accepts cruelty as the norm.

It is clear that the Caribbean cannot be sold as the  ideal environment as it too has many social and economic challenges and colonial attitudes still imprinted on its psyche. For the Black person, the Caribbean offers a collective identity, a history that has challenged injustice and overthrown oppressive systems and a belief that social mobility and liberation leaps from the twin platforms of education and community  cohesion and empowerment.

Janice Gittens 2016

January 15, 2016

Slavery, sex and sin

Filed under: Uncategorized — Janice Gittens @ 11:21 pm

 A Perspective on the Formation of the Black Female Construct

This paper will look at the female construct of the Black woman, primarily from a Caribbean frame of reference. In the main, I will focus on the Black woman as a social anthropomorphic actor or token as a means of representing how she is and has been abused and marginalized in society by means of her sexuality and racial origin.

To begin with, I am going to trace a path from an signpost place of trauma and that is the Black woman as a slave and then go on to develop an argument to demonstrate how the culturally imposed social construct of the Black woman has left deep symbolic references in the unconscious mind of the woman, her community and the dominant western culture. It is these constructs that have to be challenged and understood in order to view the woman in context of the Symbolic order.

Let us first look at the Black Caribbean woman. It can be said that racist, sexist socialisation has historically conditioned Black women to devalue their femaleness and to regard race as the only relevant label of identification. The consequence was to be asked to deny a part of themselves. This raises questions for Black women in the analytical situation, as the divided, repressed self will have to be addressed and put into context. This lowered self-perception did not enable contemporary Black women to join in the fight for social equality for women and to recognise the impact of sexism on their social status. So in the main they were silent as they did not recognise womanhood as an important aspect of their identity. It was felt that liberation from racial oppression would be all that was necessary for freedom.

The slavery experience epitomises the example of excessive oppression and trauma on the Black woman. She is taken against her will from her homeland aboard a ship enduring months of hardship and trauma to a strange land where she is conditioned to serve as an economic metronome for her owners.   Before we consider the impact that might have had on the psyche I will illustrate over the next few paragraphs what her experiences might have been.

Women were perceived as not representing a threat, were easily captured and were sold into slavery for breaking tribal laws. They were not chained on board the ships, as the white slavers did not fear uprisings or retaliation from them. They were branded, beaten for crying, physically abused and tortured. They were stripped when branded and their nakedness was a constant reminder of sexual vulnerability. The threat of rape or other physical brutalisation inspired terror in the psyches of the displaced females. The crew impregnated many of the women and many in turn died as did their children on those nightmarish journeys.

The traumatic experiences of African men and women on board the ships was part of the indoctrination process that would transform the free person into a slave.   They were stripped of human dignity, and names and status were removed with dispersal used to destroy language and any overt signs of African heritage. The African people lost their spirit and conformed to the slavers’ notion of what a slave is, which arguably still exists today in media images and stereotyping.

The process of taming for women had to be thorough as they had wider access to family and children – and the slavers did not want to run the risk of the mother harming or devaluing her family in any way. The Black woman was deemed harmless but helpful, as biddable and wild, thus legitimating the bestial and cruel behaviour of the master class. The savagery of the slavers was transferred to their victims who could then be seen as sub-human and treated accordingly. Such extreme duress and conditions meant that in order to survive and to function the Black woman dealt with that pain by separating herself from it, in so doing uncoupling her emotions from the pain being experienced.

In addition to their familial function, Black women were also expected to labour in the fields, to be breeders, and objects of white male sexual assault. Black woman were assigned masculine roles and were therefore not valued in the same way as white women who were prevented from performing these roles – except when white indentured workers were subjected occasionally to work in the fields as a form of punishment. Any innate sense of femininity was stripped from Black women, exacerbated further by legitimised sexual assault on them, from as young as thirteen. They were constantly aware of their vulnerable sexual status and knew that any man of any colour could exploit them.

The brutal treatment of enslaved Black women by white men reveals to an extent the depth of male hatred that existed towards women and their bodies. This was a consequence of prevailing misogynist attitudes towards women in colonial British and American society. The mantra that we are all sexual beings leads inevitably to the imposition of prohibitions and restraints, fed by the popular colonial misinterpretation of Christian teaching that portrayed woman as a sexual temptress, the bringer of sin into the world. Sexual lust originated with her and men were merely the victims of her wanton power. Laws were introduced to govern the sexual behaviour of white women to ensure that they would not be tempted to stray from the straight and narrow path – or else face punishment. In ‘The Troublesome Helpmeet’, Katherine Rogers offers an explanation for the emergence of misogynic feeling:

Of the cultural causes of misogyny, rejection of or guilt about sex is the most obvious. It leads naturally to degradation of woman as the sexual object and projection onto her of the lust and desire to seduce which a man must repress in him. At the same time that he denigrated woman’s sexual function, the preoccupation with sex resulting from the attempt to repress desire is apt to make him see her exclusively as a sexual being, more lustful than man and not spiritual at all…

Misogyny can also develop as a result of the idealisation with which men have glorified women as mistresses, wives and mothers. This has led to a natural reaction a desire to tear down what has been raised unduly high.  

Since woman was designated as the originator of sexual sin, Black women were naturally seen as the embodiment of female evil and sexual lust. They were labelled Jezebels and sexual temptresses and accused of leading white men away from spiritual purity into sin. By the 19th century White women were exempt from this as strict religious conformity had loosened its hold and this outdated thinking where it existed was now focused on the Black woman whilst the White woman was seen as above such feelings, innocent and virtuous, exempting her from the curse of sexuality.

Sojourner Truth depicts the warped male attitude towards Black females in her speech at Akron, Ohio, women’s rights convention in 1851.

That man over there says women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man when I could get it and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen them most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman? (Lowenberg and Bogin 1976)

Sojourner shows that the concept of woman is a cultural construct by using contradictions between her life and societal qualities attributed to women. Rather than accepting the existing assumptions she challenges them. Her actions demonstrate the process of deconstruction, namely exposing a concept as ideological or culturally constructed rather than as natural – or a simple reflection of reality.

We see that the Black woman is ostracised because of her femininity. She is expected to work as hard as a man, performing similar duties to her male counterpart but never given a position of leadership. Never appointed an overseer, as these positions were reserved for men. Never valued for her sexuality, but instead as an object worthy of sexual exploitation. It is in this realm of sexuality that racist thinking takes its most schizophrenic form. White men forced Black women into their beds but cried ‘rape’ when a Black man looked at White womanhood positioned on her pedestal of chastity.   An essential part of the myth is that Black women are promiscuously yielding to white men and that Black men hunger for white women. The symbols of sexuality have been historically and consistently manipulated to justify oppression and to fan fear and hatred. This imagery is symbolised in the film King Kong. The gorilla is representative of the Black male, bigger and more savage than the white male and desiring the white female. This is prohibited so he is caught and killed and wins the sympathy of the audience, no longer dangerous. In fact, he has been castrated.

Black people are popularly portrayed as a sexual and aggressive threat, the male as a rapacious devil and the female a seductive witch.

Gearhart and Schuster (1971) say that the white man’s attitudes “can be explained in terms of desexualisation of the mother image through idealisation and attributing to the white woman the qualities of chastity, purity and disinterest in anything sexual. The sexual sensual side of the mother image is displaced onto the Black woman.

The Black woman has characteristics and attributes imposed on her manufactured from the fantasies of the dominant male social order. The feral image of a wanton temptress makes it possible for her to be raped by the male slavers and treated like an animal, as she has no feelings other than via her sexuality. The Black woman is damaged to the core of her existence and yet has no place of refuge as the society in which she lives has made her treatment the norm.

Unlike other women, the Black woman not only has a male ideal imposed on her but a white male ideal. In her world it is not a positive experience to be a woman or to be Black her very societal identity is undermined and devalued. The oligarchy of the patriarchal white society is perpetuated and manifested in laws, morals customs and other constructs.   The girl/woman is measured against these ideals from birth – impossible to attain yet rigidly judged.   Alfred Adler was the first psychoanalyst to condemn society’s conception of women. He explains that there are two tendencies dominating psychic phenomena – social feelings and the need to dominate and exercise power which influences every human activity and colours the attitude of every individual.

Consider the Black woman in the English-speaking Caribbean context (my personal perspective), to understand her experience of racism and sexuality and the social conditioning that is imposed on her. Caribbean people are drawn from the descendants of African slaves, East Indians who for the most part were born in the Caribbean, and the descendants of Europeans. There are also people of mixed race who were fathered by Europeans with slave women. Black people were taken to the Caribbean in the 17th century to work on sugar plantations and the slave owners considered the slaves as goods and chattel to be used as they pleased.

The power exerted by the slave owners had an enervating effect on relationships between slaves. Male slaves felt insecure as their partners could be taken at a whim by the slave owner. Forming permanent relationships therefore was risky and came bundled with a lot of psychological pressure that undermined the formation of permanent unions. The fear of separation was so great that it affected emotional attachment, and a matriarchal social structure was formed.

From the outside the Caribbean woman’s attitude towards sexuality may seem ambivalent, even puzzling. The role of the woman and mother is pre-eminent and even where the woman seems in control there are still signs of frustration and resignation. The woman in the Caribbean has been idolised, mistreated, scandalised, adored and sometimes exploited. Patently, Caribbean women have had to put up with a lot from Caribbean men. Ironically, even in their difficulties their strength, resolve and seemingly boundless caring is often the topic of conversation among Caribbean men.

THE PSYCHOSEXUAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE CARIBBEAN WOMAN

In Caribbean society it is customary for a girl to be reminded constantly that she is not a boy. Mothers saying this to girls are reinforcing the fact that there are certain modes of behaviour allowed for boys but which are forbidden for girls. Apparent are the double standards that lead women to repress their daughters yet allow sons a free rein to express their sexuality physically after mid to late teens, because they cannot bring ‘home trouble’.   In fact, if a son gets a girl pregnant and her mother goes to see the mother of the boy she will defend the son by saying ‘tie up your hen, my cock has to roam’, meaning that the girl’s mother has no right to let her out and give her similar freedom as a boy will always want to have sex. The perception is that it is the girl’s problem, the man is just doing what he is supposed to do.   A girl is seen as being ‘stray way’. I recently had this problem with my own mother when my nineteen-year-old daughter went out on a Saturday afternoon with a male friend. She was told that ‘it didn’t look good’ her to be going out with a boy when she should be home cleaning, as this is what decent girls did. The Seventh Day Adventist School that my daughter went to did not allow girls to take their jumpers off in the summer and their skirts had to be below the knee. The underlying message was that girls were responsible for maintaining their virtue whereas boys, once physical contact had begun, even superficially would not be able to stop themselves, having reached the point of no control.

This attitude is problematic for young women as they are seen as responsible for sexual activity because it is instinctive for boys and not girls.

A young Caribbean sums up this dichotomy of being told on the one hand never to trust men whilst on the other observing her mother in a sexual relationship.

“Our parents led us to believe that men would kill or hurt us or make you pregnant. You had to stay away from them. Mother told me to be careful of men, but didn’t explain what she meant. But she had five children with two other men before she came to live with my father and then she had five more.”

It is clear from this that the young woman sees through the deception, and that her mother exhibits the classic contradiction – do not as I do but as I say. Her mother conditioned to believe that men can have their way with you is actually trying to protect her daughter from any sexual liaisons that may hurt her and leave her vulnerable or exploited.

My own experience of growing up in such an environment left me feeling completely alienated for merely being female. As my body changed my sexuality became the most salient outer expression of who I was.   I was not encouraged to speak to boys unless there was a tangible reason, as this would be looking for trouble.   I was not allowed to run because my breasts shook, I had to sit in a particular way and occupy myself doing what girls do, because I was definitely not a woman and should know my place. Most difficult of all was growing up in London where the prevailing culture ran counter to these beliefs. I already felt different culturally to my school friends whose liberal parents amazed me. In my state of near house arrest I was too embarrassed to confide in anyone.   Separated from my Caribbean heritage where every girl of my age experienced similar coercion, I felt confused and vulnerable, guilty on the one hand, angry on the other. I rejected the conditioning, and this led to guilt which in turn led to my trading my identity for a compromised middle class liberal existence because it seemed more enticing. However, it negated and rubbed out the real me and led to an anonymous hybrid version of my identity, a state common amongst individuals who try to reject the negative aspects of their culture only to encounter negative aspects of another culture.

I grew up feeling soiled in relation to my sexuality and disliked being a woman as it held no attraction for me, causing nothing but unnecessary trouble. I learned to repress it and become boyish. That way I could blow caution to the wind and go in pursuit of the things that boys did. It seemed like the only way to remove parental pressure along with the constant references to me wanting to take a man. In reality, I was only fourteen or fifteen and just wanted to play netball, go out with my friends and have some fun. I built this boyish image so that boys would not find me attractive and I would not draw any undue attention to my sexuality. All of which, of course, went on at a subconscious level.

By the time I was nineteen I decided to explore what this sex thing was all about because in a sense I had already paid the price, received the sentence and yet had not performed the crime. As I had been called slut and a whore I felt I had little to lose. I had observed from the outside that women disparaged men whilst appearing to need them. My curiosity led me to want to understand how this apparent love/hate relationship worked and what fed the flame. I offered this gift to the first person that persisted long enough to know me as until then I had been really good at chasing guys away. I was crushed to find out that this carnal self-sacrifice is a shared experience of many other Caribbeans and not something unique to me, as noted below:

“Another attitude, born of the conflicting messages Caribbean women are forced to overcome – although many of them do not- is the non acceptance of their sexuality and the inability to see their sexual organs and sexuality, as a whole, as being good. This ambivalence towards sexuality often elicited much apprehension and insecurity in young girls facing the prospect of adulthood.” Neilson A. Waite 1995

The Caribbean socialisation process presents many mixed messages about sex to the teenage girl. We have shown that she is told that men are interested only in having a loveless, using relationship. She also learns that to not have a child and to be barren is the worst fate that can befall a woman and that having children is the culmination of female sexuality. I have been told by many Caribbean men that during intercourse upon reaching orgasm a woman will often shout ‘breed me’ as her ultimate goal in the act of coitus.

Caribbean mothers do not want the same fate for their daughters yet those who find it difficult to talk about sex to their daughters are failing to inform them how to develop more meaningful relationships with men and in the process make better choices. Some daughters historically saw this maternal behaviour as a way of keeping them subservient. Many adolescents opted to show their contempt for what they perceived as a denial of how they were feeling about their body and sexuality.

“Most of the women with whom we talked had lived their bodies up to the time of first intercourse as sexually devalued and often hated; they treated their genitals as ‘bad’ or psychologically silent areas. If they recognised the body’s pleasure giving, attractive aspects they were punished by the woman who was their primary gender role model. An impasse emerged as the maternal figure presented herself, through her own earlier life, as an example of the sexual and reproductive behaviour she denied the maturing girl, yet seemed no longer to connect herself with that existence.   The impasse could be resolved through sexual action. This meant intercourse hurriedly at the first opportunity with little reflection, minimal communication with the partner, and no contraception. It often meant little pleasure or actual physical or emotional discomfort. The sexual act was symbolically important, however: it affirmed the previously denied status of female adulthood.” Eugene Brody

Caribbean girls with the foundation of sexual knowledge supplied by their mothers in their developing status as adult females, are able to begin their sexual reproductive careers in a much more positive fashion than others deprived of this education and support.

Women develop a damaging passive, accommodating attitude to sexuality when they are not allowed to appreciate themselves as sentient beings who have a right to be sexual.

David Mace comments on middle-aged women in the Caribbean:

Middle-aged women in the Caribbean where marriage is the exception rather than the rule have a quaint way of describing their arrival at this point in the life cycle. They say ‘they are done with the world’, and one frequently observed manifestations of this, is that, now freed from guilt about their sex life, they become ostentatiously religious. The aging husband making advances to a young girl or other women will be termed as dirty old men. He has been denied access to his wife.”

My own personal experience of this lies in the case of my grandmother and mother who both claimed to having finished with life with church replacing that prime position in their life. The position taken is that eschewing sex makes you pure and the putative moral judge of others as you are now cloaked in righteousness. These God-fearing women are unable to associate sex and its pleasures as being God-given despite the fact that he created them and all their bodily functions. This psychological anomie is underlined further as the woman waits for a time when the sexual urge ceases, reinforcing the teaching of the Christian church that sex should not happen outside marriage. The practice of abstinence was not common practice because a further dichotomy for the woman existed. On the one hand the cultural expectation was to have children – on the other waiting for marriage was not considered a realistic option, especially amongst the poorer classes. The promiscuous sexual personality that men imposed on women – along with the slave owners’ caricature of the Black woman have both been internalised by the Caribbean woman. She lives a life of self-reproach, hoping that her daughter will marry and have children in that order – an ideal that is not impossible even if she herself did not live up to. Nonetheless, an ideal, often imposed by Christianity, which if not met should not result in further reproach on the next generation and symbolic of failure to achieve righteousness and sanctification.

It is not our position that Caribbean women do not like sex but the conclusion we arrive at is that the negative attitudes she holds about her body and her beauty need to be understood and made present in her context. Her womanhood has brought sexual risks coupled with the underlying need to be seen as righteous in an attempt to wash away past abuse from her and her ancestors. In understanding the Caribbean women it needs to be within the histori-social terms of reference within which she operates.

Slavery, sex and sin – together they have formed a potent crucible for the creation of the modern Black woman of Caribbean descent.

 

Janice Gittens 2016

November 25, 2015

A letter to God

Filed under: Uncategorized — Janice Gittens @ 10:52 pm

Dear God

Thank you for providing the opportunity for me to travel to Ghana as a free woman – a symbol of the status my African ancestors died and fought for, a right denied to them until 1834. Ghana is the likely land of my ancestors who, according to history reached the shores of the Caribbean islands some 400 years ago.

I did not know what was missing from my life, and only now am I acknowledging my ancestral loss and separation. I would have strongly rejected that truth, if it was posed to me, until I made this journey. That missing link, the spirit of my ancestors within, created an absence from myself, unknown and yet passively present, now beginning to stir into motion like a deep pool. Father, I hear you speaking to me in those dulcet tones, your words a healing balm soothing every part of my being, touching my brokenness and places of unfulfillment.

Unexpectedly, my feelings about Ghana and the plight of the Kayayei women are interwoven into my own personal memory of trauma and displacement I experienced when I arrived as an immigrant into the UK. The resilience they demonstrated in the face of displacement and destitution resonated with the part of me that that fights for survival regardless of what is thrown at me. My own experience of trauma has given me the ability to be stoic, to step aside from reality, focus resolutely on the strength to persevere. To just get through it, whatever that ‘it’ may be, suppressing my feelings and only in touch with the part of the psyche that flies from the here and now and seeks comfort in the future.
The Kayeyei womens’ hopes and ambitions gives them the will to endure the now in the hope of a better tomorrow. I experienced an outer body projection of travelling to a time when pain in the present will be no more than a memory inked indelibly on the subconscious. Tears alone won’t get you through today – just an iron will and desire to survive. I now realise that it is a setting pre-programmed in our DNA. How magnificently and fearfully made are we Father, that even in our darkest and cruelest moments we have the ability to escape within the mind rather like a lizard loses its tail and lives to grow another – a quality that protects us from death and insanity.
Around 400 years ago the slow death of the African self began, an identity laid to waste but the will to survive remained intact and survival was achieved, though at a price – and a man-made commercial price at that.

A land that of 92, 486 square miles, Ghana in those days had a terrain that was not human friendly. My ancestors were herded up like cattle, sold by their brothers into captivity for trivial, quotidian reasons in comparison to the apocalypse that awaited them. Shackled and lashed, they traipsed, tired and hungry, across country through jungle, forest, rivers and disease-infested bogs for miles to the dungeons that awaited them.

Their hosts were the colonizing British, Dutch and Portuguese, each with their own prison fortresses built to incarcerate their human livestock. The whitewashed walls, colonial and splendid, of Cape Coast Castle stood tall, facing out towards the roaring ocean. The sentinel guns pointed out to sea, ready to annihilate any strangers that posed a danger. These persecutors of the enslaved did not reflect on the beast abiding within them. Their self-perception was simple – upright, decent – but also eating, drinking…and brawling when gazumped over the price of an African slave. Deaf to the cries from the dungeons as the merciless sea crashed against the walls – the same thick walls that muffled the cries of the slaves.

This picture is one of tragedy, despicable uncaring pain inflicted from man to man, in the pursuit of monetary gain. Sin revealed at its stripped down core, far removed from the design of the Father.

 

For me, the journey to Cape Coast to visit this memory was not made with this intention in mind. A historical journey, to educate and empower, was quickly transformed into a pilgrimage of discovery. It touched me deep within and made me look at my Maker with pure reverence and awe. The dank musky fragrance in the dungeon conjured up images of dying skin amidst the blood, sweat and the excrement of the resilient heroes who refused to go under, though de-humanised. They stood huddled together, vulnerable, walking reluctantly through the tunnel of disaster pulling shackles and chains unceremoniously, clanging through darkness, towards more torture. The door addressed no return, was flung wide open and uninviting. It marked the permanent end of their homeland. What fear and horror awaited as the dawning of departure approached, the ships bobbed against the waves waiting for their cargo? Could this next stage be any worse than the dungeons behind them? The punishment for those who protested about the raping and beatings was meted out indiscriminately; callously ignoring the cried-out aversion to the perversions of their owners. The wailing hung heavily in the air, adhering to anything and everything that would later reverberate to their testimony.

I stood on the shore now filled with boats and watched as the fishermen tended their nets. I looked out to sea and thought of the journey of those tragic Africans. Fathers, mothers brothers, sisters, husbands, wives – a people lost, destroyed and gone forever. My heart filled with tears and I tried to stifle them, I choked on the surging emotions that raced through my body. The far reaching cries of the pilgrim sufferers that made those transatlantic journeys, still haunts the castle, their ghostly presence detected by anyone with a soul. I mourned the brutal separation from their land, their families and all the things they held dear, severed in a butchers trade, a treacherous kiss on the cheek, a cheap reward as the price for each human transaction.

I owe my existence to these brave men and women whose DNA could not be expunged by the ugliness and greed of man’s heart. My ancestors clung onto the strength of the Almighty whose eternal, omnipotent spirit hovered over them as they traversed the rough seas. A people saved from extinction was created on the shores of those faraway lands, a place of dwelling for those exiled for life.

I was born on the Caribbean island of Grenada, a beautiful jewel red and orange from the trauma of those tortured and slain. A land soaked in the blood of those worked into the ground. African pride was replaced by a shadowy veneer, a wraith-like existence that served as a background reminder of indomitable courage.

Father I thank you deeply for the honour of my ancestry, the strength of my people, their courage to flourish in spite of human-driven adversity. I am proud that the struggles were worth the sacrifice, necessary to bring about social change, justice and freedom. This legacy must be maintained, built on, taught to this generation and those to come. Arise my brothers and sisters. The time has arrived to heed your Kingdom call and bring healing to the land and justice to its people.

 

So be it. Amen. Awomen

March 29, 2013

Whose Feet Are These?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Janice Gittens @ 1:31 pm

From every corner we hear, far too often, a chorus of shocking stories about some of our young people. Heinous crimes are committed, children are rebelling, school discipline is under threat, law and order is under test. Parents, guardians and carers are speechless, ashamed and weary of the bad behavior they witness in their homes, on streets and in the news. They feel powerless and frustrated at their inability to reason and stem the tide of young people heading headlong into the iron bars of incarceration, the hopelessness of unemployment and the feral communities of our urban cities. What are we to do?

In answer to this, I shall reflect back to a time when I walked and talked from a place of not knowing. I was also influenced by the inexperienced voices of my peers, caught up in the magic of rebellion and listening to the re-iterations of addled minds that stared blankly at me as they held court to an audience of children, their own peers long gone.

Here I learned how to kick against the system, discredit my parents’ values and live for the moment as if my life depended on it. I was fast becoming something unrecognisable as destruction beckoned me to lie in its hand and forsake all I had been taught.

My granny would often say to me as she gently combed my hair that ‘birds of a feather flock together’, but these were not my feathers- why did I linger here? I recalled a favourite quotation from my mum, ‘Show me your friends and I’ll tell you what you are’. Conscience, started to penetrate my heart, my soul and my mind. ‘Not me,’ said I to these wary ways. ‘When did it ever become OK to rob, steal and kill, lie, cheat, mistreat and deceive for one’s own purpose much less to dress it in frilly justifications to mask its maker’.

I paused in the madness and retraced my steps to remember those people that had influenced me, ordinary folk who worked diligently. They came in their droves ready to work, sacrificing home and everything they knew in search of a future free from hardship and pain to acquire the skills and qualifications that would transform their course.

Every weekend our living room would be transformed into a gentlemen’s games room, the air laden with cigarette smoke, rum and whisky fumes. My dad, uncles and their friends played card games as they talked Caribbean and British politics and current affairs topics of the time. Voices were raised; debates heated and passionate arguments ensued from the more radical and verbal of the group. In an era where my friends at school were not interested in politics, social reform or debating I would sneak into the living room and sit at the feet of my dad, my uncles and their friends and listen intently to their impassioned speeches on current affairs and historical events of the past. It was during these discussions that I learnt of Fedon’s Rebellion, Sir Eric Gairy becoming the first premier of Grenada after the uprisings of the labouring class, Dr. Eric Williams of Trinidad, Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Angela Davis and many more.

I was fascinated by these stories and enthralled by the characters. I wanted to be like them. They were my heroes, men and women just like us that had overcome injustice and were responsible for improving their society. Such awesome accomplishments, I felt indebted to them and proud that they were part of my history, brave, resolute and victorious people. I really appreciated what they had done, especially Harriet Tubman, was my all-time favourite. They enabled me to stand with my back straight and my head held high, as they paved the way for people like me. Their only demand was that I too was ambitious and held aspirations for individual and community betterment in my pursuits.

Whose feet are your children sitting at? Who are you allowing them to be influenced by? Are they the feet of gang leaders, drug dons, irresponsible and self-seeking adults? Who do they admire? What do our actions tell them? These are just a few questions to ask in preparing to stem the tide of destruction and worthlessness that is apparent today in our youth.

Here we have tale of a young woman. I met her at a project and she told me that she had been ‘on road’ from the age of 13 as her mum kept ‘turfing’ her and her brother out whenever a new man came into her life. He would have all her mother’s attention; the best food and they became a nuisance to her. She said that it was whilst ‘on road’ that she met dubious and nefarious characters that would buy her Kentucky, McDonalds, allow her to ride in their cars and gave her the attention that she was not getting at home. Needless to say this young woman found herself in trouble and went on to say that her mother never asked her how she was spending her time nor where this extra money she had was coming from.

A young man I met at a conference on gangs, a reformed character told me that he did not go looking to become a member of a gang. The gang found him when he was just 13 and recruited him to deliver drugs for them. The older boys on the estate would take his mobile phone to see who he knew. Pride would not allow him to back down, so he soon earned his stripes and was given a gun by time he was 15, he was earning lots of money. He was the breadwinner for the family; they were all dependent on him for the extras that their usual benefits could not support.

Neither of these children stood a chance on their own; the adults around them chose to turn a blind eye for their own reasons. I am reminded by the African saying that it takes a whole village to raise a child, signifying that the community ‘as a whole’ has a responsibility to each and every child in its midst. What are we doing to speak out against the abuse of our children? Or is it someone else’s problem, the welfare state for instance? I hope not, as every statistics currently shows that children in social care are more likely to end up in detention, have poor academic achievements, and have substance misuse problems, behavioural problems and teenage pregnancies to name but some of the issues. From my perspective it is clear that the present state system is not working. Whoever is influencing these children and informing them of ‘self’ is not bringing a positive message of hope that inspires and motivates these young people to improve their position. Instead they move seamlessly from one institution to another within the system.

In the absence of good and loving leadership something else will actively take its place. The call is to invest in our children and build caring people of substance, resolute in the face of adversity, filled with knowledge and understanding that add to their community. We must strive to regain a pride in ambition and aim to be the best as so many died selflessly in the fight for education. Being ‘dumb’ is not the path to progress and prosperity, and neither is selling drugs nor prostituting. So choose wisely whose feet you will sit at and glean from the knowledge they have gained and imparted to you. For these pearls will act as manna in your journey through life.

To round up these reflections I will end by saying that our children are watching us and taking heed of what we do, say and how we behave. So with this thought in mind let us be mindful of the conversations we have in their presence, the people and behaviours we herald and be sure they know the place of unconditional love they hold in our hearts.

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”

Frederick Douglass

March 18, 2013

First Impressions Count

Filed under: Uncategorized — Janice Gittens @ 11:20 pm

 

Who were we? So bold and so brave, mere children unaccustomed to a life here in the UK, yet braced ourselves to face it, our faces set like flint.  Here we re-met those that had departed and yet now they seemed so strange since our parting.

Ingand, we here in Ingland, so cold and so grey so seemingly unattractive, fantasies dashed and in their place were tangible hardships.  I didn’t know I was poor and ungainly until I landed here; the jeers from my friends at home, at my shoes that were laughing seemed like friendly banter now that I was caught up in midst of this urban territorial crossfire.  Enemy lines were clearly defined, as my hue and my accent made me a pre-requisite for primal taunts and target practice.

Names such as blackie, wog, monkey, you smell echoed daily in my ear. I stood up to one and then there was another, fighting and swearing became a daily occurrence, especially as my teachers did no hear the voices of my tormentors.  What was it with these folks that they said the same things in earnest? The daily repetition of such nonsensical claims, as though they were truths I had refused to believe. I could read and I could write, I spoke the same tongue, me a wog? How could that be?

Boy these people dunce for true, even the big people joined in the chants and excluded me.

My siblings and me, we dressed in the second hand clothes made for the cold, frosty morns. Dark, ugly, itchy, armour that posed no protection from the wounding words and physical harm we encountered as we traversed paths laden with missiles.

We walked clumsily in the shoes that were built for snowy climes marching to school hastily avoiding any wayward tracks.  I knew I would never be one of these and would have pitied their ignorance if it were not so threatening and dangerous. Screwed up faces, oozing venom that was void of any rationality.

It wasn’t just we the children who came, our parents too had to combat the stormy weather. Regardless of their efforts and attempts to settle, they were made to feel angry by the voices that screeched ‘you are not wanted’.

‘Go back to where you came from’ was daubed indelibly in my sub conscious. I asked myself ‘What have we done, to make us so unwanted’?   I found escape in my extravagant dreams of a staged homecoming, a celebratory welcome to mark my time in purgatory.  Here I held a captive audience and recounted grand  tales to my  friends that had stayed behind. I would paint an exuberant picture of England the place they wanted desperately to be and tell of the splendour that fairy tales were made of. There was no way I would ever admit that my time here was all in vain and the streets were not painted with the gold we were told.

First impressions do count and this was my introduction to England.  A place where I was foe, no friendly good morning greeted me. Initial suspicion gave way to tolerance at the purpose I served and a sufficient amount of familiarity.

I questioned me in light of this new response, being the hated other knowing that I was not of this kind and desperate to find a way to survive.  I withdrew and retreated to an environment that was safe and found those like me that had acquired the strategies to survive.

Time is a great healer the 60s and 70s behind us, transatlantic slavery a very distant memory, Wind rush, segregation, civil rights movements giving rise to race and employment laws that give us rights as citizens.   Thanks to my heroes, sisters and brothers that fought a good fight, never giving up when the way seemed so tight.

The pioneers of the past are now weary and tired, eagerly, seeking those to pass on the baton.  Where are the brave young men and women, the ancestors of those that came? They remain in our midst blighted by the shadow of those who like Esau have sold their birthright to the loan shark institution of entitlement.

What happened, where did it go wrong? Whose feet were our young and impressionable allowed to sit at? The questions ring out, the answers a jumble, but the time has come to claim what is ours. How do we build on the legacy that our enslaved established and gain the knowledge and understanding to achieve progress, justice and freedom.

The answers are here, the opportunities available, they reside in the mindset that holds true to aspiration and ambition. This is a dignified journey of sweat and endurance to finish the race and achieve recognition with legacies that enrich each generation.

March 7, 2013

Relating

Filed under: Uncategorized — Janice Gittens @ 9:34 pm

How we relate to each other, build relationships and maintain them is a natural and constant part of our life.  I have often wandered why I, like hundreds of others resist the in-depth process and keep most relationships at arms length or prefer the articulation of relationship communication rather than engage with them in the physicality of my space.  I guess that is because they can be expressive, somewhat untidy, get under my skin and niggle at my sensitivities.  So my persuasion for polite, cultivated exchanges, timely and framed in purposefulness and intentional activity in an attempt to provide personal stimulation and satisfaction remains my preference and dictates my level of interaction.

 

In saying this however, I began on a journey of self-exploration and went in pursuit for knowledge of my early beginnings and entry into being, the world, space and family relationships. What I saw was a map of unexplained encounters and disconnectedness in terms of relationships that existed before me but were responsible for my existence.   Many questions still stay unanswered and the facts stored in memory vaults that remain sealed and silent in their content of my story.

 

Where does my script begin, in the Garden of Eden? Or should I seek to fast forward to a time within our grasp and record the birth of a child, to my unmarried parents, another shameful blot of illegitimacy on the colonial cultural landscaping of respectability and shrouded in secrecy, nothing to declare just another mouth to feed and a sin forcibly confessed.

 

What was their relationship founded on? A case of romantic love, intimacy, possessive control, soul mates, family, friendship, partnership, longevity, co-dependency or courtship that led to promises of a rosy future and expectations for a family that were one. Words, thoughts, all meaningless, a fantasy scribed by an author who knows not of her announced entry into this world, but recalls only the emotional distance and severity of the matriarch, large and formidable in her dictates and running of her empire this contrasted by the father that paraded his off spring as masculine pride and prize, he having been abandoned by his father and missed out on being raised up by a man, a loss so deep and giving rise to a visibility, determined and symbolic of paternal hierarchy.

 

I held a sense of loss for the parents who were and were not, each leaving separately and oh so quickly to the western world, England to be precise in search of work, fortune and future aspirations of success and well being.

 

These parental relationships, our first, the deepest, the primary love for our caregivers and instruments of life, are so desperate, driven by a burning passion to reside within, imbibe and own.  A love so vital to our existence and interpretation of the world, yet so fragile in that they can be taken away, broken, removed and transported from sight leaving us wanting and imagining a time when we would be reunited and loved.  

 

The separation forms an anxious place of waiting against the inevitable terror that fuel and sparks the loss and churns bubbles within unsettling my equilibrium and sense of being.  I remain stoic, acutely aware of a future so unpredictable and littered with snares of heartbreak and unresolved conflicts like a minefield wired for self-destruction.  For such vulnerability to be exposed who then can be trusted more than our primary carers, our first love?

 

So where do we go in the building of relationships, in the establishment of trust and safekeeping? Now I say headlong and carefree, not fearing the emotional risks, but choosing, realising, actualising our true selves and watching the drama, the inter relatedness unfold as we know and become known in the company of another and others.

 

As relating as two become one and where one becomes several, life takes over and forges its path on the landscape of the world, leaving footprints, memories, legacies and stories rich in the experiences of human relationships hopefully underpinned by understanding and acceptance, creating if endured an interconnectedness and dependence that is truly human and free from condemnation.

 

 

January 20, 2013

Therapy, who needs it

Filed under: Uncategorized — Janice Gittens @ 11:47 pm

 

 

I had thought I was above counseling and had only gone when my husband had threatened to leave me as I would not let him in and kept up a stoic front.  Couples counseling soon turned into personal sessions for me. This was my fourth session, I knew all the answers and was not going to let her penetrate my emotional membranes they were intact and I was not going to allow this nosey do gooder to tell me how to run my life.  If Patrick had a problem with me, it was for us to sort out, not this well-meaning supercilious bitch, smiling inanely at me.

I remember my counsellor’s smirk when she challenged me about my family relationships; it was like taking a red flag to a bull, funny is it, I’ll show you funny.  My voice became cold and icy, detached from the person who sat on the comfy chair, well dressed and polite.   As if by magic, I was thirteen years old, sitting on the bed in my bedroom, I was reading a comic and enjoying my peace, undisturbed from the intrusions from my parents.  I opened my mouth and started to speak, determined to paint a picture that needed no more questions from this intrusive cow who wanted to know things that did not concern her. I went on a journey into my mind, my thoughts and my memories and gave her a commentary that did not allow for her mediocre interpretations.

My diatribe began, family huh, this term used to signify closeness and unconditional love. These folk that provide a home, a place of sanctuary when all else fails, a place of rest from the unwavering stress, a calmness that restores and protects. Such a promise of family, idyllic and correct, performing a task that none other can match, mostly  ever a daydream for me that was rudely awakened, when the constant screaming and shouting broke into my reverie.

Do you know what that is like?  I paused but did not wait for her answer. Not again pounded my heart to the beats and the shouting, what is it this time that created such a mauling.  My brother too slow to respond to a question, hesitantly he flunks the test yet again, his dismay apparent as he cowered and wailed. Oh my, he doesn’t know his subjects and his predicates, and I not there to mouth him the answer.

These words of anger resounded in my head, fool, dam imbecile, how many times have I told you the answer to this question, the subject is the noun and the predicate the verb, can’t you see how many country bookies doing better than you.   The only place for you is sweeping the underground!

Unskilled and untrained in the patience of teaching,  our home tutor  projected his tirade in frustration and earnest; his main concern was for our future and the fear of our failure. He cheated by the chances he didn’t receive, longing and dreaming of a life he did not have, but fantasized of what he would have done if given half the chance to go beyond elementary schooling.  Was this your experience? I enquired of her but glanced back quickly to where my story began.

The disappointment of my new home started on arrival, to the grey and smoky town called London.  The plane touched down and we shivered and shuddered as the November wind cut through our clothing.  We appeared naked as the air; cold and bitter haughtily dismissed our cotton clothing as nothing but preposterously ill prepared for this weather.

A room, I questioned what else was ours? Is this it? Nothing more as there lived others in this house.  Lodgings, a new concept for us, what living with strangers that are not kith or kin, a worry and anxiety of who they may be arose in me.  Here our family of five shared a room, which had everything we needed to eat, sleep and relax.  Nothing kept private, all conversations were heard, and sitting in silence was time spent alone.   No running around our vast back yard weaving between the banana trees, catching crickets and lizards, playing alone, undisturbed, until the sun came down.

I raised my head and looked at my counselor her cheeks flushed as though in anger, but the hesitant stare that met my gaze showed me her horror of going there. I sighed a deep breathe my mission accomplished, she had wanted to see this place unexplained and untamed and here it was.  My passion abated and the tiredness swept over me, I slumped back in my chair the cold deliberate tone of my onslaught replaced by the sobs of letting go and accepting me. The work had began and recovery was now in sight, I smiled, rose and bade her goodbye.

September 27, 2011

Why are We Plagued by the Shame of Slavery?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Janice Gittens @ 12:32 pm

Slavery this captivated passage of time symbolic of weakness and vulnerability in the history of my people, a collective experience of the African in the Caribbean. Its shame still daubs the people today as the memories of old linger and the post memories are rekindled from the tales passed on and the DNA that travels outside of time.  Here we have the disused sugar mills on the landscape, the colonial homesteads, majestic relics of European rule, the forts and canons and the photos of old. Where we sang rule Britannia and marched in the heat to the beat of the drums in honour of a Queen we served and held dearly in our hearts. Our ‘Britishness’ and our ‘Frenchness’ etched in our unconscious, running through our veins, phased into our Caribbean being.

A dichotomy for me and for you for we come from the same lines, a heritage untold as it is seeped in deceit and the truth can never be known, except when exposed by characteristics from without, you see a nose, a skin tone and hair that are not so European or to be fair definitely not belonging to the African, a six for a nine some would say. Still, these beautiful blends are too perfect in their existence too suggest the mixing of the bloods is a biological disaster.

God’s wonderful truth of what is in the dark will come to the light is forever indicative of man’s behaviour.  Yet we chose to collude with or masters, oppressors and lovers to maintain the cover, whispering only in secret and confessing to none, thus allowing the shame to permeate our souls and self-hatred arose which determined our course.  As it was in bygone times the price of disclosure brought fear and danger the consequence deemed too high a price to pay.  So now we become stoic and stiff lipped, suffering in silence ashamed of our past continuing to breed a level of disrespect for our race.

What are the real reprisals today for accepting who you are?  Maybe an embarrassment of knowing the enemy is within part of your makeup and the way you think. Or is it the reminder of the mixture of races around us; being left with the feat of trying to slot them into spaces that stay ignorant to both sides of their identity.  And there are those who desire, are in need to go back to Africa and dream of being met by a welcoming homecoming party. Like everything else we have our victims and martyrs denying anything to do with the whole experience but act out unconsciously to the horrors of history, staying powerless, a pawn, in the metropolis of its effects.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane where the story begins and enter into the cavernous world of yester years and see what we find out about our slave ancestors and who they were.  Africans brought across the seas, imprisoned for their labour and stripped of their identity, beaten to submission, punished for wanting to be and treated severely until they were no more. Horrendous! experiences for several generations, emotionally charged, for you and for me, sad oh so very sad lives of endurances with just the glimpses of pleasure. At last there came rejoicing the day it all ended, these lives were not in vain a legacy worth having.   Freedom was granted, education given, people were allowed to buy land and later Governments were formed and local leaders appointed the movement for emancipation and opportunity had truly started.

Alas, alongside this victory the shame persisted, awful stories and beliefs were further inflicted. It took up residence inside us and confused our thoughts it told of being less than, stupid and poor. A lie from without casting a shadow so large, keeping your head down, bowed in shame.

It is said that it is shameful to be poor, powerless and needy, to be unlearned and ill educated, to not know how to behave, to be uncultured, to be grammatically incorrect, to have children out-of-wedlock, to not work, to be lazy and slovenly, to be black and darkened by the sun, to be angry and ill-tempered and remain the butt end of society.  The list goes on and new things, added daily depending on the time the place and the culture that is prevailing.

Slavery was a system of marginalization and discrimination, borne out of avarice and get rich quick for those willing to do what it took.  The cities we live in have their monetary foundations in the plantation systems that produced plentiful.   Production and hard labour were the order of the day and the targets were met come what may.  So where does this lazy and slovenly come from?  I say it is a bitter lie or else for some stems from lack of motivation and not an innate condition as the lies protest.  Where there are none or little benefits inertia resides as the rewards cannot be seen or felt.  Leaving a sense of shame or indeed an anger to cover it and protect one’s sense of self.  Generations have passed where hard labour has not given rise to success, the type, paraded by man, even the soldiers were shunned in the wars gone by and their tales resurrected by a keen passer-by.

Is it finance we seek or affirmation of self, because in truth this face can be seen all over the globe and enough examples of exceptions to rule attest to the talents and fame they acclaim.  So heroes and sheroes are abundant and resplendent yet the eyes of the world are on those who remain, beating their drums in anger and strife alarming those within and without of the danger to come.

The shame grips the community, what are we do with these objectors?  Am I responsible for this behaviour, what a to do I don’t know what to do!  You can’t even lick them down anymore, these children need discipline, cut they ass, some say, others that they need opportunities and chances to make well of their life. Gosh they are shaming the family, the community and me, everybody is talking about we.  Every time we try to hold we head up something come to make we feel shame, I am tired of this thing that just keeps plaguing we.

Community responses from the high places, dinner parties are interrupted by its roar and thunder, ground level agitators seek for cover, whilst the answer is to spread blame, upon blame, parents, systems, social conditions, politicians coming under fire. Many are the voices of those who themselves are part of these groups, members that labour under the doctrines of social reform, changing society for the better, their voices a barking crescendo as they echo and re-echo the petitions and issues that time has grown weary of hearing its rehearsed droning, humming time and time again.

This shame who’s to blame what is to blame a hatred for self and a position of other.  For in the place of other you are never forever, making fleeting appearances for that one endeavour, time limited and constrained from all the others.  The marks of slavery lay deep in the psyche, conscious of lack in the absence of abundance.  A condition so familiar and key to our existence for even when we look to the future for that ancestral home we are shown poverty and destruction with fly infested children.

So it is these shores that we crave, Britannia rules the waves our sanity and safety are here. For it is here that we will get our share and strive to be the best before going home to share, that is if we have anything to share.  More shame, as many confess I didn’t make it, my life is manageable in England, not exuberant, still right now I prefer it to yours, as I don’t go without  my supper and my medication is a paid up prescription.

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