Sunday, July 21, 2013

Quebec - My Week of Just Being A Person


I remember as a child being able to figure out which Black and Latino folks came from someplace else as opposed to the ones who were born and/or grew up here by looking at their faces. The Black and Latino folks from elsewhere (West Indies, Africa, Europe, Puerto Rico, DR, Cuba, South America, etc.) had open faces, where as the folks from the US or raised in the US had an over-riding look of anger. Not the phony smiles of Black folks from the Jim Crow south who were trying to appease the racists around them, or the smiling face of a domestic violence victim trying to hide the same and fear of their circumstance, but an actual open and pleasant face of a person who has not been robbed of their humanity and dignity This notion was fortified over the years as I went to Barbados as a teenager and observed my relatives and other folks with these open faces. Regardless of social and economic status, they lacked the angry, worn look that Black American had.

This notion is further fortified as I stand in front of classrooms full of college kids and can pick out the kids from the islands and the mother land, out from the ones who were born here or came here as very small children using the same method with 95% accuracy. What sociologists describe as internalized oppression shows on our faces. I remember as a young man, after the enlightenment of college making an active decision to rid myself of the save face, often meeting with much ridicule from my brothers and sisters of this land and this struggle, believing that the smiling face was ghat of a coon. To me, the angry face is the face of a victim and the smile is that of the survivor. Here, in Montreal I saw seas of Black faces in al hues; the open faces of people being people.

As my vacation/ road trip comes to a close, I have to say it has been nice being in a province of a country where I just got to be a person. I mean, I know I'm a person but it's nice to be someplace where people are just people who happen to be of different ethic and cultural backgrounds. It was nice walking down streets at night, passing white people who didn't react in fear, and at most smiled and nodded. It was nice being in a place where MLKs I have a dream speech was seen as multi-colored groups of kids walked through the museums and attractions and were just kids. The little Black one wasn't being marginalized, he was just one of the kids. It was nice to take my son to parks and children's festivals were children were children and played together without parents pulling them away, or making presumptuous, racist, or patronizing comments.

 I know Canada has it's problems and issues, and really needs to work on how it deals with First Nation people; but at the same time, at least Canada acknowledges the self-identification of it's indigenous population as opposed to America where any effort by people of color to identify themselves in their own terms is questioned, rejected and ridiculed. When we think back to the Constitution Express where First Nations people
stormed Ottawa in favor of NDN rights without fear of the train being blown up or people being killed and imprisoned, but actually listened to must have been nice. A place where their leaders die of old age outside of prison.

 I now better understand two things: 1) Why so many Black folks escaped to Canada during slavery and even after; and 2) Why America ridicules Canada and Canadians to the extent that it does. To have a country right next door that doesn't impose the social, political and economic ideology of white supremacy at every turn must be remarkably threatening. To be so closed to a country where liberty and democracy is more than rhetorical is also threatening. To be so close to a country that supports and encourages education, the arts, and intellectual development in general must be wonderful.

 Now it's time to go back to the US...

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