“I’ve learnt that one should never overlook or underestimate others. Within every individual is an abundance of ideas, intelligence and talent. And, sometimes, people just need one opportunity, just one, to express and act upon them.”                                                         

                                              – VonDez Phipps, Journalist.

Often, our observations allow us to make certain conclusions. This is how we interact with and interpret our environment and survive. From observing the behaviour of clouds in the sky, the temperature of the air and moisture in the atmosphere we are able to determine the likelihood of rain. From observing what happens when fire touches something, we conclude that it will burn if it touches us.

Similarly, we observe persons and things in our immediate surroundings and make conclusions. We perhaps do not realise how often this occurs when one really stops to think about it, we do this perhaps hundreds of times a day. These conclusions range from the very basic and simple: a fire truck is wailing and racing down the street so there must be a fire; to the more complex: her husband is out-of-town and she still rushes home every evening…she’s probably having an affair!

Now, whatever the nature of the conclusion, we all make them; some of us to ourselves, others out loud. Some religious or moral extremists may tell you one can sin in thought as well as in deed. However, I think this comes from a failure to consider that in many cases, persons are behaving simply as they were socialized to behave. Their parents, teachers, peers and the media have all collectively constructed images associated with certain characters, and while these images may be valid in many cases, we simply forget that they are not solely or absolutely indicative of any particular propensity, character or behaviour. Other times, it is simple natural association.

For example, a man who is dressed in ragged clothes, hasn’t shaven in a while, smells to high heaven and is filthy as a pig would invariably be seen as a vagrant or beggar. Should we apologize for such a conclusion, when the truth is that many vagrants and beggars do look like this?

To be fair however, the problem doesn’t lie with conclusions such as these because they are based on some degree of legitimate logic. And although this does not negate the possibility of error (I go to school with people just like this!), one can easily justify their conclusions. The problem lies with conclusions that are borne out of reliance to some societal moral or behavioural construct that does not lend itself to flexibility or multiplicity. For instance, we automatically assume a woman dressed in a short skirt, wearing 6 inch heels and three different colors in her hair is a whore. Like the beggar, we conclude based on what we see. The difference, however, is that in the beggar’s case, there is a more solid  basis of justification: vagrants and beggars have no money, therefore no home, no job, no clothes, no visits to the barber. Therefore, appearance becomes an inevitable marker of their status. This is not the case with a scantily dressed woman. There is nothing that can justify her appearance as an inevitable marker of her character. Yet, this is how we proceed on a daily basis, making baseless assumptions simply because we can associate the image with what we’ve seen on television or what we’ve been told by our parents and peers.

Therefore, the problem is not that we come to conclusions about people immediately. The problem occurs when we conclude with no other evidence but societal constructs and singular imagery.

What about when we use these observations to respond to or treat the ones we’ve concluded on?

We’re all guilty of it. That same beggar is not coming into your house for a drink. Neither will that ‘whore’ be allowed to take your daughter shopping. Similarly, we tend to treat people we perceive to be ‘uneducated’ or ‘unintelligent’ a certain way. We, who have had access to formalized education up to a certain level develop a great pomposity and associate education with intelligence. We try our best to hide the truth from others as well as ourselves that education is only a marker of the amount of books one has been able to read and regurgitate on paper. The truth is that education is by no means an indicator of intelligence. We all must know at least one person who is educated, that is, they have achieved some degree of formal educational certification, yet you have a conversation with them and find they are dumb as a bag of hammers.  I’m reminded of one of my favorite Bob Marley quotes: “I am not an educated man. If I was educated I would have been a damn fool!” 

Therefore, the same way we assume that a person is intelligent because they are educated, we assume the are not intelligent if they are not. Because of this, we instinctively treat them as such. We do not expect rational ideas and or insightful opinions on important issues and automatically think to simplify not jut our language but the subject of conversation. In classrooms this person is expected to remain quiet and rarely ever given a chance to take part in activities that require the use of intellect, reasoning and logic. Anyone who’s been around a debating or quiz team can validate this. Why are we surprised when a person in a lower stream possesses a talent for music, art, debate or drama? Where do we get this notion that ‘uneducated’ persons are only good at sports and manual labour?

I chose to open with that quote from a friend of mine because I feel it articulates a lot of what I’ve been learning over the past few years, which is to never ever underestimate anyone. As I learn to keep a more open mind towards things I get pleasant and unpleasant surprises every day! Persons whom I’d never expect to be productive in any way turn out to have the best singing voice ever or can paint like the dickens; neither of which skill I have any talent for!

Most importantly, I am learning the value of giving myself a chance and being around persons who have an open mind towards me.  It really reveals possibilities you or others never imagined when you trust yourself to do something new and others trust you as well. You’d be surprised how much you surprise yourself!

So the bottom line is this: Nobody can predict the things a person can do. The human mind is so vast in its capabilities that it cannot know its full potential. While we may not be able to control our knee jerk internal response to people, we can learn to dissolve our natural treatment of others. When we learn to give others a chance and give ourselves a chance as well we open a door to possibilities we never imagined.


The Eagle Challenge: Human success and failure

I remember a while back watching something either on NatGeo or Discovery about Eagles.

Now, it’s general knowledge that the Eagle, a bird of prey is often regarded as the King of the sky. His splendour is a thing to behold as he soars high above the clouds then plunges at break-neck speeds to the earth to seize his prey.

There are many types of eagles, but the most famous is the American Bald Eagle. His wing span can reach up to 8 feet long! I’m only 6′ 1”! They can see up to  1.5 miles away, fly at speeds of 35 mph and dive at over 100 mph!

What I found to be particularly interesting though, is that, being lords of the skies and all, they tend to make their nests in trees and cliff sides no lower than 75 feet high. Can you imagine breaking through your shell and already being at the top of the world?  But it’s not all glamour. The Eagle isn’t the King of the sky by accident. Think about what it means to hatch at 75 feet in the air…. think…keep thinking… got it yet?… well, aside from not being able to get pizza delivered, it means that these little suckers have ONCE CHANCE TO LEARN TO FLY!…yep…ONCE CHANCE!

An eagle generally lays about three eggs in one sitting. If all three hatch successfully, chances are, one of them will learn to fly without accident. These baby eagles must wait until they have fully developed motor skills before they can attempt that horrible plunge. They’ll practice flapping around in the nest to build their strength, perhaps try flying from one end to the next, and maybe argue fiercely over who gets to go first! But when the time comes to make that fateful leap, it’s do or die chickies! Let’s just hope mommy perched above the sea so your punishment will be less…messy.

So, what I’m getting at here is; what if we only had one chance to succeed in life? One chance to do our best or simply die. Truth is, many people don’t even get that chance. The persons suffering under tyrannical regimes don’t have that chance to succeed, so many of them do die. And those of us who do have not just ‘the chance’ but many chances waste them.

This is not meant to be a humanitarian trip. I’m simply pointing out how spoiled we have all become in the West. I remember sitting in class one morning. A girl walked in half an hour late and sat down, no book, pen, nothing…just her blackberry in hand and style fi stone dog (pardon the expression).  Now, instead of finding out what she’s missed so far, she begins fretting because her BB is about to die and she can’t find a plug in the class. “Now, what the hell?”, I think to myself. That’s what you spent your school fee on?… your damn Blackberry? I hate this zombified culture we’ve created with these damn devices; people just walking around bumping into things because their BBs have them soooooo distracted. There’s no connection, no soul in anyone.

Anyways, this isn’t a BB rant either. I just thought I’d air my little observation that WE ARE WASTING THE CHANCES WE GET IN LIFE! We already get too many of them! How can you have persons going to UWI and not knowing shit about what’s going on around them when the library is so well-stocked and equipped and the internet is EVERYWHERE (even in the palm of our hands). You’re at one of the oldest educational institutions in the Caribbean; one that has put out the most Prime Ministers in the world, and some of the greatest minds; people who have worked along side Al Gore on his climate change research, people who have contributed to glaucoma research so much that their findings have changed medical practice throughout the globe and these are people who didn’t have portable internet in their pockets, no mounds of money to throw away on re-sits and no time to waste.

I think we all owe it to ourselves (yes, because I’m just as guilty as everyone else) to start taking these crocus bag-fulls of opportunity and chances and start making them count as if they wont be coming ’round again. We never know when we’ll see the bottom of that bag and Lady Luck doesn’t dance for us like she used to.

A me dat.

Operation Green thumb: Planting life.

Day 1

Well, it’s day 1 of operation Green Thumb. I’ve decided to launch a little personal project. I’ve gotten some seedlings and planted them in an empty egg tray. With any luck they’ll start to sprout in a couple weeks and they’ll be ready for transplanting into pots.

But this isn’t just about me planting some seeds in an egg tray. It’s sort of like me planting some seeds in my own life. You see, this project has come at a time in my life where more and more I’m realizing that there’s very little substance in my life; or for metaphoric purposes, there’s no fruit.

I really have very little going on that’s of any real value to myself or anyone. Sure, I’m trying to get a degree but in all honesty, I have no solid image of what I want to do with my life. Aside from school there’s nothing that I’m apart of that adds significant meaning or character to my life.

Even my friends don’t offer much these days. Every day I realize that the people around me are pretty superficial, immature and add nothing to my personal development. Very few people actually inspire me to learn and grow.

So I’ve been devising a plan. If you’re having similar issues perhaps you can follow along and even add a few things I may have missed out but these are just a few ‘seeds’ I plan to sew in my life and hopefully they sprout into something fruitful.

Seed 1: Spend less time idling around with idle people who add nothing to your life. There’s a place and time for such things but it’s not every place and not all the time. This will also affect excess Facebook and MSN usage.

Seed 2: Read more. Newspapers, Books, Blogs, Journals, text books will all help to expand your knowledge base, inspire productive and creative thought and perhaps help you to focus more on things that will push you along in life.

Seed 3: Surround yourself with more positive people. Actively remember that everyone has their place and season in your life. Whether they are just there for occasional comic relief, to annoy you every now and then, to correct your spelling errors or just to have a chat with on the way to class, each person is to be appreciated but let go when that time arrives. No hard feelings needed. Just as they may come and go, you’re doing the same for many other people. But the ones who are meant to stay; hold on to them. Let them know you appreciate them. Can’t waste good friends these days.

Step 4: Appreciate yourself. You will always be your harshest critic but you must also be your biggest fan. There’s  no need to be vain or egotistical. Just know that you have many things of value about you and things that need improving. Harping on any of them wont help you move on in life.

Step 5: Get up earlier! Yes, stop going to bed at 3:00am and wake up at 6 each morning. I know, coming from me it’s like seeing pigs fly. Nobody enjoys sleep more than I do. But I’ve realized in the past few weeks as I’ve tried to force myself to bed by midnight, I’m up earlier and I feel more rested, energized and even my memory is improving. I have more get-up-and-go in me and I’m actually completing tasks more than usual. I even feel physically stronger and healthier. For the first time ever my to-do list is actually getting done! Well, there’s still room for improvement but I can tell it’s working.

So That’s pretty much it for my starter plan. I’ll add more as I go along and see fit. Another thing I’m going to do is find some radical things to do with my spare time. I’ve always found that when your life is getting too stagnant, doing something totally out-there helps a ton.

So, I’m gunna get me a cat! Yep! A CAT! I love cats and there’s an animal shelter down the road. I’m gunna head down there and see if I can adopt a kitten. It might just be the thing I need. If it doesn’t work out I can always kill it.

…HA! Just kidding! lol… I’ll give it back! lol!

So wish me luck and if anyone reads this and finds it even in the least bit useful then I wish you all the luck in the world as well.

Peace n Love!


Me know no law, me know no sin: Thoughts on Caribbean Identity.

“Me Know No Law, Me Know No Sin” is an eighteenth-century Jamaican popular song recorded in print by the bookkeeper, J.B. Moreton in his West India Customs and Manners.

I first encountered this song at a public forum at The Undercroft on the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies.

Dr Carolyn Cooper (Head of the Department of Literatures in English and Director of the Reggae Studies Unit, Institute of Caribbean Studies) made reference to it in her address on the topic “Are we really out of slavery?”

The full song is as follows:

Altho a slave me is born an bred
my skin is black, not yellow.
I often sold my maiden head
to many a handsome fellow.

My Massa keep me once for true,
and give me clothes wid busses (kisses)
Fine muslin coats, wid bitty too
To gain my sweet embraces.

Him, Obisha, him did come one night
An give me gown an busses;
Him get one pickinniny, White!
Almost as white as misses.

Den misses fum me wid long switch,
And say him for da massa;
My massa curse her, “lyin bitch!”
And tell her, “buss my rassa!”

Me fum’d when me no condescend
Me fum’d too if me do it;
Me have no one for t’and my friend
So me am for’cd to do it.

Me know no law, me know no sin,
Me is just what ebba dem mek me;
This is  the way dem bring me in;
So God nor devil tek me!

For those who don’t understand the Jamaican vernacular here, this is a song about a slave woman who is rather ‘flighty’ and in my opinion ‘deceptive’. She says she ‘often gave her maiden head to many a handsome fellow”, which suggests not only that she has been with many men for money but that she has fooled them into thinking she was a virgin. Further, she speaks of her relationship with her master, who would favor her with dresses and seduce her with kisses then have sex with her. She then had to suffer the wrath of his wife, who’d beat her for bearing his child. She inherently purports in the end that she is not responsible for her actions and for her there is ‘no law’ and ‘no sin’. She is merely a product of the people around her and their imposing influence over her.

Now, Dr. Cooper, a feminist, no doubt intended the song to highlight her view that the Jamaican woman, in particular was still in many ways a slave, as quite a number of them exhibit the traits of this slave woman in their sexual promiscuities. Many of them, like the woman in the song justify their actions with the exploitation they endure at the hands of the men, often in higher social positions than themselves.

I, on the other hand, often accused of being a misogynist – and often guilty – was otherwise inspired, though I do appreciate, as always Dr. Cooper’s perspective.

To me, this was  a reflection of a very popular perspective we have in the Caribbean that we are wholly products of the external and higher influences of persons or countries. I am more than willing to agree that this may be so for many persons, but I submit that it is because we allow ourselves to be shaped by the ‘powers that be’.

Whatever the United States or England say is right or wrong, we adopt without question. We eat their nasty food, wear their ridiculous clothes and speak their ignorant language. And our excuse: They are the ultimate Western Superpower. So it’s fine if they bend us over a barrel and impregnate us as long as they give us “gown an busses”.

This applies to many other ‘massas’ out there: the church, the government, the media and whomever else we feel like blaming when the time comes. This is the reason we, in the Caribbean seem to “know no law” and “know no sin”. In other words, we have no real sense of identity. We can’t decide whether to be Afro-centric, Euro-centric, or American but either way we have to be one of them.

Why are we allowing ourselves to be “what ebba dem mek [us]”? Can we really continue to ride on the coat tales of our ancestors for justification of our actions? Our history and heritage are supposed to inspire and guide us, not be an excuse for mental stagnancy.

Mutabaruka, the famous radical and outspoken Jamaican Dub Poet, made a hell of an interesting point at the same forum. He said that the type of slavery we experience today is not a physical one with chains and whips. It is a mental one and it is much worse. It is much worse because at least our ancestors knew and could see that they were slaves. They could try and break the chains and run away. They could literally fight for their freedom. We cannot so easily fight for ours because we do not see our masters. We cannot see the chains that bind us and many of us do not even know we are enslaved.

It’s time for us to stop making excuses and begin breaking our chains and moving toward freedom by first declaring our own identity. We need to educate ourselves on where we come from and how we got here and stop allowing ‘massa’ to tell us what is ours, for he is a liar. Their religion is not our religion. Their language is not our language. Their food is not our food. Their laws are not our laws. We can think. We can learn and we can create.

It is time for us to unite as a region and declare who we really are to the rest of the world. We can no longer be satisfied with our lives as shaped by ‘massa’. No war needs to be declared, no tension even needs to be created. But as one, we will be able to say to the world that we have grown up, taken our freedom and we are walking our own path and as Jamaicans say, “NUTTN NUH WRONG!”

A me dat.

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