So I promised to keep you updated as to my work at AfroCanadaViews and I am doing my best to keep my word. Tonight was the first sort of research event to set the ground work for the first interview which will take place this Saturday. Our first ‘Giant’ is the indomitable, intelligent and feisty, Dr. Afua Cooper.
Dr. Cooper is a scholar, author, and poet. She earned her Ph.D. in Canadian history and the African Diaspora with a focus on the Black communities of 19th century Ontario. Her doctoral dissertation was a biography of Henry Bibb, the renowned antislavery crusader. Further, she has done extensive work on Mary Bibb as a schoolteacher and abolitionist reformer. Afua has also done ground-breaking work on the enslavement of Black people in Canada. Such research has resulted in The Hanging of Angélique: The Untold Story of Slavery in Canada and the Burning of Old Montréal (HarperCollins, 2006); released in the United States by the University of Georgia Press. Angélique has become a national bestseller and was nominated for the Governor General’s Award in 2006.
Tonight’s event was the last in the series of literary events to celebrate Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary of independence. Dr. Cooper moderated a dynamic panel of accomplished Jamaican literary practitioners; Poet Ishion Hutchinson, novelist Kwame Dawes and theatre worker Honor Ford-Smith. The discussions were fantastic and though liberally laced with references to specific locations in Jamaica, was relevant to other Caribbean experiences as well. I always contend that we are not as different as we would like to think and tonights event cemented that fact for me. I not once felt out of loop with the conversation, because for every example/reference drawn, I had my own similar memories from my native Grenada.
The panel raised issues of class and how ‘color’ (skin) is deployed as a basis to offer differential treatment. If you were light-skinned and had curly hair, there was automatic deferential treatment meted out. The notion that I needed to defer to you (light-skinned or white) and to ensure that your every need is met because the assumption is somehow that you are someone of importance.
I was particularly impressed with the obviously young but exceptionally conscious and talented poet, Ishion Hutchinson who performed several of his thought and image provoking poems set in rural Jamaica from his collection; ‘The Far District‘. During the panel discussion, he raised a point that resonated so deeply with me, I had to restrain myself from hugging him; noting that as black/Caribbean people who have moved to spaces like Canada and the US we somehow subscribe to a ‘Victiomolgy mentality’. This refers to the way in which we deny ourselves simple pleasures, new experiences; things like enjoying a new sport, a new drink, a new method of cooking, simply because we attribute these things to the ‘other’ and therefore not for us.
Amen Brother! I must admit to subscribing to this previously, I wished to cling to the ways of Grenada and I still do to a large extent, but recognizing that fact, I now make a conscious effort to be open to new experiences. Time and time again I have heard persons adamantly stating that there are things they will never do because “Dats for white people.” or “Dats dem Canadian kinda ting.” and yet you hold Canadian citizenship, carry a Canadian passport and call Canada home.
This of course raises topics of identity, belonging and ownership…Do we really feel like we belong here or are we simply ‘passing through?’. (Ok, Ok, I know…that’s a whole different topic of conversation that I’ll save for another time).
Suffice to say I feel like my level of conscious thinking has been stimulated and elevated by the conversations today and I am anxiously anticipating another such discussion when we interview Dr. Cooper on Saturday.
For now —– Over and out!