Black people, I love you. We are the most creative, hilarious, hardworking set of people to exist (don’t debate me). But, we have some of the strangest mindsets that we hang onto for dear life, for fear of losing our identity. Today, I’m speaking directly to my black Jamaican community.
We need to release this weird false sense of entitlement we have to being addicted to the struggle. We’re so averse to being successful that when people get the opportunity to upgrade out of their dismal surroundings we refer to them as “rich and switch”. I’ve been a part of multiple conversations (some turn arguments) where I’ve been TEASED for being “uptown” or not being able to relate to certain struggles in life. There have been times when I literally felt ashamed of being raised in what is considered an “upper middle class” community, going to a prep school, and only ever having turkey neck once in my entire life after begging my mother to cook it just so I could see what all the noise was about. (My mother doesn’t cook turkey neck, not because it is considered “poor people oxtail” but because she genuinely isn’t a fan).
And then one day it hit me like an Audi S3: I would be doing my parents the ultimate disservice if I continued to let people make me feel ashamed, less black or less Jamaican for being raised the way I was.
And here’s why – Both my parents came from harsh beginnings and worked especially hard to get us where we are today.
Here’s a bit of background on my father: (In the interest of not making this blog too long I’ll focus mostly on his story.) Daddy grew up in the small rural community of Top Hill, Manchester. If you’ve ever been to Top Hill, you’d know that he grew up in the definition of “the struggle”. Even to this day, electricity is a luxury, there’s barely running water, and black and white TVs are still a staple in most homes. Poverty, yeah hey! (QQ Voice).
He was the first of 12 children and he left Top Hill at age 14 to escape the hardships of the community, and an abusive (and slightly psychotic) father to come to Kingston to live with his aunt and uncle. He didn’t have much to begin with, but he decided there had to be more to life than his current circumstances, and so he went in pursuit of it. He barely went to primary school, and thus didn’t qualify to attend high school, but being the brilliant mind he was, he was able to learn “a trade” in masonry and building construction. From there he literally built his life from the ground up, from being the “likkle man” on the construction sites to becoming a building contractor for the government and the private sector (and the MANY odd jobs in between that I can’t even begin to list). And dad learned early on that making connections was important in climbing the ladder (anti-social as he was), and soon he was driving around the governor general and shaking hands with the prime minister. (Random cool fact: Dad was a part of the promotion team that brought THE Michael Jackson to Jamaica in the 70’s). I don’t care what Beyonce says, Gerald Dawkins was the definition of a hustler.
Things didn’t always work out the way he wanted, but my father was always determined to make it work in order to provide a good life for his family. It is because of the hard work and support of my parents why I was able to attend a prep school, and why I went to university without having to apply for student loans, and for that I am forever grateful. (FYI, there is NOTHING wrong with primary schools and NO SHAME in student loans).
It would not only be disrespectful but an absolute waste if I was to settle for any quality of life lower than that which my father worked super hard to ensure that I was able to enjoy. Were there hard times in the past? Absolutely! Especially after he became ill and was unable to work like he used to. But those aren’t the times I want to meditate on. Honestly, if I could just forget all the times that we were so broke that mom had to use coins to buy groceries at the supermarket, or the times when they had to borrow cash from family and amazing neighbours (big up unuh self) to clear medical expenses, I gladly would. If that makes me a “rich and switch” then so be it.
My point is, we should never be ashamed of where we come from, but we should also never feel comfortable to settle where we are. We must ALWAYS be aiming higher, pushing further and evolving from our current situation. And more importantly we must learn to support the people around us that are making moves. Encourage your friends to be winners. Encourage your friends never to settle. And GAS THEM UP when they’re doing great! Stop being hateful and jealous. Use their success to fuel you to want to become more successful. It’s time we stopped apologising for being prosperous, especially when we come from harsh upbringing. And please, stop brainwashing children into believing that escaping poverty is the ultimate betrayal to their past or their “blackness”.
Best believe I intend to spend some Sunday mornings out on my yacht, being boujie as hell, drinking orange juice (not mimosas) from a champagne flute and sunbathing to improve my melanin.
Will there be hard times? I suspect there will. But to stay there because I’m afraid of people seeing me as “uptown” or not true to my “culture” would be beyond ridiculous. In honour of my father (RIP dad), black girl magic, my name, Jesus’ life death and Resurrection, and my future family, I WILL be successful and I WILL be stunting like nobody’s business.