Why we wear European suits in the tropics and other absurd choices by the “former” slaves.
6 months ago Ricardo Hylton 1
Experience, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, is simply the name men give to their mistakes. If we subscribe to this definition, it’s clear then that experience is quite a valuable thing and applied properly, can do wonders for our lives. For black people, in particular, it may seem odd to regard slavery as still having a mental hold on our thoughts, our perceptions and our realities. When Bob Marley sung, ‘emancipate yourself from mental slavery,’ just what was he referring to?
The shackles of chattel slavery were removed over a century ago in the west, and legislation has been passed to relinquish the legal chains that bound Blacks in the Americas to a slave master’s balance sheets along with oxen, farm equipment and other tangible assets. However, no outside actions can remove the mental slavery that occurred, was passed down, and remains with modern-day Blacks today.
Yet many African descendants and society in general are often in denial of the long-lasting effects of this traumatically brutal institution. They often assert that slavery happened long ago, it has nothing to do with them, and Black people should get over it and take advantage of the ‘freedoms’ now available to them. However, the emotional and psychological damage caused by the transatlantic slave trade was so severe; many people today still struggle to ‘get over it.’
If you doubt this assertion, then ask yourself:
WHY do we wear European suits in the tropics?
I have been bothered by this since I was a little boy. I would notice the ‘big man dem’ walking around with sweat stains underneath their armpits and by their crotch. They would twist uncomfortably under the malicious heat of the sun. When you grow up in Jamaica, Cameroon or Sierra Leone, each and every day is to experience what Icarus did on that now infamous day. So why do we do it?
We wear European suits because we are truly mentally handcuffed. We are unable to find meaning, beauty and purpose in blackness. Yes, of course we pay lip service to it and claim vacuous slogans like ‘the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice’ but do we really believe those words as they escape our parched lips? Quite often, not. So the invisible aliens suggest we design a piece of clothing for professional work that is not the European suit but rather something with mesh and holes, that ventilates and allows a brother and a sister to breathe. Unless of course, you don’t mind getting roasted whilst walking down Hope Road in Kingston.
WHY the Brazilian Weave?
Now, the invisible aliens know this one is courting trouble, but hey we are invisible and no one cares anyway. Plus, we are about the truth above all else so let’s go. As a boy, all I wanted was some curls or waves in my hair so as a black man I fully understand how the subconscious tug of whiteness affects Black people. But seeing every other Black woman down the high street in one form or another of either Indian, Brazilian or European hair is truly maddening.
Now I know all the arguments: black hair hard to manage and all that. It just seems to me that there is a more sinister thing going on here (not for everyone, I understand). The default answer, even for little kids, is let’s get weave, European looking hair. And you don’t do that unless you think it looks good. Which suggests to me that you don’t think what you had before looked good enough? That’s mental slavery people.
WHY do we use knives and forks?
This invisible alien refuses to use a knife and fork. Yes it’s petty but I’m not using it. Why do I need to when I have two hands and ten fingers? Aunty Ina I love you but I have always looked at you sideways since that summer you decided I needed to learn how to hold the knife in my left hand…or is my right hand…I really don’t care! I’ll eat how I want at home or in a restaurant. Fork, spoon or whatever takes my fancy.
The Europeans say we were uncouth for using our wooden utensils or our fingers as cranes when we ate. In no way am I suggesting we go back to that, but every time I see a well to do African brother cutting his salad with his knife, it makes me think, “Damn! The mental chains cling on.”
WHAT Name Do You Answer To?
After Black people were kidnapped and brought to the Americas from Africa, they had to endure a number of brutal crimes against them, not the least of which was being stripped of the names they were given in their native countries. This forced abandonment of something so precious destroyed a vital link that tied people of African descent to their countries of origin and disconnected them from a heritage and history that dated back much further than that of their enslavers.
Rather than being called by the traditional and beautiful names that recorded who they were and where they were from, enslaved Africans were given foreign names that presented them as property. If there were more than one slave with the same name in any given group, they were assigned various identifiers such as “little” or “big,” so each would know who was being called for when the slave master beckoned.
Since slavery was officially abolished, some Blacks have shed the European names that were once forced upon them and have adopted African or new and unique ones. Still, most of us answer to the names that deemed us someone’s property and some even hope it will improve their chances for employment—the kind that pays.
WHAT Food Do You Eat?
During slavery, the master would work enslaved Africans incrementally harder and harder, while providing them incrementally less and less. With extremely long work hours, cramped quarters and harsh punishments, Africans lived their lives from day to day in desperation and hunger. One way in which comfort was sought was in what became known as soul food.
When the master ordered a pig slaughtered, his family ate pork chops, pork steaks and pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon. The entrails, feet, hide, and head were all that was left over. Yet very little went to waste because enslaved Africans learned to eat everything on a pig, “from the rooter to the tooter!” This included pig’s feet, skin and intestines, chitterlings.
In modern times, Black people still partake of this type of ‘comfort’ food, even though it has been determined to be unhealthy.
WHAT God Do You Pray To?
The Christian pope, Nicholas V sanctioned the enslavement and Christianization of Black people. In the process, African peoples were forced to abandon their spiritual systems and to adopt the European version of Christianity.
Africans have their own religions and concepts of God. Today many of the fears and negative feelings we have towards the spiritual systems of our ancestors are a direct result of the anti-African ideology that was taught and harshly enforced on the plantations.
One of the most egregious acts committed by the white supremacist system of religious thought was the formation of the image of a white man as the ‘son’ of God. This white male image, which is referred to as Christ and worshipped by many Black people around the world today, helps to foster a belief that implies that the white man is perfect, good, supreme and the only source of blessings. Christianity was one of the primary ideologies used to pacify negroes. Today, black people pray to the Christian god. Interesting!