When I arrived in this country, I never imagined such a separatist society. From the day I was born, my family (and the entire island of Montserrat) had always celebrated our unique African-Irish heritage with a week-long celebration in March. I was now in Boston, Irish central, and I'll never forget that first St. Patty's Day. There is a huge St. Patrick's Day parade held in South Boston annually, and as was customary, I wanted to go. At school, I mentioned to some classmates how excited I was about going to the upcoming parade only to be told that it was not safe for me to go because I was Black. Huh? Where are these people from? Why was it not safe for me because I'm Black? Do they not understand that I'm a "Black Irish"? And so began my lesson in race relations in the United States of America.
I then decided to attend a private, elite college in Maine. Seemingly more than the amount of white snow that falls there is the amount of white people there. I was there for one purpose - to acquire my education - so it did not matter to me the race of the people surrounding me. However, something always intercepted my tunnel vision and kept it real. I learned that some people had never seen a black person in their entire life. How deprived? Some were literally scared of my beautiful, chocolate hue though I only stood five feet tall. How ridiculous? Others wanted to prove that they were not racist by associating with me. How baffling that this society outside Boston was still focussing on "race" to define themselves? My ruler has always been the "person within". So, if I wasn't feeling you, you were not given a key to my world and race was not the deciding factor. I formed a few of my lifelong friendships in the microcosm created in the woods of Waterville, Maine. And those friends are of diverse races, religions, cultures and nationalities.
While interviewing for post-graduate school employment, it was not hard to notice that some of my white counterparts with less impressive academic records were being chosen for the more prestigious jobs. Despite my academic achievements, my race still apparently mattered to those in positions of power. And that's when I realized meritocracy is a myth to many. Oftentimes, candidates for jobs were chosen based on who they knew or were connected to, regardless of merit. Consequently, I decided that irrespective of what challenges life may offer, I would always remain true to myself. For my merit is not decided by what job I have or material gains I possess. It has definitely been quite a sacrifice at times but I stand firm knowing that JAH will always provide.
So now, I have a Black child and she is being raised in American society. She is the only Black person in her class. What do I teach her? Always do your best and maintain your personal values. JAH will provide.
Yet hope prevails. There remains hope that her world will be better than the one I've experienced. Massachusetts now has a Black man on the highest court, and is governed by a Black man. And on January 20, 2009, the United States of America will call a Black Man, "Mr. President". All are historically the first of their kind.
One Love, Se'Lah
*For a snapshot of hope, check out http://change.gov//
*For an interesting read, check out this book written by my friend: http://www.amazon.com/American-Dream-Power-Wealth-Opportunity/dp/0415952395/ref=sr_11_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1229792166&sr=11-1
*And finally, an interesting article on the "Myth of Meritocracy": http://www.amazon.com/American-Dream-Power-Wealth-Opportunity/dp/041595239