Monday, 24 October 2011

I Was Born into the Wrong Culture

It was fun to watch an African woman cross in front of my car at a red light. Underneath her Canadian winter jacket, she was wearing a long skirt of beautiful Kente cloth. The colours brightened up the grey Toronto intersection of cement sidewalks, hydro poles and pavement. There she was with her creamy coloured head wrap, orange, green, gold and red swirling around her legs.
Just look at your wardrobe, or take a subway ride. How much black, grey and navy do we really need to see in a Toronto winter?
I should have been born in Kenya.

Black women everywhere, African or American, somehow scored permission to be admired for being round and wide. Here I am, rounder and wider with every passing year, feeling repulsive in a culture that idolizes thinness.
I should have been born black.

At two funerals I attended recently for well-loved men, the crowded church sanctuaries were quiet but for occasional discreet sniffing. The only other sign of pain in a room full of breaking hearts were some red eyes as we filed out of the service. One adult daughter of the deceased couldn’t stop weeping fresh tears when each mourner greeted her and I heard a surprised comment on the quantity of her tears, a comment tinged with a disapproving tone, no less.
On TV I’ve seen bereaved Mideastern women in black who throw themselves across the casket, ululating in grief.
I should have been born an Arab.

I once told a psychiatrist that I was feeling so introverted and depressed that I didn’t always feel like saying “Hi” to people on my neighborhood streets as we passed each other. She looked at me in horror, “Why would you think you needed to greet strangers on the street?!”
I should have been born in the Southern States.

In most church worship, whether Roman Catholic Mass, Anglican ordination, or Evangelical songfest the congregation is expected to behave. Sit quietly in the pew, stand when the choir stands, sing when the organ plays, clap self-consciously if someone else starts the clapping, control yourself.
Have these polite worshippers ever watched the hilarious frenzy of two squirrels chasing each other in mad circles around a tree trunk until they’re both exhausted? Have they ever enjoyed the way four year olds wiggle and jump to the sound of drum music? Have they, themselves ever screamed, leapt to their feet with their arms in the air when their team scored?
Do church folk forget who created squirrels, little kids, music, our human bodies and emotions?
I should have been born a Jamaican Pentecostal Christian. They know how to dance and shout their joy.

It’s very cool that the world has immigrated to Toronto where I was born, because I was born into the wrong culture.