How I Became a Nigger

I am the Son of a White man and a Black woman. Growing up in Jamaica, the “Out of many, One People” place, I was never regarded as black. I was, at various times; red boy, mulatto, white boy, chiney boy, half-chiney, coolie boy and the always unflattering “Massa pickney”or ” Blender boy”. Being raised by my Grandmother, a proud, strong Black woman, I always identified with my black blood, and this was a source of amusement and teasing for my peers at school.

 ” Which part a yu black?” was one tease usually followed by “Yu mirror waan clean man!” There was also the ever popular “Morning Mr. Chin. Waa gwan a China today?” Primary School could be a testing place at times.

You know how they say “if you hear a thing often enough you become it”? That was me and the life I settled into before moving on to High School. I morphed into what I was being called daily, a multiracial wonder.

Now Cornwall College was the river that the tributaries which were Primary and Prep Schools flowed into. I was happily surprised that there were more boys of my background, and though I’m not sure if our amount was the cause, the teasing because of colour became less and less. There was, after all, safety in numbers. 

As we settled into higher learning and I realized RasTafari, a more subtle form of ragging took place. At the time, Rastafarians were viewed as the ‘dregs of the earth’ by several elements of  Jamaican society. The darker Rastas (and I don’t mean colour alone) said I was not being persecuted enough because of my skin and therefore wasn’t a “real” Rasta. “The I is a Society Dread, Iya”. Uptown Dread was the then terminology.

Truth be told, persecution never bothered me, not because of my colour, but because by then I had used my talent and the love of music to gain a certain independence, so I didn’t have to rely on persons unwilling to accept my faith to use money (or the lack thereof) to belittle me. RasTafari taught me the self reliance needed to save the day.

After school and the acquisition of the nickname “Chung Fah”, my metamorphosis was complete. I was now fully a ‘Chineyman’. That nickname amused my father to no end, seemingly giving him the proof that my friends were ‘blooming idiots’ and thusly, so was I by simple acquaintance. My only get-back was; ‘but everybody say I take after you Daddy’, and that would elicit from him the adage ‘you can fool some of the people all the time’. I was never as fast on my feet as my Dad.
Now, in the Jamaica of the late 70s early 80s, there was an epidemic that affected the whole Island, known as ‘Foreign Mind’. I don’t think there was, or ever will be, another Exodus such as we had then. Look, after all, the song “Exodus” was a product of that era!

Needless to say, I caught the foreign bug and set off for the USA, settling in Brooklyn, New York. My first selecting gig took me to Miami and after “mashing up” the Travelodge near the Miami airport, I went to visit my brother in Ft. Lauderdale, the “Little Jamaica” of Florida.

Now, I must say this. As much as Rastafarians were reviled in Jamaica, we were oppositely revered in America. Everywhere I went I was complimented on my locks and my religion. Seeing this, my brother and his friends decided to take advantage of my newfound celebrity by hitting the clubs and bars  on the beach with one objective in mind: Girls.

So off to A1A along the beach we went. We were moving from bar to bar along the strip enjoying the atmosphere, which reminded me of yhe movie ‘Spring Break’. When I mentioned it they all laughed, noting : “It’s always Spring Break on the beach in Lauderdale”. 

Someone said “We should be getting more attention from the girls than this, Iya. Rasta, let out yu locks and let us walk the beach, man”.

I did, and as we walked on more and more people started noticing  us. Some said hi, some yelled Jamaica, some wanted to touch the locks but most asked for us to give or sell them weed. It was a new and exciting experience, and I was enjoying every minute of it. 

Just as we passed the intersection of Sunrise Boulevard and the A1A,  a red drop-top Mustang with five beautiful girls aboard rolled by. “Wow, look at that hair!”, one shouted. ” It’s beautiful!”, shouted another as the driver of the car stood on the brakes, coming to a screeching halt before reversing to where we were. As they got close enough to really see me, the girl in the middle of the back shouted,

Oh my God; It’s a nigger!

 Tires squealed as the driver stood on the gas,  the Mustang wagging its tail as it sped off.

. We looked at each other in shock.

The shock for my friends was that the girls called me a nigger, because they would never have regarded me as one.

The shock for me wasn’t that I was finally being seen as black, but how crassly it had been put. Those young women had expressed such an abhorrence for my colour; such a deep, naked hatred that I was shaken to my core.

 It was the first I’d been called that in my life, but it would not be the last.
No Sir,  it was but a sample ; a small trailer of what was to come for me in my travels in the U S A.

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