Shawna Kay Williams-Pinnock | Residues of slavery: enough is enough
My friend and I had quite an interesting conversation the other day. We chatted about his experience as a third engineer aboard the vessel of an international shipping company.
He complained that although many Jamaicans are suitably qualified to work in a position similar to his, they are often required to start at the lowest rank – that of a cadet. This, he said, is not the same for engineers of other nationalities. Russians, Croatians, Ukrainians, and Indians, for example, immediately ascend to the highest rank for which their licence qualifies them.
He also said that as a black man – usually, the only black engineer on board – he has to detail and justify every single operation he undertakes. Sometimes, too, his suggestion for a mechanical fix is dismissed or invalidated without a fair trial.
Thankfully, however, under the administration of less-biased supervisors, he has managed to prove his competence and has since earned several promotions. Such endorsements, nevertheless, are rare for the many who are continually underpaid, underrated, and undermined because they are black.
His experience, again, confirms that emancipation has not truly exonerated the black masses. We are still defined by our complexion, a colour that has no inherent ties to our intellect or competence.
Often, when I hear people saying that slavery is long over, and we must move on with our lives, I remember these recurring acts of prejudice. They are hurtful residues of slavery.
A few years ago when I sought employment in Asia, there were recruiters who openly admitted that despite my qualifications, they were unable to employ me. They explained that Chinese and Japanese parents preferred Caucasian-looking teachers with native English accents. Backpackers from the United States, Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, with such characteristics, are, therefore, handpicked over trained teachers.
Although I eventually found success with one school that summer, the ‘battle’ was not over. Upon my arrival in China, I had a Chinese assistant who, on one occasion, repronounced an English word that I had introduced to the students. She thought that my pronunciation was incorrect and inconsistent with what she had heard among her Canadian college peers.
Well, I was not frighten fi she! I maintained my pronunciation of the word, knowing full well that it was not wrong. It was just a variation, one that is entirely consistent with the phonological system of Jamaican standard English, an established dialect of English. Imagine! My blackness rendered my accent and pronunciation inferior and unacceptable!
On another occasion, my husband told me that he went into an Atlanta store to get me a Michael Kors handbag. Each time he requested the price for a bag he selected, the attendant became hesitant and tentative.
“This is very, very expensive,” she said at one point without providing a direct answer to his question.
Although she eventually sold him the bag, smiled and lauded him for treating his wife to such “finery”, he left the store quite sour. He had easily sensed her muted insult.
Interestingly, this attendant was a black woman!
The transatlantic slave trade might be centuries-old, but many blacks are woefully blinded by their own prejudices and self-limiting beliefs.
To those who have initiated and perpetuated those disparaging black labels, stop! We, like any blue-eyed bigwig, are capable. You need not look far to find evidence of competent blacks who are trailblazers in their respective fields.
Note, too, that we have excelled despite all the deck stacked against us. Give us some credit and respect! We have earned it!