Last week I wrote about Usain Bolt who inspires us with his grace even in defeat.   As life would have it, his last solo race took place on the eve of the culmination of Emancipation and Independence celebrations in Jamaica.    I can’t help but think that his character, not just his athletic skills, are the best representation of Jamaican freedom. This is what freedom looks like—the unfettered opportunity to run your race and to run it well.

This is freedom at its best.

But there is another side of freedom or lack thereof that the following story beckons us to see.


I am in Kingston, Jamaica this week and I am getting some credit for my phone at a Digicel phone store in the  midtown shopping plaza. I notice a young man with patchy skin outside the store calling out to me. He has things to sell like a lot of people here—a little of this and a little of that. He happens to have air fresheners.  He motions me to come to him and  I do…drawn more to his face than to his wares.


He is wearing blue shorts and a white oversized tee shirt. His eyes are sad, almost droopy and he does not smile.  He looks into my eyes quite intently almost as if he has a question to ask but he dares not ask.  He doesn’t actually say anything to me – he just points to the air fresheners in various colors and kinds.


I notice that he has the long and lanky legs of a gangly fifteen year old, but it is the patches on his face that tell me a story.


He is bleaching.


He does not say but I know from the marks on his face that he is bleaching his skin.


It is a tale being told all over the country.  In little but tallawah Jamaica that has produced international heroes like Nanny, Marcus Garvey, Miss Louise Bennett, Bob Marley and Usain Bolt, some people are bleaching their skin.   Bleaching to “bring up the color.” Bleaching to imitate black celebrities. Bleaching to rise up in life. Bleaching to attract the opposite sex. Bleaching to…


In the end, I say nothing to this young man about the air fresheners which I do not intend to buy but instead find myself saying:


“Your skin is beautiful the way it is.”


He just looks at me ever more intently as I speak.


“You don’t need to change your skin color.   You know, Marcus Garvey. Black is beautiful..”


At the mention of Garvey, I sense that I have made the only real connection beyond the air fresheners in this entire encounter.   There is a knowing nod, but he quickly reverts to that blank stare.


“I am going to give you some support, “  I say, taking out a few notes out of my purse, “because I want you to remember what I have said.  You are beautiful just the way you are.”


He nods in thanks but still does not speak.


Yes, slavery is over, but in Jamaica beyond the beach, some of us are still not free.  Some of us are not “full free.” There has been a long history of resistance to physical slavery, now the fight is on against mental slavery.


May the inspiration of Bolt give us hope.


Here is a man comfortable in his own skin who rose to the top of his game, not just the game of athletics, but the game of life.


Anne C. Bailey
New Book: The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History.


In Memoriam  Heather D. Heyer, Charlottesville victim
Someone got killed on Saturday standing up for what she believed in: equality and justice for all. That, someone, was Heather D. Heyer, a paralegal from Charlottesville, Virginia.

According to The New York Times,“Friends described her as a passionate advocate for the disenfranchised who was often moved to tears by the world’s injustices. That sense of conviction led her to join demonstrators protesting a rally of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday.

“We were just marching around, spreading love — and then the accident happened,” a friend, Marissa Blair, said. “In a split second you see a car, and you see bodies flying.”

My condolences go out to her family for this incalculable loss.  It may not be much comfort now but please know that Heather is a hero.  She will be remembered as such by all those who also treasure equality and justice.
Find Anne C. Bailey's non-fiction book : The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History on Amazon.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This