Monday, October 19, 2009

Black Folks Know How to Make it Work

Recession, that dreaded word at first whispered in the hallowed halls of power is now being shouted from the rooftops.

Job losses at a record high of 9.8% are almost in the double digits now and it’s really biting into the communities of color. Because of the excessive greed of the Wall Street boffins whose secret ponzi schemes are slowly crumbling; more and more money managers and financial gurus are being carted off to federal jail. I see the signs in my own community, no matter how many roads and pavements are being repaired, brand spanking new asphalt and pristine white sidewalks with bright yellow lines cannot belie the truth of the increase of neglected houses, devoid of light, gardens overgrown with weeds. Once warm loving dwellings, they now stand empty, as derelict sentinels. I see the signs when I go shopping in my once bustling commercial district and witness the proliferation of “for rent” signs. Mom and pop stores that have been in the community longer than I’ve lived there are closing their doors, as their owners shake their heads in resignation and tell me they can no longer afford to carry the business and that the rents are now far outstripping their sales.

I see it when I visit my local school, those hallowed seats of learning and look at primitive bathroom stalls, so cramped you can hardly close the door as you sit on cold cracked toilet seats. I see it in the drab hallways, that may be clean and the floors may be shiny, but there is no soul, no excitement to be in school. I call them prisons of the soul, where our children are taught to take a test, but they are not encouraged to use their imagination to fly!

But in the midst of all that despair, black people know how to make it work. We’re a people who have ‘made do with less’ forever. We all remember growing up how mum, Momma or even Big Momma made it work with less. We may not have had the privileges of the ruling class, but we made it through.

I speak from the immigrant experience, born in London from Jamaican (by way of Africa) ancestors, migrated to America and getting ready to complete the circle when I return to Jamaica in the very near future. I salute my parents and grandparents for instilling in me that make it work mentality. Not only have I learned that if life gives you lemons, then you’d better know how to make lemonade, but I know that you don’t have to buy into the whole consumer mentality. My friend to this day remembers with amazement the summer, when on the spur of the moment, we decided to have an impromptu barbecue in her backyard. She didn’t have a grill, but of course that ‘make it work’ mentality kicked in. I cobbled a make-shift barbecue together using some bricks I found and the metal wire grill from her oven. I swear, that barbecue was probably one of the best I’ve had in a while.

From the sacrifices made by our ancestors, we learn that when there’s no money to buy prime steak we can make do with bologna or like my Caribbean family – corned beef. No milk, don’t worry, condensed milk and water works a treat for dry cereals. Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches filled many a brown paper bag for school lunches. Every day, my daughter is amazed at my creativity in the kitchen – I hope she’s learning the lessons, so that in time, if and when her hard times come – she’ll remember her mother and be able to make it work.