With the Amistad in town, a few of us who are café au lait (or “misto” for our loyal readers at Starbucks) might have a different perspective than some other folks… or maybe not. Everyone looks at the Amistad with their own eyes, but in our home the ship’s visit is a catalyst that makes us talk not only about the history of these fields, but about where we as individuals and as a family come from. Even one of our family who always says (or pretends to say) “skin colour don’t matter” finally admitted today that yes, skin colour still matters on this rock.
Not the way it used to, and not as some might think – but it still matters to some.
It is no secret that we have some relatives in New York, and when the girls get together whether in Bridgetown or Brooklyn, do you know what the sisters do first thing? Out come the arms and they put them side by side to see who’s lighter or darker on this visit. Little sister from NYC is always lighter in the winter, but darker in the summer because she works outside.
When they compare skin tones I always ask them why they do it. The answer is always an evasion or question about don’t I have something to do somewhere else – but they always do it first thing when they haven’t seen each other for a while.
I say “What does it matter?” and they laugh and say that it matters to them. Every time.
The sisters only do it when they’ve been apart for a while and only when they first meet. After the first meeting it doesn’t happen again on that trip.
And just like the girls getting together causes them to think about their skin tones, the visit of the Amistad causes us to think about some of the history and family connections that we might not have considered for some time.
I was mightily pleased to read Wendy Burke’s excellent article Drums Beat For Amistad in the Nation News, because she and some of the people she quotes see a purpose in the Amistad’s visit and mission that goes far beyond simply remembering the past. For the greatest value in the Amistad is not that it makes us examine the entire truth about the history of Atlantic slavery – although it does that well and so it should.
The greatest value in the Amistad is that it reminds us that this evil of slavery continues in many forms worldwide to this day.
When I see the Amistad, I think of the millions who remain enslaved in Mauritania, Côte d’Ivoire, Pakistan, Brazil and the gulags of China and North Korea.
Think of those wretched souls when you visit the Amistad, and then put a few extra dollars in the box so she can continue to fight like the warship that she really is.
*** Thanks to our friend Light Skinned-ed Girl for the photos of her great, great, great grandmothers on her mum and dad’s sides.