The column below is my first in the lead up to the launch of my debut e-book, “In Through A Coloured Lens” available on Kindle beginning Tuesday, September 17, 2013.
“In Through a Coloured Lens” is a compilation of timely and timeless columns selected from the hundreds I have written that have appeared in Share newspaper over the past ten years.
Follow this page in days to come for more columns from the first chapter – To Begin With … .
“Do you know the original name of Africa?” The question came from a young Black man who approached as I entered the Reference Library. Africa was not known as a continent in its long ago history, it was a place of many realms, many diverse territories, so I summoned a few names: Abyssinia, Ghana, Mali, Songhay. He seemed excited when he heard them.
Curious about the reason for his question, I posed my own: “Why do you ask?”
He said he had been trying to find the original name for Africa on the Internet but he couldn’t find it because “somehow it’s being blocked.”
“I believe they are trying to hide if from us,” he said.
A lengthy conversation then followed which revealed many issues and challenges that come with being a young Black man living on the edge in this city: How he had been harassed by police in his neighbourhood just outside the apartment building where he lives; that new fire alarm systems which are now mandatory on every floor of a house are really a way to observe people unaware; that Black people are lost because they don’t know their past — the past that is being “hidden” from us; about how Black, low income, homeless, Arabic and Muslim people are being funnelled and deposited in Scarborough, and what that could possibly mean when they get us all in the same place.
He described how, when confronted by police officers, he used what knowledge he had gained from previous encounters to protect himself. He outlined his rights to them, then referred them to a nearby security guard to verify who he was and what he was doing standing in front of the building where he has lived for some time.
He smiled recalling his moment of ‘victory’, but then shook his head in bitterness about the incident because he had to refer to another security officer to certify his identity — an identity he was in the library trying to find.
He was certainly coherent enough, albeit with an overactive imagination. But the stress of being a sensitive person suffering persecution and oppression was showing. He had the air of someone being watched — paranoid. He was clearly wrestling with his identity and how he fits into the larger society. He had so many questions about his history, the history of Africa’s people. He was hungry to know the beauty and strength of his past so that he could claim his value in the present. Sadly, that absence was being replaced by frayed sanity.
The singer Seal declared that if we’re going to survive we have to “get a little bit crazy.” This young man was flitting on the edge of insanity. Here was yet another who needs some support if he is to be pulled back from the edge. Dressed in black from head to foot, his coat was serviceable but looked almost as frayed as the wearer. How long had it been since he last ate? Did he know he was drifting into insanity? How many other young people cut off from the knowledge of their roots, their potent past are equally mentally frazzled, or worse?
African History Month had just ended, but this young man’s search for his history, a people’s history, continued. He seemed to know intuitively that one way to save himself is to know his history. He seemed to understand that to be disconnected from his past is to be stranded in the present without a social or emotional compass.
A few days after that, there he was in the library again, yet off in his own world. One imagines that for him, as with many of us, the search continues.