To see or not to see

Many of us are familiar with the story of two little boys, Ricky and Ray Ray, playing marbles up in Blizzard. They eventually tired of that game and began to do head-stands.

Said Ricky to Ray Ray, “I wonder why when I stand on my head, blood rushes to my brain, but when I am standing upright, the blood does not rush to my feet. What do think? What do you see?” Ray Ray thought about this cosmic, l question for a moment, before replying: “You know, from where I am looking and based on what I know about you, your feet are not empty.” The inference being, of course, that Ricky’s head is empty.

Clearly, or perhaps, not so clearly, two people can look at the same picture, the same situation, the same series of events and come away with two entirely different conclusions. It is for that reason that eyewitness testimony is sometimes considered unreliable. Seems that our interpretation or recollection of what we saw or experienced can be influenced by our race, our upbringing, our values, our life’s journey, our prejudices.

Consider. The whole world saw Staten Island cops choking Eric Garner to death. We heard the audio of him saying, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!” We saw a cop pressing Garner’s head into the concrete even as another kept his arm around Garner’s neck. We literally saw a man’s life ebb away from him while cops nonchalantly milled around, congratulating themselves for taking down a man for the infinitesimally petty crime of selling loose (untaxed) cigarettes. Which, by the way, Garner had none on his person at the time of his death.

Nonetheless, notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence that something egregiously wrong happened (at least, in the eyes of the five billion people worldwide who saw the video clip), not even 12 of the 23 grand jurors on Staten Island could see or hear any evil. No manslaughter. No criminally negligent homicide. No reckless endangerment. No depraved indifference to human life. No nothing!

Ditto, Ferguson, Missouri. Folks looking at the same thing and coming away with a different interpretation of what they saw. Some eyewitnesses said that Brown had his hands up. Others said he did not. Some said he was walking away from the police whilst others said that he was charging at the police. Some said that he reached into the cop’s car to try and snatch the cop’s gun; he even punched the cop. Others said it never happened. Sometimes it appears, we see what we want to see.

According to the Europeans who ripped off Africa, the place was a jungle inhabited by wild beasts and savages who worshipped rocks and mountains and walked around naked. These natives were not too bright and the European colonisation saved them from themselves – the cannibalism, the savagery, the harmful rituals. Colonisation was a necessary evil, if you will, to ‘christianize’ the natives and ‘diffuse kultur’. Of course, this is patented nonsense and many historical books, movies and documentaries peddle this Eurocentric point of view. We wholeheartedly disagree. We see it differently.

One of my favourite reggae from back in the day was a song by Burning Spear called Christopher Columbus. In it, the singer wails along with the sad, soulful, mourning of the horns and declares that “Christopher Columbus is a damn, blastid liard …/Claiming that he was the first to discover Jamaica/Wha happen to the Indians who were here, the Arawaks?/And then look wha happen to the blacks that you brought there/Whole heap a mix-up, mix-up; whole heap-a ben-up ben-up…”

It is a beautiful song and it encapsulates the sorrow and sadness and stress that accompanied the arrival of Columbus to the Caribbean. Burning Spear is singing from the point of view of the indigenous people that he found here. In fact, on the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Columbus to the New World, even amidst all the hoopla and fanfare, the New York Times published an article called “Don’t Celebrate The Coming Of Columbus, Mourn It.” In it, the author says that, whereas from the European perspective the coming of Columbus was a boon for Europe, as far as the natives were concerned, it was the bane of their existence.

Many of us have read Chinua Achebe’s, Things Fall Apart, a gripping account of how African culture, tradition and way of life was destroyed by contact with the Europeans. Achebe spoke from the point of view of the Africans, who, after observing many of their kinfolk walking and talking like white people and (gasp!) going to church and singing hymns and renouncing their centuries-old traditions, spoke some of the saddest words in any language: “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold …”

Of course, from the European perspective, they were disabusing the benighted Africans of their belief in witch doctors and Oracles and spells and chants and gods of sticks and stones. The question is, did Africans wish to be ‘enlightened’ and ‘civilized’ or were they quite happy with their way of life? And who de hell appointed Europeans as the arbiters of ‘good taste’ and ‘civilized behaviour’? Does one culture have some sort of innate and God-given superiority over another? We think not!

Nonetheless, the Europeans justified their grasping behaviour by insisting that Africans were only one-third human and we were living like animals. They were taking us out of our fig leaves and putting us in shirts and pants and dresses. Hell, according to them, we were already being enslaved by the Arabs and by our very own people and life as a slave on the estates was significantly better than the squalid existence of life in Africa. Oh yeah? Read Mary Prince’s first-person account of her life as a slave right there on Wood’s Estate; right there where the fancy mall is now located on Friar’s Hill Road. After her master took her from Antigua to London where she was free, she swore that she would rather die than ever go back to Antigua where she would again be enslaved; even if it was to be an ‘uppity’ house slave.

Now I believe that an explanation is necessary regarding the title of today’s article. For many of my readers, this title would seem to be a pun on … er … well er … you know, ‘that thing.’ It is not. It is a serious title with a play on Hamlet’s great existential soliloquy, “To be or not to be … “

Nonetheless, the title did bring to the minds of many, a version of a story once told by a Trinidadian singer. It went something like this: A man named Rufus and his wife, Neecie – a very shy and bashful woman, were a happy couple except for when it came time for bed. It was then that Neecie would put on her nightgown (no sexy lingerie; no soft, silky material). It was a long-sleeved, cotton affair that went right up to her neck; something like what the old Quakers would wear. Of course, underneath the nightie were her knickers. No lacey material here either. She favoured the cotton, ‘bingo-bag’ bloomers; you know, the granny panties. Then she would rub herself down with generous helpings of bay-rum then proceed to turn out all the lights and crawl under a thick blanket. All of this was done when Rufus was not around and by the time he came to bed, the room was in total darkness and any lovemaking that took place (precious little), took place in the dark.

Anyway, Rufus was ‘cooping’ Neecie. He was tired of her nightly routine and their lovemaking in the dark. So as soon as he came into the room he turned on the light and began to undress; you know, show Neecie the goodies. But she was having none of it.

“Rufus, tun-off de light!”

Instead of complying, Rufus replied: “I want to see tonight!”

This agitated Neecie and she responded: “But ah wha wrang wid you tinite? Ah wha mek yuh so frisky? Look bwoy, just, tun-arf de light! Me hab wan headache!”

Again, Rufus refused with the words, “I want to see tonight!”

“Rufus, yuh nuh hear me say fi tun-arf de light? De devil really get up inna you! Ah wha yuh warn fi see? You really expeck me foo wear dem likkle piece a subben dat you bring home? Fi mek me long, bubby and all me joogle hang out? Ah nah wan chrishtian you be? Yuh nuh imbarass foo mek nearga see you a buy dem skimpy sudden inna de lingerie store? You need counselin! Me go tell Pastor Bridgewater how you fresh and forward and how you want me fi put on all kinda lickle sudden and do arl kinda t’ings. You need prayer!”

But Rufus would not be denied. He kept on insisting; “I want to see! I want to see! I want to see tonight!”

Needless to say, notwithstanding his pleas, Rufus was forced to er ‘comfort’ himself on the couch that night. He did not get to see!