Posted by: Xhyra Graf | 7 November 2013

One Out of Many

Bus Shelters - New Kingston

Bus Shelters – New Kingston

I was at the bus stop waiting and my eyes kept returning to these bus shelters across the street. Something was off about them and I wasn’t sure what. They were nice images, sure. Everyone is smiling and happy. They were all about Sagicor – Financial Services/Insurance. OK, but… something kept pulling my eyes back to them. Yeah, yeah, not just the fact that I was across from them and had to look at something. Believe me there was plenty else to keep me visually occupied, a lot of which also qualified as props to the people moving around. I would find my brow furrowed as I puzzled over something and then have to look at them again. There. That explains it better.

When it finally clicked to me what I found “off” about these images, I was both horrified (truly) and thrown into an epiphanous experience. Wow! So I took a picture. I posted it in a message to the family with the caption, “What is different about this picture?” As much as they normally indulge me ūüôā there were no takers.

I finally gave them the answer: All of the people in the adverts are black.

Some (many) will protest, “That is not unusual.” To which I respond emphatically, “Yes, it is!”

I was not reading Ebony or Jet or watching a McDonald’s¬†or Checkers (!) commercial on BET. I was sitting at a bus stop on Knutsford Boulevard in the middle of New Kingston. I had just left the Victoria Mutual Building Society – where you don’t open a bank account but apply to be a member. It was behind those bus shelters and took up the entire block. The Sagicor¬†building¬†was behind me. National Commercial Bank, Jamaica National Building Society, Scotia Bank, FirstCaribbean International Bank, etc., etc. were all within walking distance, for me – those of you who know me know this means they were very close, lol. (OK, truth. I’m not that bad with pedestrian travel any more.)

I realized that, in my head, where I was translated to something¬†being “off” because there weren’t primarily white people in street ads – therein lies the horror. Is this what is in my head? Never mind the fact that it is TRUE. (Yes, it is.) Something in MY processing of visual cues made it difficult for me to brush off a bunch of black people on bus shelter adverts in the financial district of a primarily black country as normal? The black¬†people¬†walking around was OK and did not trip up my normal processing (because what-that has happened to me before?) but the bus shelters caused a “does¬†not compute?”¬†WTH, seriously?

I am broken. And this underlies a large portion of my epiphanous experience – not an epiphany of just a moment because I was stunned for quite a while. However, this is not the epiphany. I’ve known this for quite some time. I can even pinpoint quite accurately when I began to break and again pinpoint the moment many, many years later when I decided to actively work to repair the damage. ¬†The epiphany was that I can be fixed and it is not really going to be that hard. I have a set of books I made that is the first physical manifestation directly addressing the concept of repairing something almost irreparably damaged –¬†The MarChrist Collection¬†– fabricated out of a painting on drywall that I purposely left to the elements to deteriorate and grow¬†mould. This was, as was everything up until maybe The Xhyra Graf, predicated on the acceptance of what “beauty” could be found in a repair or remaking of an obviously aged and damaged thing. But hey, I now know different. Instead of simply accepting all of the¬†layers, I can actually really peel some off ¬†or surgically excise them and not have the worry that I am just in remission until the rot comes back with a vengeance.

I just need to remove myself from the environment that exacerbates the brokenness. Simple really. Most epiphanies are.

It won’t even be an escape from reality. It will be adjusting (realigning) to a new (old) reality.

A Black American once told me that the black person in American was in fact stronger than a Caribbean counterpart because they have had to and still do endure much more. ¬†It was a piece of logic for which I could not fault the brother. I was definitely buckling under much less strain than other people stand straight up and strong through. Having buckled and recovered many times with the thought in my mind that has been rattling around there since before I became a teen, “What happens to people who do not have actual facts to back up a confidence in their abilities? People who do not have the legacy of cultural wherewithal that I have?” – I have had enough.¬†I must remove myself from the culture that made me broken and continues to try even if, and I would say more so now, that there is a black POTUS. We are not post-racial. The POTUS has, contrarily, brought all kinds of people from out under their proverbial rocks wearing the slimy sludge at the bottom of the swamps.

If this act of self-preservation, at bottom, makes me weak or a coward. Guess what? I don’t care.


Part 2 of One Out of Many to be written later. I’m sleepy.


  1. […] mother’s response to my answer about what made the picture different was, “What happened to Out of Many?” “Out of Many, One People” — […]


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