Posted by: Xhyra Graf | 12 November 2013

One Out of Many II

My mother’s response to my answer about what made the picture different was, “What happened to Out of Many?”

“Out of Many, One People” — Jamaica’s motto. It gave us a kind of solidarity. Societal inequities were not blatantly underlain with the concept that one race was subhuman and thus could not accomplish as much as another. Being a ‘bright’ Jamaican was celebrated and nurtured – race did not matter.  In America, not so much – issues about race permeated everything. In America, an anger was awakened in me at 10 years old. My second unsatisfactory experience in the American educational system.

My 7th grade teacher came bursting into the classroom where I sat alone reading, exclaiming loudly that I was reading at a 12th grade level. It only took a moment as I looked up at her (wondering if it was a true indication of my reading level or limitation of the test) before I saw it – surprise.  She then asked me if I knew what it meant. My eyes lowered to refocus on the book I was reading.  I would not engage with this.

In Jamaica there was excitement, maybe even wonder at my accomplishments. Never surprise. There is a marked difference in the body language of someone experiencing ontological shock vs. someone experiencing excitement or wonder. In middle school this surprise, accompanied with my first experiences of racism, stoked dormant embers and brought about a new phase of quiet burning.

Don’t get me wrong. I, at a younger age, figured out there was an inequity caused by the fact I was a girl. I dealt with this.  There were mechanisms in place that made being a woman OK.  Women had power – over men. They willingly did the heavy lifting for us – pun intended.* This was (is) not a problem for me. I am all for the out-sourcing of labour. However this particular and newly discovered societal inequity – surprise that I was not only intelligent but highly intelligent – was not because I was a girl. It was because I was black. In America this came with basic and solely externally imposed beliefs about coloured folk that had no resemblance whatsoever to what I knew to be. The kids in middle school were were quite skilled at bullying so back to Jamaica I went, if only for one year this time.


“Out of Many, One People” – Being at least 5th generation Jamaican, within my genetics there was something of everything. I had always assumed that I was (we were) who I was (we were) because of this. I (each Jamaican) was One made out of Many. Besides that my education was exemplary, I spent every waking hour reading and learning (extended by the typical flashlight under the sheets at night) and I had a warrior women National Hero whose imagery reinforced that as a black woman, I was not limited in what I could achieve.

So… to make a long story short (too late) here I will stay to heal my brokenness. Here, where the appropriate response to a little black girl being exceptionally gifted is any myriad of congratulatory or nurturing responses but never surprise.

And some day soon to see street ads that are composed of One People who are Many shades of brown will not be an incongruity for me.

If all things work right I will not even notice.


*Here I say NaNU, NaNU** in gratefulness for the order of things. In both this case and the previous one in New York at 6 years old my heavy lifting knights in shining armour were little blond, light eyed boys built like tanks. This both explains my adult predilections and probably prevented me from writing off both white people and the male population.

**Non-arbitrary Nature of the Universe



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