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“Very black and very proud”

By Camille Mc Millan Rambharat

A simple photo on my new driver’s license ends a long story.

It’s been a few long years. Bouts of lingering post-slavery trauma and the uneasiness of colonisation. Battles of “fitting-in” and micro-aggression. One day the alarming proof of First Nation children buried on the grounds of Canada’s residential schools. More days, more proof, and more Covid-19 with its disproportionate effects on the most vulnerable. Even the heavy burden of student loans showed up, shining light on the disproportionate effects on Afro-American borrowers. The list goes on and on.

In all of this I had been thinking a lot about the person I was finally becoming after years of false doctrine from both my Catholic and non-Catholic schooling. A doctrine that taught children looking like me that we needed to be in the “image and likeness of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”. A whitewashed image. No ‘nappy’ hair, dreadlocks, corn rows, twists, and curls, and all those other derogatory words to describe the natural hair of African people.

It’s a humiliation that found its way into the workplace, corporate life, and life in general. To be ‘someone’ in this country or even the world, people like me learned how to code-switch, leaving us to battle with impostor syndrome and exhaustion.

Being taught that we were born in the likeness and image of this ‘white man’ never sat well with me from an early age. From as early as eight years old, I would look at the Sacred Heart picture which sat in our family home, by then a brownish image sitting in a wooden black frame with golden edging. Most Christian homes had one. Even non-Christian homes had one.

Jesus knew that I knew. He knew even at such a young age that this little Black girl knew who she was. I felt that this Jesus was an impostor. I knew from then, that I had to fight my way out of that feeling. That fighting feeling became a lifelong battle that brought me to a place of pride and strength of my African ancestry. This knowing of one’s true self comes with great freedom and a voice to speak my truth.

This year, a week before my birthday (not telling you my age but I ain’t no spring chicken) my driver’s license was renewed and for the first time, since being old enough to acquire any Government photo identification I showed up with beautiful natural hair.

I’ve grown out of four years of self-discovery. Unexpectedly to me, my hair has given me such a sense of being unapologetically me. It bothered some people, even my own.

So this day, I felt the excitement of the part clerk, part photographer at the licensing office as she gleamed with sisterhood and directed me to stand on the X in the yellow circle. “Your hair is so beautiful, it’s so much nicer than the previous one.”

Not something I expected, especially from a white woman. But she said it and I blushed like a high schooler as I thanked her. I held my head high, making me feel way taller than my 5ft 9 and 3/4 inches. I looked into the camera as her face disappeared behind it.

Click and flash came at me in no time then I was invited to review the photo. Do you want a retake? We both agreed I didn’t too as we both stood there in solidarity for something that was bigger than both of us. A movement whose time has come – not just for Black people but for every human being who believes in human rights for all.

Let me say this. Unlearning these systemic issues which distorted African people’s lives is urgent. The ongoing trauma of slavery and colonisation should not continue. These are uncomfortable conversations – I get that – but this is not about any one person but a civilisation. Focus on the truth, the history, and the destruction of lives.

For my birthday, this year it’s not just my driver’s license that has been renewed. I, me, and my spirit have been renewed. Plus, the afro has added some inches to my height.

Post Covid-19, what’s renewed for you? Email us at forwomen@catholictt.org or follow the conversation on Facebook