I recognize myself in my grandmother’s eyes.
My cousin showed me an old picture of her that they had just found. She looked so strong and serene and beautiful and fierce. I missed her. I missed that I never got to know her as I got older. I knew she would have been proud of the woman I had become. We had the same look in our eyes, her and I. The same determination.
I remembered the nights she fed me rice and butter as a child. She had a shadowy little house on the hill, wore a black slip above her breasts like a strapless dress, had short hair that stuck out and a faint blue tinge to her eyes. I don’t recall much from being so young but I remember her face and her voice and her mannerisms.
“Grandma, you did not live in vain,” I would tell her.
I can’t imagine what it was like to be a dark-skinned black woman at that time, who migrated from St. Vincent to Trinidad. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have raised a son who was ashamed of your poverty, who now hangs his light-skinned grandmother’s portrait in his home but not his own mother’s.
I would tell her that her blood flows through me, along with her courage and resilience. When I look at her I am not ashamed, I feel immense pride to know that I am in the lineage of a warrior.
I think further back to my ancestor who was enslaved. I imagine how furious and indignant and humiliated they were to wake up every day under those conditions. I picture them sitting at the seashore, gazing off into the horizon and coming to terms with the fact that they would never return home. I feel that. The pain of knowing that your ultimate justice, the thing you want most, is so far out of reach that it may happen, but not in your lifetime. The fight is long and arduous, requiring you to wake up every morning caring enough to fight, caring enough to keep living. The small wins come ever so often but it is never a ship taking you back home. It never really satisfies.
But that is your life now isn’t it? To risk the breath in your lungs for a few pathetic crumbs of victories. No ship. No motherland. Just this new life.
My ancestor knew that one day we would triumph over enslavement. He also knew there was a possibility he would not see that day. Nevertheless he chose to live, and here I am today, free, with his burning desire for the ultimate justice. Reparations. Respect. Equity. Desire to return to the motherland almost completely gone, but the need to see my ancestors avenged bristling in my bones. Will I see reparations in my lifetime? Will I see the end of racist mass incarceration? Will I see the definitive end of white supremacy?
Nothing less will appease me. Nothing less will suffice.
Not a new president who prefers polite white supremacy. Not Harriet Tubman on the twenty dollar bill. Not black history month. Not a million diversity working groups and equity consultants, while white people continue to run the labor force. Nothing short of everything we deserve.
The road to everything we deserve paved with the excruciating pain of a thousand tiny wins, and the ridiculous expectation of celebrating them.
I am the ancestor who sat staring woefully at the ocean, yearning to go home.