Belonging at Home
Visiting the U.S. for the third time in the past month has brought on a sudden realization.
I have just noticed while walking among Americans that I, as a Black Caribbean man, am largely invisible. I don't mean that people cannot see me, I only mean that they choose not to.
When I am home in Jamaica, or anyplace in the Caribbean, there is a constant and persistent eye-contact between myself and strangers that takes place at the shopping plazas, at parties, at stoplights and while running on the road. It is most often comforting, although at times disconcering.
It could all be a function of the small size of our Caribbean countries where, it seems, each person counts. When we meet someone for the first time, the unspoken assumption is that we will meet them again.
In the U.S., I find the opposite to be true. Behind a first-time meeting is the built-in assumption that you will never see them again. Relationships just seem so less permanent - more like loose threads than part of a web of finely-woven fabric.
Another explanation for the "no-look" might be just stereotyping. After all, according to American news reports, I should probably be in their penal system someplace, along with a lot of other Black men my age. Yet, there I am walking through Macy's. From my observation, it does seem as if eye-contact varies by race. In the U.S., I notice that Whites and Asians seldom recognize my presence, while Blacks often do. Latinos fall somewhere in the middle.
In the 20+ years in which i lived in the U.S. I came to accept this way of relating to people as if it were quite normal, and can see it for what it is only now that I have moved away.
And, no, I don't miss this part of America one bit.
Here at home, I like running on the road and saying "Yes, yes" to Zatto, the rasta who tends to the grounds of the nearby golf club. I love being honked at by people I barely know. I enjoy feeling that I belong to something even when the guy selling newspapers, and the one hawking hub-caps, and the nearby gardener all ask me for school-fee money for their kids.
These interactions all remind me that I now belong to this Jamaican fabric, and part of why I Moved Back to Jamaica was to escape the nagging feeling of being just another loose thread blowing in the wind.