18 – Jamaican
Im Jamaican, I was born in South London, I lived in Brixton, then moved to Herne Hill. At 12, I moved to Jamaica. We lived in St. Elizabeths, which is where most of my family is from. I lived there until about 16, and my grandfather had a stroke. We assumed he was going to get better when we came back to London to take care of him for the summer, but he still couldn’t move his right hand and talk so my mum became his part-time carer. Being that she was his only child, we had to stay in England. At that point I had to get back into school and start planning what I wanted to do with my life.
I went to an all girls school, made some really good friends that I’m still friends with today, and hopefully we’ll be friends for the rest of my life because I love them so much. The good side of school is that I had a lot of family around me; I had cousins that went to the same school as me and male cousins that went to the brothering school near us. The bad side was that I experienced a lot of colourism and sexism. People were telling me what I can and cant do as a girl, what I should and shouldn’t be doing as a lady. Being that I was a tomboy, I didn’t see myself as different to the boys so I didn’t understand why I should have to act differently to them. In terms of colourism, my best friend at school she was mixed race, very fair and her hair was so blonde. People would see us together and ignore me or insult me and they would be nice to her and want to get to know her. It got the point where to this day, I don’t talk to her, and it used to be because I was so jealous of her but also because of the fact that she became friends with people who disliked me because I was the “darkskinned girl”. Whenever a white or light skinned girl would come into my school I would always feel jealous, because I associated their lightness with their being pretty, and I didn’t look like that so that made me hate them.
It really affected me, and my grades started dropping in school, which was unusual because in my family we knew, “Jemmar gets the good grades”. I started perming my hair when I was 12, and bleaching my skin when I was 14. I used to put the cream on once in a while, to not make it obvious that I was doing it. I used to put like a peg on my nose for 15 minutes a day to try and make it narrower. At 15, I was googling lip reduction surgery in London, writing names of Doctors, their addresses, the cost, how much money could I raise. That was half the work. Being a Christian I would pray to God to correct the mistake of making me black. At school, I started to get more compliments as my skin was lighter and when my hair was permed. I felt good that I was getting more attention, but I also felt like shit but didn’t know why. I realised I also did all this to get attention from boys, as your value was seen by if someone wanted to be with you which says a lot about our society. The few boys that did pay attention to me, they were dark-skinned with afro hair and I didn’t want that; I wanted what all the other girls wanted: the light with cooli hair. So that was me in Jamaica.
When I came back to England, I had to get myself into school, I had to get my brother and sister into school, and I had to get my older sister into school, because she kind of messed up her education in Jamaica. By the time I got everyone into school and I was on course, i was thinking about my future and what I wanted to do. I didn’t perm my hair, I didn’t have any bleaching cream. I thought, “let me try this natural thing, try something different’. I was watching videos on how to maintain natural hair, and at the end of the videos the girls would talk about loving your natural hair. The idea of loving my afro hair felt so foreign to me, and it went from loving your afro hair to loving your skin, to loving being a black woman. It went from youtube videos, to articles, to blogs, journals talking about black feminism and thats how I became a black feminist.