Walking while black, in Jamaica vs. the US

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/03/01/walking-while-black-in-jamaic.html


No one remembers learning how to walk.

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I’m going to read the essay when I get home tonight, for no other reason than to try to understand this baffling sentence.

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White people who struggle with the concept of racism, can read an account like this one believing this is somebody elses’ problem. Yet still think they’re not racist because they personally would not hassle this guy.

Racism isn’t just widespread contempt of the other, it’s also a widespread lack of empathy.


As a white person in a very white area of N CA, my perspective on racism is approaching completely non-valid, but I cannot recall where I heard this factoid about embedded in the culture and society at large racism:

Everyone loves ice cream. Who doesn’t, right? Everyone loves to hear the ice cream truck approach with its cargo of frozen treats. Kids especially! And everyone knows when the ice cream truck is coming since it plays a merry tune that announces to all the approach of icy delights. That tune you hear is almost universal amongst ice cream trucks. The name of that song is “π!@@$& love a watermelon” (sorry, not sure how to express that word in the 21st and a bit C)

Don’t look up the ‘forgotten’ stanza of the star spangled banner (spoiler! racist). And for gosh sakes don’t look at the fabric of America and realize many of its threads are a deep shade of racism.


Looking forward to this essay, though I’m also saddened and angry to remember that Brent Staples wrote about this same damn thing over 30 years ago, in an essay that’s since become famous, “Just Walk on By.” One of his methods for easing white fear – and thus the danger to himself – was to whistle Vivaldi.


That was beautiful and horrible (although i was aware of the horrible already).


Citation Needed.


I do. 


I’m thankful that British ice cream vans have far more variation. When I was a kid the local van used to play the Match of the Day theme.


Ugh. Didn’t know that. I learned this melody as “The donut song” as a kid, roughly the same time I learned that black people were officially not allowed to buy houses in the neighborhood I was living in.


That’s the most noteworthy thing you took from this article?

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Where do you live? “Turkey in the Straw” is the universal tune around here, for the last 50 years or so. It’s based on a very old Irish fiddle melody.

Oh, OK, wikipedia says “Zip Coon” and “Nxxxer Love a Watermelon” are both played to the tune of Turkey in the Straw.

It’s not the only thing I took away; he has a sad story to tell. But writing that the trauma reminds him of learning to walk as a baby is an unnecessary literary affectation. It takes away from the gravity of what he is writing about. That is what I meant.

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Really? For years I thought that “Greensleeves” was prescribed by law.


I’m still processing reports outlining the lack of progress during the past 50 years


Yes indeed. :disappointed:


Funny, my wife and I took a short vacation last year: a few days in Montego Bay, a cruise that went from Jamaica to sail around Cuba, then a few more days in Montego Bay.

There was no question in our minds at the end of it that we were more comfortable in Cuba. Our white skin marked us as sources of money in both countries, but the Jamaicans were just more aggressive about calling out to you with proposals (car, weed, women) and generally leaving you feeling sized up for predation.

Towards the last day or so, we stayed in our B&B and walked two blocks to the nearest two restaurants only. (Montego Bay is where tourists were basically confined to their resorts recently when violence there exploded.)

This guy’s experience is completely valid, too, of course, but how comfortable he was where we were very uncomfortable was thought-provoking.


My blue-eyed, blonde-haired “porcelain-skinned” mom does it regularly, and has done so for the last 30 years. (She doesn’t drive.)

For the most part, she’s never had any trouble.



Foreigners draw attention for sure, but there are a lot of different kinds of attention.

White people in poor predominantly black countries where white people are tourists might be seen as marks (your experience).

Six-foot-one white women with pink hair in Japan are seen with curiosity (I’m told by a friend).

Trevor Noah has a stand-up bit about being the only black person around in Australia vs. Scotland. (from his Afraid of the Dark special on Netflix, I won’t try to relate the joke here, but to say that he found the two countries are very different places to be black)

But New York isn’t a strange country for black people. It is the home of millions of black people. It’s fucked up that black people feel uncomfortable walking down the street there.