As a Jamaican immigrant residing in Miami, I've encountered instances of feeling like an outsider or an "Other" within American society. This feeling of exclusion, stemming from factors such as my race, nationality, and immigrant status, significantly influenced my latest book of poems, "Archipelagos." Within this collection, I delve into the concept of Othering across various lines, including race, ethnicity, religion, culture, and the aftermath of colonialism.
Many poems within the collection address the lingering legacy of colonialism and the impact of Othering in the former European colonies, especially those in the Caribbean and Global South. As a matter of policy, colonial powers treated the colonized as savage, backward, and needing the colonizers' control and "civilizing" influence. This mindset made it easier for the colonizers to exploit indigenous lands, people, and resources and promoted ideas that the "natives" were less intelligent, moral, and deserving of rights. This led to many forms of alienation within the colonies, such as colorism, class divisions, alienation from each other, the land, and even violent self-hatred. The poem "Colonial Discourse, After Aime Cesaire" combines the themes of "Notebook of a Return to the Native Land" and "Discourse on Colonialism" to portray the violence of colonial Othering, narrated through the perspectives of mass murderers Christopher Columbus, King Leopold of Belgium, and Nazi Germany's Adolf Hitler. Their deliberate dismissal of those they considered "lives not worthy of life" mirrors the dehumanizing logic of empire.
As an immigrant, I've also confronted more contemporary forms of Othering. In "American Welcome," I recount a distressing incident of racial harassment during my initial days in the U.S., highlighting the vulnerability and uncertainty that newcomers experience. A substantial portion of the collection critically examines systemic racism and the oppression faced by Black Americans, revealing it as a nuanced form of Othering. For instance, "Target Practice," which uses a sonnet form invented by Jericho Brown, adopts the perspective of a Black man who persistently feels threatened by police violence. At the same time, "Precautionary Measures" speaks to the racial profiling my son has endured at the hands of law enforcement.
Numerous poems delve into exclusion rooted in religion, exemplified by the oppression faced by Rastafari in "Bad Friday." Set in Jamaica, this poem carries a note of irony and serves as a cautionary tale about the internalization of Othering. Other poems, including "A Search for Ancestors," shed light on the cultural erasure and forced assimilation suffered by Indigenous communities, particularly within the context of Canada's residential school system.
One of the most insidious forms of Othering involves attempts to erase heroic Black memory. "Anthem for the Woke" vigorously opposes the disempowerment of Black individuals through racist narratives and advocates for resistance against these recurring patterns. Finally, "A Reckoning" frames the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston as a symbolic stance against the ideology of Othering, connecting this event to the tragic murder of George Floyd due to Derek Chauvin's failure to acknowledge Floyd's humanity.
These poems also establish connections between environmental degradation, colonial exploitation, and the varying impacts of climate change in relation to the recurring patterns of ecological dispossession. "A Terrible Beauty" links plastic pollution in Sri Lanka with the practice of chemical poisoning in "sacrifice zones," and "Creole Warrior" associates the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with Collette Pinchon Battle's efforts to salvage New Orleans despite the city's impending submergence due to rising sea levels.
The collection concludes with "The Admiral," personifying Christopher Columbus and his role in colonialism, counterbalanced by Marcus Garvey's call to "Emancipate ourselves from mental slavery" as a remedy against self-othering. Writing these poems has solidified my belief in transcending simplistic categorizations and honoring our shared humanity, as encapsulated in the Rastafari ethos of I&I. Although deeply intertwined with painful histories, "Archipelagos" ultimately affirms resilience and optimism in constructing an inclusive community that rises above the phenomenon of Othering.