After the first Breaking Ground excursion to the USA in November 2015 we asked the Black British writers who were part of the tour to write a short piece about their experience of being part of it. Read about Colin Grant’s trip.
Carry Go; Bring Come
I’ve always loved the phrase ‘Carry Go; Bring Come’. It was a faintly disparaging term spoken often in our warring Jamaican household in Luton in the 1970s. It denoted a sneak, a tell-tale, someone who ran between two parties telling each what the other had said about them – without loyalty. But a teller of tales can also be a disseminator of truths; a go-between. On the Breaking Ground tour we continuously shuttled between an idea of black America (romanticised on my part) and the reality. I grew up reading African American authors in advance of their black British or Caribbean cousins. They seemed like outliers; to have gotten to the truth of race long before us. Or so I thought. The Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora (ASWAD) conference offered a chance to carry go; bring come – with news from the racial frontline of America.
‘This is America! I can talk to whoever I damn well want.’ One black man said to another; they were taxi drivers arguing over who had prior claim in providing a service to take us to the airport from our oversized hotel in Atlanta. The argument had the quality of performance. I understood it that way through my past reading of black American authors; that it had more to do with the culture of the dozens, than an unswerving attachment to the first amendment to the US constitution. But the row also provided a small moment of insight into the changes being wrought in the USA. Both drivers’ nerves were raw because bullish companies like Uber have come in and disrupted their seasoned way of life – but wasn’t it always thus in this winner-take-all society?
I was glad both drivers were black; had one been white then that would have thrown another uncomfortable factor into the mix. Because it was apparent both in Atlanta and Charleston that racial nerves are also raw; that segregation still exists; the divisions, the geographic fault-lines are in the landscape, the body and the mind.
Whenever two or three black people get together, inevitably and quickly the conversation turns to the subject of blackness. In any event, that has been the case throughout my adult life. ASWAD provided a platform both for high-minded, academic, nuanced reflections on race; and for the simple act of remembering.
At an early conference seminar, a panellist approached proudly clutching her newly-purchased copy of Negro with a Hat, my biography of Marcus Garvey. I marvelled at her confidence in the importance of the subject of her talk, a Nicaraguan Garveyite who’d been prominent in the UNIA; and I hoped that the panellist would get to the end of her talk before flicking through the index of the 500 page Negro with a Hat which included no mention of her heroine.
At Sullivan’s Island, as wealthy white sunbathers looked on, a procession of black delegates from ASWAD, drumming and chanting, waded into the water in remembrance of their ancestors. Later, we came face-to-face with a woman who seemed a modern-day Garveyite from the peel to the core. In a flowing white gown, on the edge of the sea, the Sister led the tribute in libations to the ancestors captured during the Atlantic slave trade who, on the middle passage, threw themselves overboard, rather than submit to slavery; their bones formed an Atlantic highway on the ocean floor; the Sister called their names as well as those who have followed them; and we promised that our tongues would cleave to our palates before we dishonoured them in forgetfulness.
We broke ground in Charleston; and we also broke bread.