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I Am Black: Celebrating Me.

From what I can remember, for most of my childhood, I lived a sheltered life. Sheltered from ignorance, prejudice, racism. From micro-aggressions to blatant oppressive tensions. I believe I ‘had it easy’, so to speak. Easier than most, anyway.

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While I was born in New York City, I grew up in the smaller, lesser known City of Preston here in the UK. It was there where I attended pre-school, nursery, primary school – all the way through to College.

Though it was a predominantly white city, I didn’t feel ‘different’ to those around me. I remember it as a time where I felt equal, innocent – dare I say – ignorant. And with that, came its trusty sidekick – bliss.

This, however, took a drastic turn as I entered Secondary School (High School) at the age of 11.

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I find it difficult to recall the precise moment in which I had my rude awakening, but it happened. I got woke. A great discomfort replaced that part of me which felt safe and secure. In a school educating hundreds of children, I could count on one hand the number of black students who attended. Until then, I hadn’t made a habit of playing ‘spot the black kids’ but here I was, seeking what I could barely find. It wasn’t so much an ‘Us vs Them’ reality, but I began to question why I felt outnumbered. This was my first real experience of feeling underrepresented and marginalised; and sadly, it ensued such great and overwhelming pressures of anxiety from then on. To go from one extreme to the next – from feeling like just another child, to a sore thumb in the institution – made it hard for me to manoeuvre through my five years of study as easily as I once did. The feeling could not be repressed.

 

I sooner found myself making intentional daily choices to better assimilate into the culture I was living in.

I began to adjust my speech, mannerisms, even down to my lunch preferences. Where I once found joy in bringing a home-made lunch to school, carefully crafted by my West-Indian mother – there was joy no more. I vividly remember being mocked for carrying drink bottles that’d been refilled with home squeezed lemonade, fruit punch, Kool-Aid, and pretty much anything that wasn’t a Tango or Dr Pepper. Too often have I had to compromise my preferences out of fear of retaliation.

But these efforts of integration were overridden by social exclusion, even in my best attempts to blend.

 

During my first year of secondary school, I ‘relaxed’ my hair. For those unaware of what this means, it is the chemical straightening of kinky hair. Although natural hair has been reclaimed in recent years amongst the masses, this was once a very common thing within the black-female community. It hurt. I burnt. But it was a necessary step for use girls to have our edges slicked (if they hadn’t already become snatched) and our hair flowing effortlessly like the white counterparts around us.

Although I do profess to be a big music lover of all genres, I do acknowledge that my ‘taste’ would significantly shift when around my white peers. No more Gyptian and Serani. No Aretha and Luther. Definitely no Missy Elliot. No, that was too different. Too ‘black’. From then on, it was strictly Katy Perry and Ke$ha. You know… Coldplay and Maroon 5 type of music. On a saucy day, I’d pop a little Vybz before I stepped foot on school grounds, but that was just about it.

 

During my second year of secondary school, I became the ‘Token Black Girl’ to which all the Black related questions were directed:

“Can black people tan?”

“Do you turn invisible when in a dark room? Or do your teeth and eyes give you away?”

“Do black people get ‘nits’ (lice)?”

I couldn’t help but feel like an exotic museum attraction that left visitors standing in awe, jaw-dropped.

I became accustomed and even numbed to deliberate disrespect and ignorant remarks – the type that should really stay in one’s head, like, “Why do coloured girls wear makeup? You’re black”.

Every year like clockwork, I was asked, “Why do you lot get a Black History Month when we don’t get a white history month?” – not quite being able to vocalise that all we really ever study is white history.

I became a reference of comparison for all things beige and below, with phrases like “I’ve gone so dark! Well, not ‘Makhala’ dark…”, thrown my way.

At the butt of a horrible girl’s joke, I was told that I resembled a Bourbon Biscuit. The gag was weak and didn’t really offend me in that immediate instance, but when I realised that it drew ‘shits and giggles’ from my ‘friends’ – that hurt me, because I knew that it was my complexion they found humour in.

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During my third year of secondary school, I was warned that I would be punished for non-compliance after refusing to prepare my chicken in cooking class without washing my meat first.

I was mocked for certain traditions and values I held close.

I went unheard, undermined and invalidated for certain experiences I went through.

I was often teased for having fuller lips. “Fish lips”, they’d call me.

P.E. became one of my most hated classes because it was then when I would be tormented for my wider hips, thicker thighs and larger posterior.

On another occasion, I was advised to date one of two of the only black kids in my year group because ‘he seemed like my type’ … He was not.

 

During my fourth year of secondary school, I was told by another member of the teaching staff that I looked like a Malteaser, in front of my classmates. Everybody laughed as I held back the tears of humiliation. Mortified at the unprovoked disrespect, I kept it as much to myself as possible. It went unreported, both at the school and at home… I dreaded the idea of the possible ramifications it would cause – ostracisation being one of them.

In one unfortunate incident where my younger cousin was being bullied by a young white boy who had made a number of racist comments, I became heated. Naturally and instinctively, I ‘took up for her’, coming to her defence after hearing the news from the other side of the campus. When the altercation deescalated, I – Makhala Kirwan – was labelled the aggressor. I was the problem. Not the boy. No attempt by the school to seek an explanation was sought. After all, in that moment I embodied the angry black girl, so it must’ve been my fault, right?

 

As time grew, it became clear that this was not something that could be rid overnight. I realised that I needed to be more accepting of myself, my race, my culture and traditions. As Solange rightly recommended, “Be weary of the ways of the world.” And that is exactly what I became.

It dawned on me that the only way I would sleep at night is if I found peace in who I was. You see, people will always have something bad to say about you, no matter how much you bend to fit what you feel they wish to see. But when you can no longer bend, you eventually break. And I was not willing to let myself come to such a state. I thought, I may as well be comfortable within myself as I go along for the ride they call ‘life’.

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By my fifth and final year of secondary school, I slowly started to develop a sense of empowerment in and appreciation for the young woman I was shaping up to be. Prior to that moment, my true identity was so far gone, I honestly couldn’t even tell you who Makhala was. But it was then when I grew.

After FOUR YEARS of transitioning back from chemical relaxers to my natural, thick, God-given hair, I am happy to be reunited with the real beauty I had kept hidden away for so long. Even the fruit punch and Kool-Aid made a reappearance.

 

It has almost been five years since that moment of enlightenment and while I am still flourishing in self-love, I have yet to fully blossom. There is much to overcome as a Black-female in a western-society like the one I am in now. One which is heavily fuelled by prejudice, micro-aggressions, and racism. Tis true.

The social climate has evolved since our ancestors’ 400 years of slavery, yes. Community comradery, integration and overall acceptance is noted. And diversity within many work environments is acknowledged also, but in my opinion, the ‘War on Melanin’ won’t cease anytime soon. Pessimistic? Perhaps. But until then, I will continue to use knowledge as my weapon of choice in this fight – as, with knowledge, comes power.

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As much as I did compromise in the past, not once have I ever wished to be anything other than black. What I did want, was understanding of the Black plight from those who were not, and the capacity to love despite it. Highly naive, I know. But I am fortunate to be going and growing in a generation of proud Black millennials who unapologetically celebrate their blackness, and subsequently encourage others to do the same. The ones who realise that pro-blackness does not equate to anti-whiteness, as they are not mutually inclusive. I cannot express how much pride that brings me. My hope for the future is that the next generations of Black Kings and Queens are just as, if not, more celebratory of themselves and the privileges of excellency embedded in their skin.

 

I am Black. And it isn’t always easy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Happy Black History Month.

 

Makhala Kirwan.

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M is for mother.

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For you, mom, on Mother’s Day

🌹✨

What qualities makeup a mother?
The glue that holds ones family together.
Her children’s biggest fan.
And though her beauty blends so gracefully when in her presence, I guess you could call her a natural.
Good at what she does, that is…

Matilda.
Mom of 4, yet mother to many.

As any other would do, she would wipe away my tears,
Brush my hair til it was nice and Sleek, provide for me, housed me and fed me food that’d bless my pallet.
But where most would stop, she continued to teach me.
She taught me to be bold, and not only to stand out but to be outstanding.
Telling me, “Aim to be the best at what you do, MAC
Allowed me to Chanel my best qualities and show the world what I have to offer whilst still in my prime.
And hearing positive affirmations from you would make me blush.
When I took the wrong tone, you wouldn’t hesitate to be my corrector.
Training up her child in the way she should go, that when she grew old she would not depart from it.

And go I went.

But even though I’m away from home, we couldn’t be any closer. Speaking to you is the highlight of my day. And if not for the way you raised me, my time away from home wouldn’t lash so long.
You said from your lips, what I do at home would stick with me when away… setting the foundation of any strong young woman.
Powdered me with love, never concealed me from facing the world on my own accord. With your eyes, you’d shadow me. Never fully leaving me but from a distance, watching me glow into a independent young lady. And if I were to fall, you’d be there so I Maybelline on you. There’s nothing more that I, as your daughter, could ask of you. Much like the gloss I’m wearing, you’ve allowed me to shine, and for that, I thank you.

Maybe one day I will be fortunate enough to mirror what great a mother you have been to me, to a child of my own.

MUA“, I love you xxx

 

– if you haven’t quite caught on by now, the theme of this piece was MAKEUP

“My Hair Is Nappy”

‬‪Written by Makhala Kirwan.‬
Inspired by Kendrick Lamar – The Blacker The Berry.

‪You hate me don’t you?‬
‪And I think I know why:

‪My hair is nappy.‬
‪My nose is rounded wide.‬
‪My lips are full and I speak my mind.‬
‪You believe we are not of the same kind.‬

‪My body moves so effortlessly ‬
‪Energy flows through me to the beat.‬
‪It amazes you how my people don’t have two left feet.‬

‪I scream and I holler when things don’t go my way.‬
‪It shocks you that I’d have so much to say.‬

‪Brown – not black – is the colour of my skin.‬
‪And the magic in my pigmentation is bursting out from in.‬

‪My food is well seasoned.‬
‪My music is cultured,‬
‪Yet they blame rap and hip hop for reasons why men turn to vultures.‬

‪On occasion, if any, your people would call ours “Pretty…”‬
‪”…For a Black Girl”, you’d add‬,
‪As though I’d need such pity.‬

‪After 400 [plus] years of whips and chains,‬
‪We were given back our freedom, yet things have not changed.‬

‪No more “massa”, “picanini” or things of that kind.‬
‪But it’s clear amongst our lifestyle that we’re still slaves of the mind.‬

‪We too are educated and can articulate,‬
‪Yet you still insist that you cannot relate.‬
‪The air we breathe is the same in our lungs.‬
‪Two eyes, ten toes, one liver, one tongue.‬

‪The God I serve has said we are the same.‬
‪And I hate to repeat myself, but I must ask again….‬

‪Why do you hate me?‬
‪Please… I would like to know why.‬
‪Is it because my hair is nappy,‬
‪And my nose is round and wide?‬

‪Maybe one day I’ll wake up, and we’ll all be free.‬
‪Maybe one day I’ll wake up and every nation will see.‬
‪Maybe one day I’ll wake up and death will no longer be.
‪Maybe one day you’ll realise, that we’re the same, you and me.

Better Late Than Never: Happy New Year, People!

I know, I know… It’s been exactly 225 days since my last post.

Some write’s block, huh?

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I could provide you with a million and one excuses as to why that is, but instead, I’ll fill you in on a little something I’ve been experiencing these past few months, in my next post.

I’d just like to thank you all for sticking with me on my not so smooth journey, and wish you a Happy New Year, though we are already 21 days deep. Forgive me. But as we so often hear, “it’s better late than never”, right?

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Wow, I really didn’t see this coming! Well, of course I saw it coming, but the speed at which this new year hit me was quite astonishing, really. It’s as if I was enjoying my summer getaway, lounging on the quite beaches of Antigua one minute, and all of a sudden, distant relatives were crawling out of the woodworks to eat all the Christmas turkey and hand out embarrassing photos around the dinner table once again.

 

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Time surely does fly.

This year has already proven an interesting one for me thus far, and I’m excited to see where the rest of it will take me (kicking and screaming, I’m sure).

With so much death, poverty and disaster, I’m just grateful to enter into a new year with health, strength and optimism… So hang in there, people – the stories ahead will be something you’ll surely not wish to miss!

Once again, happy new year! I wish you nothing but joy, peace and prosperity!

 

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Yours truly,

Makhala  (oh so very late) Kirwan xoxo

Home: The Dominica I Know

Like most mornings, I started off my day listening to some Shakka. I hit shuffle, and after two or three songs, my favourite began to play: “Sooner Or Later”. Incredible, phenomenal, exceptional – these words don’t quite describe Shakka’s work. Check it out:

Anyway, enough doting. The track had me thinking of my “motherland” (not so much Africa,but literally, my mother’s place of birth) – Dominica. After further research I discovered that this very song was actually written with Dominica in mind. As it turns out, this same singer, song writer and producer – like me, is Dominican. Coincidence? Perhaps. But it led me to writing this piece, dedicated to you, Dominica: my home away from home.

Now just to clarify, when I say Dominica, I speak of the Commonwealth of Dominica and not the Dominican Republic. They are two completely different countries and aren’t at all related to each other other than the fact that they’re both located within the same region (the West Indies):

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Before any friends or relatives reading decide to jump the gun and correctly point out that I was not born in Dominica, here, let me…. I, Makhala Kirwan, was born to parents Matilda and Peter Kirwan [see attachment below] – sister of Kadiff Kirwan, Earlan Kirwan, Vallis Weeks and Royden Lewis…. in New York, USA. To add further confusion, I was raised here in England. With that being true, it still doesn’t take away from the fact that I’ve always considered myself Dominican and think of Dominica as my homeland.

*Cue the cliche*

They say home is where the heart is. I agree. Though I am ‘only’ first generation Dominican, not once have I thought of myself as less-than any other ‘real’ Dominican. It’s true. Say what you want but both indirectly and directly, the country has made me who I am today. It’s in how I speak and speak to others, it’s in the culture and sound, my friendships and bonds. I was blessed to have been raised in a Dominican household with the nation’s culture and values instilled in me from a young age.I take pride in that.

I have come across so many people who know little to nothing about the country. From what I’ve gathered, unless you, your family or friends are from Dominica, you know nothing of Dominica. I guess I can see why; it’s not as commercialised as the other islands (Jamaica being one of the long standing examples) and I think it’s safe to say Dominica is one of the smallest islands in the Caribbean.

Though there is an element of truth to that, Dominica is still a place I will always love. I mean, it’s not everybody’s cup of tea – I’ll grant you that. If you’re looking for a country full of entertainment with a busy Parisian/ New York/ London nightlife – Dominica is not the place for you. If you’re looking for an island which is easily accessible with plenty of convenient modes of transport – Dominica is not the place for you. If you’re looking for a place with mass tourism and overcrowded beaches – again – Dominica is not the place for you. But what you will find, is something much more.

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There certainly is a level of peace and quietness to the island, but “boring” is not a word I would personally use to describe it, it’s just at a different pace. Where I live (here in England), there is always something to do and some event to find yourself at. The bars are always open, the malls close late and there’s a cinema positioned every few miles from your local city center. Each time I visit Dominica, on the other hand, I find myself enjoying the little things which the Commonwealth has to offer:

  • The ripe Julie Mangos falling gracefully through the trees
  • The smell of roasted breadfruit
  • The unclouded skies
  • The warm, fresh air
  • The clear river water
  • The sandy beaches
  • The aesthetically pleasing nature
  • The tourist attractions (boat trips, whale watching, snorkeling)
  • The sound of dominoes being slammed against the table
  • The energy and rhythm in the Dominican accent
  • The bouyon music playing at a disturbingly loud volume from across the street
  • The awkward encounters with free roaming chickens and goats
  • The humor of jokes spoken in creole
  • The wisdom in my grandmother’s voice

I’ve never felt more comfortable and at peace with myself than when in Dominica. But don’t get me wrong – there is a social scene on the island – you just need to know where to look. There are festivals and parties aplenty. Carnivals and fetes galore. Take a hike and admire God’s creation – you’ll soon see why they call Dominica the Nature Island of the Caribbean.

Dominica may not be the place for you. But it’s the place for me. It’s home. Where’s yours?

 

Makhala Kirwan

Edmay’s Story

DEDICATED TO YOU, GRANDMA🌸

This is my grandmother,
Edmay is her name.
Some call her Babay,
Her “claim to fame”.

I thought I’d share a story,
With a little rhyme.
We start in 1924,
With a Once Upon A Time.

She came into the world,
Wide-eyed and rosy-cheeked.
Never did we know
That one day she would meet….

The man who would give me
Uncle’s Mark and Sento,
After many hours in labour
She bravely spent though.

Somewhere along the way,
Grandad Harold she married.
And shortly after that,
10 more children she carried.

Felina, Isaline, Titus too.
Sarah, Philemon and Hyacinth, who knew?
Vincent, Matilda and Adam the ‘beast’,
And little old Abel….
The last (but not least).

Never could we have known
We would have such a huge clan.
But that was a part of
My God’s special plan.

12 children, 28 grandkids
And 30 [plus] greats.
Through Him alone she managed
So many things on her plate.

Here ends the story,
And what I wanted to say,
Was “I love you dear Grandma,
And Happy Mother’s Day.”

❤️