AK-47 or White widow? Shane asked, grinning as he pointed at a menu as if either one of us had any business dabbling in strong marijuana. We could barely handle cigarettes, let alone smoke anyone of those strains of weed, that sounded more at home on an MI5 terrorist watch list than in rolling papers. We eventually requested the weakest space cake they had and left to to take in the rest of De Wallen.
Eight of us were in Holland for the Rotterdam carnival and as part of our package, we had a day trip to Amsterdam scheduled in, and my-O-my was it going to be a trip (pardon the pun) that none of us will ever forget. Getting high didn’t appeal to Missy, Prince and Helen, so we (Shane, Ricardo, Carl, Jay and I), decided to split our group in two and meet back at the coach at the end of the day.
Now let it be known De Wallen (where the red light district is situated) is a small enclave of Amsterdam and is most probably one of craziest sections of any city world wide. With women in windows and weed, the word ‘liberal’ doesn’t do it justice at all. If De Wallen were a bike rolling down a hill, it’d be brake-less, without a seat, stabilisers, or wheels - just uh rickety old frame trundling at full speed into those fiendish red lights below.
Anywho, we had a good laugh throughout the day, and were on the way back to the coach. Jay and I were deliberating on how the “weak space cake” was a little too weak. Unsatisfied, we happened upon, and decided to stop off at the most stereotypical edible peddlers I had seen there. So there’s five of us squeezed-up in this weed takeaway shop, plastic inflatable palm trees everywhere, reggae beating over the speakers. The guys behind the counter wore red, gold and green string vests, and had locs. In true British fashion I began small talk. I assumed they were Jamaican, and with me being of Jamaican heritage, I asked where in Jamaica they were from. They both answered ‘Barbados’. ‘Oh’ I replied - Now here’s where Carl swears I had doomed our expedition, fore I, for some stupid reason went on to say… “So you guys aren’t real Rastas then?” Carl reckons on account of my faux pas, the brother going to get our muffins from the cabinet stopped in his tracks, and looked back at me in complete disdain, before selecting a completely different batch of space muffin to those requested. Anyway, we paid and left. Carl, Shane and Ricardo had walked up ahead, opened their muffins, and ate them whole.
"Oh thank God, at least he's light skin."
And with that I had been whisked into the wonderful world of colourism; and what an ugly world it's turned out to be. Let's delve deeper, but before I take you forward, one must take you back.
I was brought up in a household with a dark skinned African-Caribbean mother, and was thankfully blessed with many of the elders around me being inadvertently African centred. At no point were my brother or I taught that the lighter pigment of our skin meant we’d be favoured within our community, or in the world at large. I only began to consider my hue as being perceived as a higher social currency when I began socialising as a teenager, outside the confines of my family. The main colourism pedlars around me were almost always highly melanated male and females who'd say things such as, 'You’re light skin, I bet you get nuff girls'. Or as I got older, 'I want to have your babies so they can have light skin and light eyes’ or 'You're uh sweet bwoy'. Even in adolescence and in the absence of a name for, or knowledge of shadeism, I felt deeply uncomfortable with having bits of my self, be it skin or eye colour idolised and placed on a pedestal. After a while it began to seriously jar me, and I began to feel marginalised, like a subsidiary of black, and found it difficult to deal with what was beginning to rival the reality my family had diligently built for me. It quickly become clear that there were major differences in mindset that I had not been made privy to at home, and I slowly started to recognise that there appeared to be a hierarchy of beauty within us.