England was a cyst that I wanted amputated. Growing up in Jamaica, as I did, under the colonial legacy, England was referred to as the mother country, a mother who bore no resemblance to me or my fellow Jamaicans and who regarded us, her children, with disdain (in school we were taught Jamaicans had no history or culture and we were advised to imitate England). This rejection resulted in some of us, I being among the lot, regarding England as an ungrateful bitch (after all she had exploited our labor, and profited greatly from our sugar and banana), at whom we snuffed up our noses.
We considered the English nasty and tasteless, with their cucumber sandwiches and their bland fish and chips. I for one wanted no part of them or their colonial imposition.
England was the reaper who had not planted and enjoyed all without giving any of the fruits to those who reaped the crops. Although my father was sent to England as part of the colonial army and fought during WWII, and from where he earned a degree in Chemistry, not once while I was growing did he ever mention anything about his sojourn there. England was the white elephant in our lives and we tired to pretend she did not exist.
England has had its day, but it would not last. We prayed for England to fall, for its people to become beggars. I remember how delighted and proud I felt when I discovered Jamaica’s folklorist and poet, Louise Bennett’s poem, “Colonization in Reverse,” written in our own, unapologetic nation-language: (see the first stanza below).
Wat a joyful news, miss Mattie,
I feel like me heart gwine burs
Jamaica people colonizin
Englan in Reverse
England was a symbol of what not to become. My first trip there was in my early twenties, when I did an 8-week tour of Europe. I hated it: the damp coldness of July, the rain, until I stumbled into Brixton and found the Jamaicans and other Black people. I was livid when I toured its museums, and in its basement after subbasement saw all the stolen treasures of Africa. By now she had long lost the imposed title of “Mother Country.” She certainly was not my mother, and would not reap any tribute from me. Thief was no longer just a word; there was ample proof on display. How brazen and shameless I thought.
But England’s other face enthralled me. I grew up reading her poets, Blake, Donne, Barrett Browning, Lord Byron, many of whom I loved; her writers spoke to me, and Jane Austin is still one of my favorite; the language of many of Shakespeare’s plays that I was schooled on since I was twelve years old completely captured me, and in fact the first monologue I memorized was Portia’s speech from The Merchant of Venice, which I still think is eloquent and clever. This England I would love and did love.
My relationship to England is colored, naturally by the colonial legacy, after all, surely by now, it is understood that one cannot love their oppressor, unless it is of the sort, psychological surrender, that Frantz Fanon so authoritatively describes in Black Skin, White Mask. But we can and do learn from our oppressors, and even grow to forgive them their greed and small-mindedness, and take from them, those things that allow us to strive and not become neither a prison to them or their ways, nor dismissive of their contribution to humanity.
England will never be one of my favorite places, although I have been there several times now, and the majority of my work is published there. It is, however, part of my history that I pull along like a kid, tugging the lid of a can tied to a string, being dragged as a rejected toy.
Causes Opal Adisa Supports
California Poets in the Schools
Homeless Shelter for Pregnant Women