[Jean Grae’s verse]
This is my verse. If there’s any verse to describe my life, it’s this very verse. In approximately a minute, this highly political and extremely raw verse explains the complex history of an entire community. Thank you Jean Grae.
This is for Beatrice Bertha Benjamin who gave birth to
Tsidi Azeeda, for Lavender Hill, for Khayelitsha
Athlone, Mitchell’s Plain, Swazi girls I’m reppin’ for thee
Manenburg, Gugulethu, where you’d just be blessed to get thru
For beauty shinin’ thru like the sun at the highest noon,
From the top of the cable car at Table Mountain; I am you
The top of the verse is dedicated to a member of Jean’s family; I’m going assume her mother, thanking her for giving Jean life (real name: Tsisdi Ibrahim) and establishes the strength of the black woman from the jump. The following names: Lavender Hill, Khayelitsha, Athlone, Mitchell’s Plain, Manenburg & Gugulethu are all suburbs/townships in Cape Town, South Africa. Each one adorn with beautiful people, each one with a painful past. They’re all a part of what’s known as the Cape Flats; a vast area solely built as a dumping ground for black and coloured people during Apartheid. Taken away from city centers, these townships were sustained by poverty and desperation, ultimately becoming very difficult and violent areas to live in. They were, and some still are, home to hundreds of the poorest poor. I’ve been to/passed by all of these areas; stayed in Athlone with my own grandparents, had a friend on the outskirts of Gugulethu, and have family in Mitchell’s Plain. But like Jean states, despite the area’s darkness, beauty shines through.
Girls with the skyest blue of eyes and the darkest skin
For Cape Colored, all, for realizing we’re African
These two lines encompass a world of complexities rarely understood. Girls with the bluest eyes and the darkest skin are not uncommon in South Africa. Neither are fair children with the darkest and kinkiest hair. This comes as the result of colonization, interracial relationships, and an unrecognizable bloodline. This race is called (Cape) Coloured; it is legitimate race in South Africa, much like white, black and Asian. Coloured is what I am, it’s what I’ve been raised as, and considering it isn’t recognized in Canada, it’s something I’ll always have to explain. When you’re not in South Africa, the task of explaining what is Cape Colored is remarkably difficult. It’s an inner struggle many people face, but like Jeanie says, it doesn’t matter, we’re still African.
For all my cousins back home, the strength of mommy’s backbone
The length of which she went for raising, sacrificing her own
The pain of not reflecting, the range of our complexions,
For rubber pellet scars on Auntie Elna’s back, I march
Fist raised caramel shinin’ in all our glory
Jean was born in Cape Town, but her parents immigrated to New York during Apartheid. So many people were forced to sacrifice their whole lives for safety. Apartheid, especially in the Coloured community, separated and uprooted thousands of families. Whereas one child would be classified as Coloured and denied certain rights, another child from the same family could pass as white and not be allowed to live with their family; ‘the pain of not reflecting the range of our complexions,’ is a direct reflection of this reality. Likewise, black and coloured people were subjected to physical abuse, assaults and murder, just because. It was never uncommon to have a tank pull through your neighborhood with tear gas and have rubber bullets shot into your front yard. ‘Fist raised, caramel shinin’ in all our glory,’ evidently embodies the Black Panther Party’s black fist, symbolizing strength, confidence and the fight against oppression.
For Mauritius, St. Helena; my blood is a million stories
Winnie for Joan and for Edie, for Norma, Leslie, Ndidi
For Auntie Betty, for Melanie; all the same family
Fiona, JoBurg, complex of mixed girls,
For surviving thru every lie they put into us now
This world is yours and I swear I will stand focused,
Black girls, raise up your hands; the world should clap for us
My blood is a million stories. Whether it’s my great-grandmother from St. Helena or my uncles who look like old Italian men, we’re all the same family. Jean’s point is that this race is complex, intricate and difficult to understand, and whether one cousin is 10 shades darker than the other, it’s all one family.
The fear to look in the mirror as a woman of colour has never been more prevalent than in today’s society. Amongst the bleaching creams and plastic surgeries, the black and coloured communities are falling victim to white ideals of what is beauty. In the same light Kurtis Blow and Nas said it, Jean reminds us that the world is ours. Through all that bullshit, it’s a subtle reminder that the world is what we make it, so be proud of who you are and where you come from.
Listen to Black Girl Pain: