Idris Veitch (pt. 3)
Do you feel that your relationship with your blackness or with your Jamaicanness has changed or evolved since you’ve been here?
It’s definitely changed. When I’m in Jamaica, it’s 94% people who look like me. When I was in Florida, it was about half and half. You could cast a net and catch those numbers.
But here in Japan where I could be in a sea of people who don’t look like me, with just me in the middle and Japanese people around, one thing that I’ve realized that if I’m just walking through a subway and I see another black person I can do “the nod”. I never did that before.
Could you walk me through what that means? The nod.
Yeah, the nod means “I see you. You see me.“
It’s just a simple gesture but it means so much. You’re telling the other person, “I don’t know you and you don’t know me. But I see you”.
That thing that I’ve started to realize that I’m more aware of my blackness. it took coming halfway across the world to have that happen.
Especially watching what’s going on in America. The unnecessary killings in the black lives matter movement. I’m not even American but when I see that on the news, that somebody got shot for breathing too hard, I feel that. I connect with that person the same way that I connected with that guy on the subway.
Our blackness can be so contextual. When we’re around black folks we don’t have to think about how her black this is going to be perceived. But when in black minority spaces we’re often left grappling with how our blackness perceived and policing ourselves to combat those predilections.
It’s been a process being here. Like the other day, I met my friends son. And he’s grown up in Japan but he wasn’t raised traditionally, in a community setting, and so his son has been exposed to everybody. And this was the first time that I’ve met his son. And anytime I see a Japanese baby or a small child, and I’ve gotten used to this, they’re always staring. Out of curiosity of course, But I’ve been internalizing this for so long I’m just kind of like “Oh shit, am I the scary one?”
But this kid, just started offering me chips, give me a high-five. And that’s when I realized I had just gotten a life lesson from a four-year-old. I am a human. I can be normal in the eyes of someone who has never met me before. With this kid, it was nothing. And that’s how it should be.
I myself have also internalized the expectation that people are going to immediately dehumanize me at a glance. So when you have experiences like those can be so affirming.
So this is a completely different topic, but I’m curious about the question of community. Do you feel like you have a community here?
I have a lot of very supportive friends. I have my partner, who is my rock. Then I have some friends who are Japanese. Mostly Japanese. They’ve lived abroad and their bilingual. Apart from that, I’ve been recently going to nichome (LGBT district) but feeling more like an observer. Trying to decide if this is my community. I’m really not sure about that yet. And then there’s Da Bruthas.
It’s a group for black gay men in Japan. I’ve been to a few of their meet ups. And it’s good to see people like me people to see people that I could just talk to who share the same thoughts, experiences, backgrounds.
And you know, I had already told my friends about being bi and they all supported me. But I remember the first time being afraid to tell them that I was by. Because this is a gay community, I wasn’t sure if I was a traitor or a spy. It was just my own thoughts and doubts.
So like, I came out to Ma before I came to Japan. And every kid expects their parents to just be like “It’s OK”, and I didn’t get the opposite of that but her immediate response was a question: “Did college do this to you?”