by David Hinkson
Award winning Barbadian poet, LaShawna Griffith, describes her latest collection of poems, “Melanin Drops”, as a call to action for the black race to rise up against all the prejudices, psychological and mental slavery that have kept them down over the years.
She said: “The title itself is about blackness. I wanted it to speak to all of the issues affecting the black race in Barbados, including mental health, criminal activity, as well as black love and togetherness.
“We have been taught over the years to think negatively about ourselves and with the call for reparations now becoming more urgent worldwide, we must break out of this pattern.”
The book is divided into three chapters. The first is entitled, “A Man without History is like a Ship without a Sail” and in Griffith’s words, “covers the whole concept of where we are, and where we need to go.
The first poem is entitled “Eve – Mother of Creation” which refers to Eve from the Bible, and her second poem The Belch Of Racism Has A Pungent Odour is a piece that was subjected to a critique from Brandon Leakes, the first poet who won America’s Got Talent.
Another piece in this segment is entitled “Black Friday”, which touches on the sale of slaves, as well as the more recent phenomenon in Barbados of “Black Friday sales”, and in it, “I imagined myself as a slave who sees into the future and sees black people standing in front of stores that made their money off their ancestors rushing to get items at reduced prices.” There is also “Candidate C”, which deals with the fact that people are sometimes discriminated against based on the neighbourhoods in which they live and schools they attended when it comes to getting opportunities for work or study. Meanwhile, the issue of crime and violence is touched on in “Blood Stains”, “If I Could See You One More Time” and “Bloodstains on her Wedding Dress”.
She also pays tribute to her ancestors in “In Loving Memory”, and remembers prominent Barbadian poet, the late Edward Kamau Brathwaite in “Sleep Well Kamau.” Griffith explained: “Kamau paved the way for young poets like me who was inspired by his work, so I thought I would pay homage to him because to my mind not enough has been done to honour him.” The second chapter, “I Never Knew I Could Love Like This” contains seven pieces on themes including love, sex and intimacy.
The poem which gives the book its title, “Melanin Drops” is featured here. Griffith stated: “Sex for black people has been plagued with a history of rape, where men felt they had to be forceful, and sometimes lacks real intimacy and love based on this legacy.
The poem “My Lover is Mine” is dedicated to black people in the LGBTQIA community, because black societies in general still have a long way to go when it comes to accepting people with this lifestyle. It asks the question, “Why can’t we love who we love freely?”
The third chapter is literally a call to action – “Holla Hard! Don’t Back Down Now!” and the first piece in this section is “Mama said”, a piece the author said generates debate whenever she performs it.
“This poem basically looks at some of the things women tell their daughters when they are looking for partners, such as insisting that their suitors are wealthy, attended the right schools, have a prestigious job – in other words, an elitist view where they choose a partner based on material things.
“This has become a doctrine of sorts for black women over the years. Some also tell their sons similar things such as ‘find a woman who can cook and clean, who is a university graduate.’ You can’t love someone if you allow prejudices to colour your judgment,” Griffith said.
“Darkie in Demand” she said was inspired by ‘cat calls’ she received while walking through Bridgetown.
“I always found the term offensive, especially since it was often said in this manner – ‘She looks good for a dark woman’.”
Another piece that is similar in spirit is “Black Fashion” where she explains the oft-repeated sentiment “Black is a slimming colour”. What people do not realise is that on the plantation, the slaves were often fed scraps, hence they were slimmer than everyone else.”
“Carnival Flavour” is based on a chance encounter the poet had with a homeless lady named Violet.
“During the Covid period I met this lady, gave her some items and she prayed for me. I was touched by her beautiful spirit and was inspired to write this poem, but ever since that first meeting, I never saw her again.”
The closing piece is the real call for action, “Revolution is Coming”. Griffith explained: “I was inspired to write this when I saw Amanda Goring recite her poem at US President Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony earlier this year. This piece touches on the fact that people are finally becoming ‘woke’ enough to fight for the revolution. There are a lot of young radical activists in Barbados and elsewhere in the world gearing up for action.
“This book is not merely for leisurely reading, but it is a tool for education and agitation. All of the chapters tie in with the melanin theme and each piece has truths in it.
“We have been dropping because of the melanin for 400 years, but now is the time for the revolution and it is going
to be a major one,” the author said.