(May be going over previously covered info so bear with me)
One of the first things I noticed when I first came to Toronto back in the early 90s was relatively speaking how unfriendly folks were . Coming from Barbados I was taught that it was rather impolite to stare at people. In fact as a youngster if you were caught by your parents just staring at someone for no reason you might end up getting your ears pinched or two slaps pitch upside ya head.
Anyway from the first day I got here I just realized two things. People stared a lot and worse than that they never gave any greetings like Good morning, good evening or even a hello. Imagine that! People staring at you like there was something wrong with your appearance or worse just looking straight through you like you aren't there, like you were invisible. Like you don't even exist. Not even the common decency sometimes to turn away from staring when they noticed you noticing them. Some real brazen bold faced people aint it? A whole bunch of real 'unmarley' people and just for the record being 'unmarley' aint got anything to do with liking Bob's music or even being one of Bob's three thousand 4 hundred and twenty six pickney. Its was just a local bajan way of pronouncing unmannerly.
There was just something so cold about the big city. Something so less community oriented and so individual oriented or was it just that its fast paced nature didn't lend to extending the common pleasentries? Whatever it was it was a different experience for me, one which I might add took awhile to get accustomed to. I still had this deeply inbred nature to want to say Good Morning whenever my eyes connected with random strangers for quite a few weeks after I first came here but as time went on and my greetings were greeted with no response or looks like I was crazy, I was weaned away from this act.
However in the midst of being surprised by this lack of exchange of pleasantries one act of bonding really struck me as being a throwback to what I was accustomed to. That act was the black head nod.
You know the head nod one black person gave another black person who he/she didn't know as they passed on the street. It happened rather frequently back then. It wasn't a verbal means of communication but its meaning was profound. A sort of knowing nod like 'yes brother I see you and you are not invisible to me' or 'a keep your head up son'. It was the black fist, good morning, ' my yout wha ya a say', a pound, a hug and a handshake all rolled up in one and it made me realize back then that despite everything I was not alone in this city. Not that if I got into some sort of distressing situation this complete stranger had my back because we were of the same race but still it was a reinforcement that black folk were/are all brothers and maybe I'm reading a bit too much into it but in a sense it was an act of caring. But greater than this it was just an means to let you know that you were seen. We were going through the same grind, the same hustle, the same struggle but someone had noticed you.
It was an instant act of bonding.
Fast forward a full decade to those days and I'm left wondering what happened to that black head nod? Has it completely disappeared? Nowadays for me its as rare as a warm winter day in Toronto. Like Biggie said 'things dun changed'.
Nowadays my black brothers and sisters are just as apt to stare vacantly through me as if I wasn't there as are anyone else in this city.
Why? What caused that change? What has made us invisible to everyone including our own now? Is it that less of us are immigrants who are accustomed to being friendly from growing up in our birthplaces abroad? Is it that more of us were raised here and have just being immersed in the local customs? Is it that the black head nod has outlived its usefulness? Is it a sign that we are all just weary? What gives?
I have no answers, but its something that I've noticed as the years has gone on. It doesn't affect me the way it probably would have back in the day as I've become accustomed to just the overall unfriendliness of this place where you can live next door to folk for years and never have a conversation with them or where your chummy co-worker can walk right past you on the street because in his/her eyes once you are outside the office there is no context for recognizing you and you are just another random black person.
A so it a go!
We are all invisible men like Ralph Ellison spoke about. But sometimes I wish it was different. At least the black head nod kept us black folk connected by a thread that said I may not know you but I feel connected to you, I can still feel your pain, relate to your struggle and just show you some love with a greeting. Well maybe I'm exaggerating and the black head nod didn't mean all of that but at least it meant every once in a while someone else saw you and you weren't invisible.