Blog: Jamal Gerald

The theatre maker on how his experience of being black, Caribbean and queer drew him away from Catholicism

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I would class myself as a rebel at heart. I naturally want to break all the rules. So me being a Catholic boy was never going to be a success, even though I did all the things that were required of a Catholic boy, just to be respectful to my mother. But I would also worship black and queer celebrities at the same time. This was mostly because I saw myself in them and not in white saints. I didn’t realise that was the case until later. Yes, I was a sinner for having idols. Shame on me!

The first reason I stopped going to church was because of homophobia. I believed in Jesus Christ. However, when I was at school I was told that I would go to Hell just because I liked men. And people in my life would use the Bible as an excuse for their homophobic ways. My mother also made it very clear that she wouldn’t approve if I were to be gay. But we’re in a good place now and she loves and accepts me.

Of course it’s not only the church that can be homophobic. There was a time that I was convinced that all Caribbean people hated homosexuality. But over time, I have learnt that it isn’t as straightforward as that, and a lot of it is rooted in the influence of the church, and the church’s part in slavery and colonialism. I’m puzzled that there are people who don’t think 400 years of slavery would have any lasting effect.

I eventually learnt about the Catholic Church’s part in slavery and colonialism

One thing I don’t see mentioned much is “buck breaking”. This was when enslaved African men were raped by their white slave masters. This would usually take place in front of enslaved African people as a way to emasculate the black man. I believe that the trauma of this hasn’t gone away. A lot of Caribbean people may associate homosexuality with buck breaking, but the two aren’t interchangeable. Does this give them an excuse for their homophobia? No, not at all. It does give much more of an insight as to why homophobia is so deep-rooted within Caribbean communities.

I didn’t know what colonialism was until I was 21. Colonialism was never mentioned throughout my time in high school. If we explored anything race-related it was more focused on racism that took place in the USA. I went to a racially diverse high school, so being around majority black and brown people was the norm to me. I did experience racism and xenophobia growing up, from racist white neighbours telling my family to go back to Jamaica, but my mother is from Montserrat. Ha!

I experienced more racism when I started going into more majority white spaces. I then gained the knowledge to understand racism and how it works within our society. I went back and reflected on my time going to church. I eventually learnt about the Catholic Church’s part in slavery and colonialism. This was the second reason why I was done. Why as a black person would I engage with something used to enslave my ancestors? Black people can do what they want but to me, it doesn’t make much logical sense.

Yes, Christianity started in Ethiopia. However, I don’t believe that the original Christianity was given to my ancestors. I believe my ancestors were given some whitewashed version. Biblical figures are not European but a lot of Catholic churches you go to have depictions of white saints when that isn’t accurate. Are there churches with depictions of black saints? Yes! Black Madonna is a great example. However, in my experience the depiction of white saints outweighs the black ones. To some people, that doesn’t matter but to me it does. Why are mostly white people being portrayed as a saint? As holy? And I do believe that does impact black people in a negative way. I think I’ve said enough. I could expand more, but you could also come and see my show Idol in a city near you, or buy the play text, haha. Yes, I know, I’m cheeky.

Idol will be touring nationally until May, stopping off at Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Cambridge, Brighton and Leeds

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Interact: Responses to Blog: Jamal Gerald

  • Geoff Hardy
    11 Mar 2020 15:35
    This is a really well-written article. It shows how important it is to uncover the histories that have been made invisible...they have far-reaching effects. The linking of Catholicism with colonialism and slavery; the homophobia of the Catholic Church.. It's an insight into how white culture has dominated, the subtle ways in which this has occurred and affects us all. A timely article that educates and challenges us. I am looking forward to seeing IDOL.

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