When recently living in New York, I met a bisexual West Indian woman. She was openly “out” and while her father was more than supportive, her mother (who was West Indian) had a hard time accepting that her daughter liked women. This resulted in her having to leave the house for a few months to live with her girlfriend as her mother worked to accept her sexuality.
Nicole Dennis–Benn, who is a lesbian, explores the theme of homosexuality within the West Indian community as well as intergenerational abuse in her novel Here Comes the Sun. The story follows Delores, the no-nonsense, abusive mother, Margot, the oldest daughter that resorts to prostitution as a way to make ends meet in a poverty-stricken community, and Thandi, the youngest daughter that is regarded as the meal ticket for the family.
Throughout the story the reader comes to learn and understand the demons that haunt each member of this all female family as they deal not only with intergenerational abuse that stems from internalized sexism and racism, but also deal with the repercussions of colonization in the Jamaican community.
Merle whines louder, holding herself. She rocks back and forth, her whines becoming guttural like those of a tormented swine. Delores leans closer so that she can look into the eyes of the woman who used to tell her she was nothing, the woman who sent her brother (and not her) to school simply because he was the boy. The man of the house. The woman who knew about the pinching and blamed Delores for it.
Delores is a mother who only has love for her youngest daughter Thandi, who she views as an investment and meal ticket for her family, through her desire to make sure that Thandi becomes a doctor. Thandi is constantly encouraged in her studies and to pass her exams, all the while, she secretly longs to be able to focus on her artwork, due to the burden of her sister and mother’s pressure becoming crushing. While Delores is fond of Thandi, she constantly berates and abuses Margot.
Margot, while on the one hand is prostituting herself, is secretly a lesbian who is in love with Verdene, a woman that was “outed” while in college and becomes shunned in the community. Keeping this relationship a secret becomes a large burden on Margot, who is working hard to shield Thandi from the sexual abuse that she experienced as a child. Margot also works hard to recruit other women in her community to work in part of a prostitution ring for the local hotel owner (who she is also sleeping with). Although Margot does not enjoy this work, she sees it as an investment into taking the next step of reaching a managerial position at the hotel.
Thandi, struggles throughout the story with the dark color of her skin. She believes that the lighter she is, the more attractive she will be to men in her community. Resorting to the extreme of bleaching her skin in order to obtain a lighter shade, she eventually finds and falls in love with someone who accepts her as she is.
Although the characters seem dire, we come to find what has made each of them choose their individual courses of life. Delores struggles as the victim of rape who had to give birth to her rapist’s child. Margot, not knowing she is a child of rape, has to endure her mother’s abuse, including being pimped out by her mother during her pre-teens to visiting tourists as a way to make a quick buck. Thandi, who longs to be seen as just a person and not a financial investment, strives to be obtain beauty in any way that she can.
Through the eyes of these three women and the community they are surrounded by, the reader is able to understand the dangerous results and effects that colonialism, gentrification, and abuse has on an oppressed community. Oppression begets oppression and hidden rage is the mood of this novel, where black women are struggling to just be able to survive and to be seen.