by David Chariandy
After a stranger asserted her right to butt in front of the brown-skinned Chariandy because she “was born here,” he had a difficult time explaining what happened to his then three year-old daughter. I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You is his attempt to do just that. Written as a letter to his daughter, the author works to unpack the colonial and racist history that built the Caribbean from which his parents came and also underlies the modern Canada, allowing casual, hateful ignorance to be thrust at visible minorities while still maintaining a general reputation of enlightenment throughout the nation.
The main problem that presents itself is that Chariandy is cautious with his prose to the point of timidity, in a seeming attempt to bend over backwards not to offend any group, or with the worry that speaking more strongly on his point of view could be misconstrued as trying to put words into the mouths of others. And this is unfortunate, because this writing serves to disconnect the author from the topic at hand, to make his collection of personal essays impersonal. But it’s not all like this. A change can be observed when discussion moves into specific thoughts and emotions linked to the changing relationships within his family, with the height being a stirring reminiscence of the birth of his daughter. At these times, Chariandy writes with feeling, just not in a way I found specifically enlightening with regard to the politics of race.