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How The Influence Of Jamaican Culture Can Draw The Diaspora Together

In my first year of university I came across E4’s Skins, which had premiered a year before. It had a relatively similar format to Degrassi TGN, as each episode centred on one of the main teenage characters, but while I’d found Degrassi TGN to be overly sentimental and vaguely preachy, Skins was boisterous, hysterical, and unlike any teen show I’d watched before then. 

The third episode of the first series focuses on Jal, the only black protagonist in the main group of friends, and I was surprised by the details that spoke to me on a personal and cultural level. In the episode, we are introduced to Jal’s older brothers, Ace and Lynton, and their father, Ronny. In one scene, the siblings endure an awkward breakfast with their father and the woman he’d spent the night with by talking around her: “What’s she spittin’?” “Raas man, that’s bait!” It was the first time I’d heard ‘bait’ used in that context outside of Toronto; it was striking to hear a term I thought was specific to my city in a show that wasn’t Canadian, particularly when I hadn’t heard it in Canadian television either. Of course, ‘bait’, like ‘waste’, is a Jamaican expression or term rooted in Patois.

Throughout the series, the minor character Posh Kenneth — played by Daniel Kaluuya — with his steady stream of ‘ting’s ‘wah gwaan’s and ‘raas’s proved to be a consistent reminder of the similar ways in which the Jamaican populations in Toronto and London influenced the slang of both places (though Posh Kenneth is in fact from Bristol, which has it’s own distinct Jamaican community). By the time I moved on to the second series, I was watching Skins with my friend who was of Jamaican and Trinidadian descent. Jal’s episode in series two opens with the reggae classic ‘Uptown Ranking’ by Althea & Donna and closes with ‘My Conversations’ by Slim Smith and the Uniques. The song choices transported us back to our respective childhoods, conjuring up vivid memories of family barbecues or Sunday afternoon cleanings — up until that point, there hadn’t been a television show that was able to invoke such a clear dose of nostalgia within us.