I’ve been so angry lately and I find myself in a quandary. I do not know what to do to make things better. Do I move to another country? Do I accept that this is what the world has become and that there is no longer any good place? Do I ignore it and hope that it goes away?
Recently there was a reading by Eva Schloss – a discussion on Anne Franks’ Diary. There was also a Black History month poetry reading the night before – a commemoration of Black poets. Needless to say one was better attended than the other. I’ve noticed that when the Jewish community discuss the holocaust, there is always an overwhelming surge of sympathy and compassion, ‘We must never let it happen again.’ And I agree – we must never let it happen again. But I’ve also noticed that when peoples of African decent talk about slavery, slave culture, and the oppression of blacks or when Native Americans talk about their oppression, the response is ‘Why can’t they just get over it?’ It brought to mind the question Jane Elliot, anti racism activist and educator, asked of the white members of an audience where she was giving a lecture, she requested that those who “would be happy to be treated as this society in general treats our black citizens,” to please stand up. Of course no one stood, her next statement was “… I want to know why you’re so willing to accept it or to allow it to happen to others.” (1) My time in the Bahamas has shown me how markedly different non-whites are treated, both by whites and non-whites.
I was meeting my cousin at the Rui hotel where she stayed, I entered the lobby and basically stood around waiting. I heard someone shouting ‘Hey hey!’ It took me a while to realise that the black female security guard was speaking to me. I was surprised and said ‘I’m sorry?’ She shouted and said “You’re not allowed to be here.” I calmly responded and said that I was waiting on someone. She proceeded to bully me. I was furious. I asked if she could direct me to a suitable place where I could wait, she directed me to outside. My husband entered ten minutes later and walked past the same guard, no one shouted ‘Hey!’ at him, he went into the lounge area and sat down. The same security guard went over to him and politely asked “Sir are you a guest here?” He said that he wasn’t, “I will have to ask you to leave this area please. It’s reserved for our guests.” He thanked her and went into the lobby – the same area that I was kicked out of. Of course she didn’t know he was my husband, we had both entered at different times. He is white. I am not.
My introduction to the Bahamian way of life started when I moved to the community of Sandyport – a predominantly white American compound. Some were overt with their disgust at my presence, others were more passive. The overt made it easy to avoid.
There was an incident at the community swimming pool in which some women were overtly racist, (read my blog post A Colour in Crisis https://livingtalk.wordpress.com/2016/09/22/the-ugly-truth) the comments and treatment that I received post that incident were interesting. One Texan resident TM said that I should move. Another white Canadian resident – L- proceeded to tell all of her friends, friends that I did not know existed, a much more dramatic version of the incident.
A little history on L:
L moved into Sandyport a couple weeks after I did. We were both in the same boat, new to the neighbourhood, didn’t know anyone, didn’t know how things were done – where to shop for baby items, good restaurants, the awkward postal system – so we developed an understanding of sharing information. At the time my sister, her four year old son and baby daughter were visiting, since L had a daughter around the same age and lived so near to us, we included her on our beach runs, invited her over to my home and arranged play dates between her daughter and my nephew. I noticed that she never invited us but I just ignored it. After my sister left and the pool incident happened – L, being my only friend, was the person I confided in. Well she saw me immediately after the incident – right at the point when I was caught up in the raw emotion. She expressed empathy and was immediately happy to hear that I was leaving. That threw me for a minute. The I’m so sorry to hear that but if you’re leaving I have a friend who would like to take your lease if you’re interested, happened a little to quickly to not be noticed. In my head I thought wow, cold. I left for the United Kingdom two days later, to lick my wounds and to recover from my first bout of overt racism. L continued to pursue the when are you moving angle and it got to the point where I simply did not respond to her messages. I was turned off by L but she was my only ‘friend’ or so I thought. On returning to Nassau I put my daughter in nursery and started frequenting a local coffee house – Louis & Steens, the owners were Bahamian and treated everyone the same. It was here that I met R- a white American woman who actually spoke to me. She didn’t ignore me like the other white Sandyport mums, she didn’t a avoid my gaze, she didn’t pretend that I wasn’t there, she actually spoke to me. Through our conversation I learnt that she knew L, and she proceeded to apologise on behalf of all Americans for the racist white American women. This was how I learnt that L had told everyone about my experience, everyone that L had never mentioned to me. I don’t know if R invited me to her happy hour play-date out of pity, but I was grateful to be included. It was also apparent that she felt badly that she blurted out that I was a topic of conversation at one of those mummy meets. Later that afternoon L stopped by, guilt written all over her face, ‘ I heard you met R.’ I was curt, ‘Yes I did.’ ‘She said that she invited you to happy hour.’ ‘Yes she did.’ No apology. I didn’t bother to say anything else. It was clear to me how I was perceived. I thought about all of our other conversations, the way she only ever gossiped about a local black single mum and her kids, or how she only ever mentioned the Philippine neighbour whose son was autistic, and how she had to endure hours of a screaming child. She never mentioned happy hour and she certainly never invited me herself. I wasn’t one of the ‘cool mums,’ I was entertainment, someone she could gossip about, like the local single black mum or the Philippine mother with the autistic child. She never gossiped or mentioned R or any of the other ‘included’ mums from happy hour.
I thought about her eagerness for me to leave, I thought about the way she ignored my daughter when my little one would put out her arms to her, I thought about they way she never mentioned the baby groups that the other mums went to. I thought about the way she never invited my nephew over to play with her daughter. It wasn’t that the kindness I had shown her wasn’t reciprocated. It was everything.
It was the black guard who refused to let me through the gate without me showing identification, although my car had a sticker which clearly showed that I was a resident. Yet he allowed two white women through without their cars even pausing at the gate. I remember telling my neighbour about it and she remarked ‘How odd that never happens to me and I don’t have a sticker on my car.’ Thank God for white privilege. It was the Starbucks employee who charged me for milk but didn’t charge the white woman next to me. It was the attendant who didn’t serve me at the petrol station but helped the white woman who came after me.
I know that I can’t change the world and to those of you who say ‘Why do you let it get to you?’ You too are guilty of perpetuating racism albeit in a more passive way. What you are actually saying is shrug it off, don’t make it an issue, be silent. When your response should be ‘Why are people so badly behaved?’ Every time you say ignore it, don’t let it get to you, or you stand by and say nothing when a coworker is treated differently to white coworkers then you are enabling and allowing this behaviour to continue. You may be a good person but all it takes for evil to prosper in this world is for good people to stay silent. (2) It is your fight too. To the white people who ignore it – you are propagating a dangerous mindset, enjoying your white privilege and ignoring the suffering of others. You are just as guilty as those who wear white hoods and use words like nigga and paki. For those people of colour who don’t make a stand, who don’t want to be perceived as radical, trouble causers – then you too are enabling hate and racism.
It is time to take a radical stand and stop allowing hate and racism to grow and prosper. It is not okay.
Would this world really be a better place without anyone of colour? Would this world be better if it was only white?
I leave you with an extract from Dylan Thomas’s Poem – Do Not Go Gentle Into that good night. (3)
“Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
2- Is a twist on Edmund Burke’s famous quote
The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing