There is a fear in me now – since I wrote about the racism I received in the Bahamas. One acquaintance, a light skinned black woman of West Indian descent said to me, surely you should have known that would happen. “That” being the ‘leader’ of the Sandyport mums, the American gymnastics coach at the American private school whose long blonde hair permanently restrained by an elastic band, would black list me; blatantly turn her head at seeing me, say exaggerated hellos to other mums whilst ignoring me – so I would know and others would know that I was excluded, very mild, very passive aggressive – yet hurtful. Yes – very American high school mean girls, teenage drama. However in her defense her mantra which was regularly echoed “Once a cheerleader always a cheerleader,” expressed where her soul resided. So there is this fear of being alienated again. But my heart tells me that this is Manchester – a voice always has a place here. So I observe and I write.
There are some things you can’t unlearn, you can’t un-feel and it shapes you, it takes a little part of your soul and it destroys you. I was recently told by a recruitment consultant that I wasn’t the right fit because of my International experience, this was after she called me, after I gave details of my work history and my Caribbean heritage. Yes that is politically correct speak for you aren’t white enough for our clients. I was offended and said well that sounds a bit like prejudice to me, her voice withered to a whisper and she apologised for offending me, but I knew there’d be no call back. Ha! Whoever said a good education was better than gold didn’t have to face the struggles of having brown skin in a white world. A friend of mine in the Bahamas and I used to joke that it was better to be black – because at least no one would ever assume a black woman who answered the door was the servant – at least that was the case in The Bahamas. Additionally somehow globally it is acceptable for a black person to vocally express and point out racism and rightly so. I am not dismissing their experiences, I am simply pointing out that other ethnic classes faced difficulty, oppression, exclusion, racism and victimisation as well, and as a result of cultural norms and societal expectations, they did not have the voice or a way to express their pain and for some they still haven’t found a way. At times I have noticed that the African American voice in particular is the only voice being voiced. It came as a surprise to me that there were people out there who did not know that the Caribbean and South America are founded on slavery and colonialism. The other peoples of slavery – like Caribbean blacks, slaves of other ethnicities, immigrants, Native Americans, Amerindians (who were actually hunted for sport by the Colonial masters and in some cases entire tribes wiped out) and Indentured servants have also suffered great pain so why the silence. Asian culture has a stronghold on silence and swallowing shame. Asians – all kinds (oriental, south Asian, north Asian, Indian, Pakistani, Caribbean et al) are expected to be quiet, meek and subservient. They knew their place and were conditioned to accept what was meted out to them. As for the others I can only fathom a guess.
This is the world we live in – a world where white is might and racism has become as trendy as a Gucci bag. Today I asked myself do I just accept the passive indifference. The receptionist at the Dental office who smiles with white clients but speaks to me as though she may have been barking at a dog? How do I address the girl at Cafe Nero who ignored me completely and went on to serve the white person behind me, other than asking her if I was invisible. Do I accept it? Although these experiences are relatively few, they have corroded parts of me, these small little things that remind me that to some, my skin colour matters.
My husband has become my white knight, the saviour. It irks me that I am treated differently when he is around. When I am at the playground with our daughter and he isn’t around, if I strike up a conversation, it usually falls on deaf ears. However as soon as my husband shows up, the mums become animated and interactive. I no longer am the outsider, mums respond to me at the playground when I say hello after they see him. I am turned off. I feel like if I had not married him – I would not have been made aware that whites are treated differently – I may have just blamed poor manners. Shame on you racist people.
So why don’t I just take my white husband and my beautiful half caste child back to Trinidad and live there instead of living in a white world. Well guess what – the colonials are brain washed. Trinidad is an ex British Slave colony and the colour complexes are astounding. Additionally the division between the majority races is overwhelming. It’s amazing how colonials are so eager to be like their colonial masters and enthusiastically hate each other, there is a huge divide and blatant hatred between Trinidadians of African decent and Trinidadians of Indian decent, the minority Chinese, white and Syrian don’t seem to be bothered and tentatively look down on the Coolies and Negroes as they battle amongst themselves. Terms like pretty and fair, black and ugly are common place. And they (Trinis) love to kiss a white man’s rear. I recall being in South Trinidad when a guy walked up to my husband and said Ah have to shake yuh hand, it was disturbing. He’d never seen a white person and couldn’t stop staring, he had to shake a white person’s hand before he died. On one occasion, we were standing outside KFC in Mayaro and a very old black woman, layered in dirt started to harass my husband to shake his hand, he retorted No – I don’t know where your hand’s been. She chased him back to our car and forcefully embraced him, he was mortified. I was ashamed. Ashamed of the backwardness and of the plantation mentality, of the lack of respect for boundaries. Didn’t they know that beneath that skin was a human being? What was also disturbing was the disproportionate number of men who needed to prove that they weren’t intimidated by whiteness so they were exceptionally nasty and on more than one occasion, expressions such as “he feel he better than everybody because he white,” were hurled with abuse. It was astounding the number of Trinis who’d refer to our daughter and say things like ‘lemme see de white baby nah’ and were so disappointed to see a very brown baby, or ‘you sure she fadda white.’ Offensive and rude and yet completely unaware of how crass their comments were. As though there was something wrong with being brown or that I had cheated on my husband. I remember an acquaintance of mine reporting something she heard from her sister “Oh she marrying a white man, all she dreams must come true.” It was a snarky comment and it was a snide remark on how Trinidadians of Indian decent were obsessed with whiteness. I’ll admit she belonged to the ever growing Trini ghetto class and was a cliche uneducated, light skinned black woman (who did not know she was black) who used her complexion to elevate herself in Trinidad, because Trinidad is a society that worships light skin, because in her eyes whiteness was something to aspire to. Colonial complex is very real and prominent across the entire Caribbean as well as within Latin and South America. Because Slavery and Indentureship and Colonialism as a whole left that scar.
Sometimes I marvel at British ignorance of Slavery and the things Britain has done. It’s so hush hush, one must not speak of such ills of the British. The thing is a lot of the Caribbean islands are quite young islands – in terms of Independence from Britain. It wasn’t such a long time ago, in fact Trinidad has only been independent for under 60 years which means that for most people my age; their parents would have been born British. My dad’s brother,my uncle who died last October, he left Trinidad for Britain as a young man and he became an officer in the Royal Air-force. His wife was a half white trini woman because her mother fraternized with a white plantation overseer, she was young Indian teenager working in the cane-fields, cane-fields that contributed to Britain’s cheap supply of sugar and this old white plantation overseer liked her, she didn’t have a choice. Because that is how it was. The Master got what he wanted. Indians of Trinidad never talked about these things because they were meek, subservient and always hid the shame. If a woman is abused, it’s hidden, it is a shame. As that is Asian culture. Treat these things behind closed doors, do not discuss them.
I wish I could remove these tainted lenses. Would I see the British rudeness as racism if I had not had the experiences that I had in the American and Canadian populated colonial – mentality Bahamas. I wonder if my daughter would have been treated better at nursery in Nassau if she looked more white. Would that nursery teacher have still starved her and kept her locked in a high chair if she had blonde hair and blue eyes? It’s not like going to the optician and changing the prescription, is it? Though I wish it was.
Things have changed since President Trump has entered the white house. Things have changed a lot. Racism has become more vocal, judgments more pronounced and hatred more popular. I can also blame social media and lack of education. 20th century – my a$$, backwards ever – forwards never. Yup world look at yourselves. It’s time to change the shape of you. It’s time to be better people.
* Note – I contacted the manager of the dental clinic regarding the reception’s behaviour, apparently she is a bit abrupt and curt, the clinic insisted that if they believed she was racist they would have released her from her duties. It’s good to know that there are businesses out there who deem racism as an offense worthy of dismissal.