It’s like a quick pop quiz: Raise your hand if you’ve assumed that ‘white people’ are rich. I’ve heard a lot of grousing and griping about this issue, having met many visitors to the country who have been taken aback by the assumptions of the natives. Embarrassingly enough, it used to happen to me. When I was little, my mother worked as a hotel maid, and every person we came in contact with always had some treat for me and her, and over time, it was a generally accepted rule that they had bottomless pockets. Growing up and educating oneself did a lot to change that idea, but for a while there, I was just as guilty as the others.
I think that it works the other way as well though.
A few months back, I met someone after corresponding over this column. He wanted to meet and bring a present in person, so he stopped by the office and it was a lovely meeting. But one thing struck out to me, and I am sure the comment meant nothing, but having heard it many times before, I’ll quote it once more. He’d asked me to look up something online, and while I quickly read it over, he said in a surprised tone, “Are you sure you’re Belizean? You read that already? Your lips didn’t even move while you read, and you didn’t even follow the lines with your fingers...and hey…you speak really good English!”
For a while after he had left, I wondered what he meant by that. (And, h–––ello, Belize’s claim to fame is that we’re an English speaking country.) I mean I’m not daft, but I guess I wanted to know what he really meant. My mind ran through the gamut of emotions, and number one was confusion. Did he expect me to be a slow reader, and one who had to form the words with my mouth so I could understand? Was he just used to dealing with people who did that? Is that his observation of Belizeans? Huh?
I told a friend of mine the scenario and of course he was insulted, crying foul and ranting about how typical it was that a person could just assume such things about us and that colonialism was still rampant, and so on and so forth. I was mildly amused by his anger, and chalked it off to his skewed views of foreigners. I mean, he is a person who upon meeting an American will start speaking English with an American accent. Which of course brings me full circle to the original problem: we ALL do it, and it’s a little hard to get away from it.
If you want to point fingers at the true racists though, we’ll definitely take a look at the Belizeans. We are hardest against our own, and it’s a generally accepted, joking kind of racism that barely goes further than the labeling of races and cultures. Just as there are sub-cultures, there is sub-racism. The Mestizo culture (also commonly referred to as Spanish) have issues with the Blacks/Creoles, everyone calls those of Oriental descent “Chiney”, East Indians are “Hindu” or “Coolie”, Blacks/Creoles have issues against everyone else (Belizeans included) because they’re the downtrodden people, the descendants of African slaves, etcetera, etcetera. The Garifuna are tacked with myths and rumors regarding their rituals and customs, keeping most people out of their way. At least no one messes with them. Mayas have taken the brunt of the abuse lately, with their claim on land being taken away by the very government of the country. They’re the least appreciated culture – yet the country takes pride in the Mayan heritage and uses it to great advantage when it’s convenient.
Here’s a prime example of Belizeans treading on their own. There is (or was, depending on the BTL situation) a talent show on Belizean TV that is a showcase of the multiracial community of the country. We have talent to spare, and the dancers and singers on the show can sometimes blow you away. Well, cut to an episode where two young men come onstage and start singing a Spanish (Reggaeton) song. Not the best rendition, but a rendition nonetheless. Imagine the surprise when the judges disapproved of the song of choice, claiming that they needed to perform something else, preferably in English. This is supposed to be a country with a “melting pot” of cultures, so how about some acceptance of our own?
If we can’t acknowledge that we’re a mix of people and races and take Belizeans seriously, we’ve got serious problems. Just like we don’t like when a foreigner unwittingly points out that we’re a bit more intelligent than they imagined, it should be the same way with our own people who try to put us down. We need to get over the “class” and color spectrum, realize that we’re all in the same boat, and work together. I know that the labeling will never be over, but if the Mestizo culture in the San Pedrano environment is anything to go by, I can certainly see that like it or not, there will be no “one” pure race. Slowly, more and more inter-racial couples are forming, the clans are diluting, and pretty soon, there will be no discernible color to point at. It will be a beautiful thing to behold. And it’s happening all over the world, so it’s high time to become a bit more PC, and quit those judgmental comments. Parents should stop casting aspersions on the younger generations; you never know who your child ends up with – and it shouldn’t matter. We’re all Belizeans, and that, ultimately, is a beautiful thing.
Me? I da wah Black gyal, sometimes dem call me red skin, and I talk Mayan and Español, but I really da wah Belizean, who speaks English because I spent enough hours poolside at hotels and mingled with the blessed few who could afford vacations to a Caribbean destination. I now know that if you’re here visiting, it is because you’ve worked hard and saved up your money. And I know that because you’ve decided to mingle with an open mind, ready to see what true Belizeans are, and learn about us and our very complicated, but amazingly colorful heritage. Welcome.
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