This is a reading list for West Indians examining race, racism, colourism and identity. Every time racism comes to the forefront in the United States, the black and African descent diaspora shows itself: in good ways and not so great ways. There are West Indians on the #AllLivesMatter bandwagon too, and I am giving you all a stink cut-eye.
One of the things some West Indians cling to is the narratives we tell ourselves about the absence of “real” racism, compared to the U.S., and West Indians in foreign perpetuate this thinking as much as some in the region. When they migrate, they join the ranks of those who are simply exhausted with African Americans whining about race, as they see it. They don’t get, they claim, because of where they’re from.
The absence of Jim Crow and public lynchings does not mean that we do not and have not had to deal with racism — systemic and otherwise. Furthermore, being from black & brown majority places doesn’t magically mean folks are immune to internalized antiblack racism or that it cannot and doesn’t exist. It doesn’t mean the police are immune there, either. Some of the worst agents of white supremacy are other black & brown people. True talk.
How is it that the exact same caricatures of and aversions to blackness have managed to traverse the globe and thrive on our shores too? Strange how that works, eh? In no particular order, here is a sampling of West Indians considering privilege, colour, identity and much more. They are not afraid to share their lived experiences. To say when we need to do better. And when we need to sit and acknowledge the aspects of our societies that we’d rather pretend didn’t exist while pointing a finger at others for doing and thinking the same.
“Just as it was in colonial times, Trinidad and Tobago’s political elite disseminates an uncomplicated image of crime that links criminality with poor, urban, opportunistic Afro-Trinidadian males who kill each other. Rarely are any other groups in society implicated. This is an irony not lost on many locals, since Trinidad and Tobago is well-known for a never-ending list of white-collar crimes that are rarely punished in the courts.”
“Without a distinct and large white upper class we see anti-black dynamics play out in a way that misleads people to believe we have transcended race. We’ve merely transplanted a racial hierarchy in a way that suits our population. The closest to white occupy the top, whereas the furthest away from whiteness occupy the bottom of the hierarchy. Every aspect of this hierarchy was constructed during colonialism and has not disappeared, even today.”
“Their lives existed far away from ours in a world beyond Kingston 8—worlds beyond Constant Spring and Hope Road. Their worlds existed on hills that seemed to touch the clouds. At night, the lights on those hills blinked like stars, mocking us for living in the pressure-cooked alleys of Kingston, the ugly trenches. They seemed to have it easy, never once having to think about disguising their blackness or growing their hair. They woke up that way. Went to bed that way. Sometimes we spotted them in public. They stood out among the dark black faces like beautiful red hibiscus flowers among weeds.
The solution first appeared in hushed whispers throughout the school compound. Dark-skinned girls flocked to the restroom on the fifth-form block. “Yuh see how Lola face look clear an’ pretty? Is bleaching cream do it!” The other girls listened reverentially, as though what they heard would somehow answer a lifelong prayer.”
“Although I currently live in the U.S., I grew up in Trinidad in the 80s and 90s as a black girl. To be black in a country that idealizes a mixed ethnicity aesthetic, was rough to say the least. Although I shared the same parental genes as my sister, she was considered mixed, whereas I have dark skin. I also had kinky hair, whereas my sister and all my cousins had curly hair, or “good hair” according to Trinis. It didn’t matter that my heritage also included French, Scottish, East Indian and African; I was black to everyone who saw me. This wouldn’t have bothered me, if I hadn’t been treated as less than my sister for most of our childhood because if it.”
“Kadooment, a street parade of rum-fuelled revelry that draws masqueraders from a cross-section of Barbadian society, bares an open secret that is rarely publicly questioned: it has a masquerade band whose members are almost entirely White.
The band, known as Blue Box Cart, is traditionally always the first band to lead the Kadooment parade, and stands in stark contrast to all others that – by and large – reflect the Black ethnic make-up of the 166 sq. mile island. Says Ester, ‘to witness a sea of white faces gathered together is at first glance, surprising…[but] it’s just another way in which the race relations of plantation society curiously manifest themselves in 2014.'”
“While the majority of my immigrant students could weigh in on why they considered African Americans less successful, Caribbean immigrants in particular were at pains to define themselves as separate from native born African Americans. Most discouraging was their de facto confidence that American blacks made poor decisions, and their lack of criticism of undeserved racist stereotyping.
I taught writing but felt my students needed an historical context to understand how black struggle and resistance had made so many of their immigrant aspirations, including a post-secondary education, possible. Indeed, how they came to have a black, immigrant woman as their professor.”
“Whiteness is a funny thing in the Caribbean. Some pretend that it’s nonexistent, but really it is invisible, similar to whiteness in the United States but not quite the same. While our lives are different from those of Black Americans, we suffer oppression along the same lines.”