Posts Tagged ‘history’

To Look Inside: West Indian whiteness & identity

August 9, 2012


Wide Sargasso Sea is one of my favorite books. There is so much in the book that feels familiar, especially in the landscape of “ginger lilies,” “leaning coconut palms,” “pink and red hibiscus,” “frangipani,” and “orchids.” The colors, and the “razor grass” that I have cut my own arms and fingers on before.  The lush textures and the richness of the landscape that Rochester complains is “an extreme green” with too much; “too much blue, too much purple, too much green.  The flowers too red, the mountains too high, the hills too near” (59).  This landscape along with Antoinette’s Catholic all-girls education and Rhys’s rendering of those nuns who populated my formative educational years as well. There is a haunting, Gothic feel of Rhys’s prose that draws me into its beautiful sadness. Perhaps because I know it is all about a descent into madness in the end.

If I tell the truth about this book the first time, I will say that when I read it — I mainly noticed the black people, first and foremost. The whiteness lay inside of the text itself, just outside of my periphery. I saw it but did not see it at the same time. I could not acknowledge what that was, did not want to, and felt no need to. In some ways, considering and writing about white creole identity forces me to peel away the landscape, the black people, the river -– all of the things that immediately struck me as places and people I knew well inside of this book. It is about interrogating the unfamiliar, the uncomfortable, and some of the many things I’d missed before. It feels like extra work, partly because honestly, parts of me are resistant. I am resistant to this process of using the lens of white creole identity –- first acknowledging there is one -– then using that lens to crack open new considerations of this text. It also means disengagement from myself as center -– the black West Indian –- center here, only to a certain extent; yet liminal and liminal yet, within the larger structural constructs of race, color, class and identity. Whatever privileged self there is for a black West Indian is contained inside a relative, fixed, small space. And only there. Whenever I attempt to crawl into the deeper annals of race, identity and personal history.  I am a little afraid of what else I may find.

There are white people there?

In my first semester of my freshman year at university in the states, I remembered my roommate, a mixed-raced Canadian born, now American citizen to West Indian parents, asking about photos tacked up on the dorm wall that we shared. Who was this person?  And who was he?  She inquired about their personal stories and connections to me. And where was she from? And her?  pointing to two of my white looking friends in a birthday picture with me and other girlfriends, all of us smiling, out to dinner for my nineteenth birthday.  Trinidad, I say, confused that she would ask. There are white people in Trinidad?  she asked me incredulously?  Yes, yes, I told her, flabbergasted, how do you think “we” got there?

On the excellent Virtual Museum of Trinidad and Tobago Facebook page, a fascinating thread was prompted by an irreverent, poignant and humorous observation that ” Living in Trinidad is real entertainment oui. Now its well known that white Trinidadians are an endangered species confined to the northwestern peninsula with stray populations sighted occasionally south of the Caroni River, particularly in Bel Air and Gulf View near Sando and another fledgling clutch thought to exist in Palmiste near a large park. You will practically NEVER find a white Trini living say, in Barrackpore or Palo Seco for instance and truth be told the odd one or two white folk in these wildernesses are foreigners who have married locals and are setting up for their own ‘dreadlock holiday’ lifestyles until the burgeoning crime rate exterminates them or forces retreat to the aforementioned Northwest or back on a plane. You will possible NEVER see a white civil servant these days although no laws prohibit their employment in the public service and as recently as the 1950s, they were the dominant upper echelons of government administration. Its also a common fact that all local whites know each other and are related in some way.
So long story short, your average country bookie has never really had any interaction with local whites , social or otherwise and thus still possess a pliant conviction that
a) All whites are the boss
b) Dey have money
c) May be aliens from Mars for all they know.
This in itself leads to some amusing encounters when my white friends make the long and dangerous trek into the badlands of south to visit me or else we go traipsing to some historic site, beach or forest. . .”

I commented noting, “the inherent contradictions that in a small place (relatively speaking), having the luxury to ‘not be seen’ by and large–say, waiting in line for a new birth certificate or ever catching a maxi, or other kinds of seemingly mundane, everyday life interactions one could list (something i’ve mused about myself on and off with regards to race, class & visibility) in and of itself contributes to the notion of not being visible and not recognized as part of a particular cultural landscape. people can then become a kind of phantasm in their own land of birth. there are of course, other factors at play as well. it also makes me wonder about how people remain tucked away inside exclusive enclaves and are happy to do so, selectively participate in sociocultural endeavours, then have to confront some kind of existential crisis when people don’t know that they exist! how would they?” I was glad to see this kind of conversation because I have been thinking for a while about (though, admittedly not vigorously explored publicly til now) how space and visibility become connected to cultural and racial narratives and their impact on the racial consciousness of the people inside of those spaces. Like inside small island societies like ours.


Call Me by My Name

October 27, 2011

OK, here is the image that sparks the Facebook thread partially copied below and this very post. A person I know personally responded to this image, including the poster who I sort of know from around, so all names have been scrubbed to protect identities, including the folks I don’t know personally.  An attempt has been made to show where the same person posted again on the thread. The person who posted this image of PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar‘s Divali greetings captioned the image (quote): “kamla where the black children.”


words to live by…

September 16, 2011

a vintage ting dat

April 13, 2010

So I love old photos in general. I always wonder about the people inside of them who may be long gone. I wonder who they were. What was their story. What kind of history is locked into their eyes staring back at me.

And I especially love old Trinidad and Tobago images. So I was excited to find this wonderful online collection of beautiful and iconic vintage Trinidad (as well as Tobago) postcard images including,

old Frederick Street

the cocoa estates

the cane fields

a formidable mighty samaan

old QRC

the land and its people

and many, many more.

Below: vintage Trinidad postcard showing an East Indian lady