I started writing this post so many times and ended up typing furiously away on my keys like a mad black woman. This post always makes me drag up things I’d rather not remember, which then leads to anger and frustration and my anxiety level rising. Ain’t nobody got time for that. So, I end up slamming my laptop shut and going about my day, trying to forget all about my terrible experiences at the hands of clueless white people everywhere.
But this is not the message I want to convey. I am not that forever-mad-at-the-world person. I believe in educating. So, I present to thee attempt number 4 at writing this piece without letting the anger and frustration get the best of me.
Although I have done a Do and Don’ts about the Caribbean before (click here to read it again) this one is similar yet slightly different. This is the list of Do ‘s and Don’ts when it comes to a possible racist or perceived racist behavior when in the Caribbean.
I know, I know. I too am growing tired of having to discuss it, but it has to be done. Tomorrow this Black Lives Matter movement might be over but I’ll still be black. You see, I do believe that some white visitors that come to our islands are actually clueless to how they sound and how their behavior and comments can actually be considered insulting, hurtful and yes, even racist.
As an always glass-half-full kinda gal, I see it my duty not to get mad and nasty but to try to point it out to you, and hopefully educate you, and in so doing, avoiding you of ever doing certain things again. Not only when you’re visiting the Caribbean, where the majority of populationis black, by the way, but also when you have encounters with people that are different than you back at home or during some of your other travels
I wish I could describe to you an oasis of acceptance when describing the Caribbean but the sad reality is that racism is alive and well here too. In fact it is an integral part of our history and culture. I don’t think that I need to mention that the whole reason the majority of the population in the Caribbean islands is black is because of slavery, where black people were sold like cattle to the highest bidder, right? I think by now, we all know this.
Racism in the Caribbean exists. It’s sad when you realize that the one place people visit to get away from all the ugly in the world, has a pretty nasty history behind it. A history that pursues us, the black people of these islands, to this day.
That’s one thing COVID-19 and Racism have in common: It’s everywhere. Even in ideal places, such as here, where coconut trees sway in the gentle salty breeze, on white sandy beaches, with turquoise waters.
Hundreds of thousands of people flock to the Caribbean shores each year for some sun, sand and sea and of course the mandatory rum based cocktail and laid back atmosphere. They bring with them their suntan lotions, ignorance and white privilege. Some pack that last one with intent while others have no idea it slipped in between their swimwear, just like the family cat trying to join the vacay-fun when everyone’s too busy packing to notice.
Most of us Caribbean folk are simple people who love a good time as much as the next person and even though life can sometimes be hard, we remain friendly, helpful and the perfect hosts. Most of us were brought up knowing that tourism is our bread and butter and a happy visitor means better tips and a repeat trip to our shores. So, we bend over backwards to please you. We sacrifice time with family to tend to your every need.
But please do not take our servitude and need to please as a weakness. We are educated. We are business owners. We are Caribbean. That word to us in a lot of ways means resilience.
They say one must strike when the iron is hot and since the topic of racism is mucho hot at the moment, I thought it best to educate you on a few of the do’s and don’ts, while you’re suntanning on our beaches. Just 10 simple things to keep in mind while you’re here.
Don’t Assume. When you Assume you make an Ass of U and Me
Beware of assumptions. They can make you feel like an idiot when you’re corrected. And boy, do visitors assume the worst of the local people when here.
A few of the more popular assumptions are:
- the black local in the store must work here and cannot possibly be shopping at the same place as you
- the black local serving you at the bar must be just a waitress/waiter/bartender, and cannot possibly own the place
- the black local living here, does so because he or she does not have a choice
- every black person on the island must be a local.
- all black locals are poor and uneducated
- black locals don’t travel and definitely don’t stay at the same resorts we do
Do yourself a favor and educate yourself. Making assumptions such as these makes you the uneducated in the bunch, not the black local you’re assuming must be below you on your ridiculous totem pole of class. Not because we speak a different English means that we’re below you or that we’re slow.
Do learn about our traditions and history before you arrive and while you’re here.
We love to talk to you about our upbringing, our traditions and the history of the island. While you’re here, why not visit a museum, or a history walk around town or an educational hike, where you can learn about the indigenous flora and fauna? The islands are so much more than just sun, sand and sea and our history is truly fascinating. Learn the truth about plantation homes, about the indigenous inhabitants of the islands (the true Caribbean people), learn about the truth behind our colorful carnival celebrations. Buy from local stores, sit at local bars, eat at local restaurants.
Do attend our local events
Each Caribbean island has one or more traditional annual event. Carnival is one such event that takes place throughout the year, on different days on each island. But besides carnival there are other very important days commemorating very important occurrences in history. On St. Maarten two of those days are Emancipation day on July 1st and St. Maarten’s Day on November 11th for example. Find out if there is a traditional local event happening on the Caribbean island you’re planning to visit and make an effort to be a part of the celebration.
Don’t let your fears and insecurities shape the view of us
Not all black people steal, not all black people are dangerous, not all black people are out to harm you. It’s the same with any other color. I cannot tell you how many times I have approached someone who was obviously very lost, just to be met with scared looks and car windows being rolled up. I don’t even look that menacing, do I? Or when white visitors actually went to complain to management of a high end resort about a black local family at the resort pool. Get over yourself.
Do take the time to learn about the island
It’s indoctrinated in us to be friendly and helpful. It is what we do. Sure, you have those that take advantage of any situation but I assure you it’s not because of the color of their skin or because they’re from the Caribbean with no place else to go. Besides, have you stopped to think how many times black locals are duped out of their money by white men in fancy suits?
Learn about the education system before making assumptions that just because of the size of the island it is impossible to get a higher education. That, my white friend, is just not the case. Most of the islands actually have colleges and universities and some of them rank higher than some schools in the US, and Canada. Shocking, right? And for those of us who don’t have a college or university on our island home or cannot major in what we want in the Caribbean, we enroll in colleges and universities in Europe, the US or Canada. I studied Marketing in the Netherlands, so did many of my friends and fellow islanders, while others preferred to further their studies elsewhere in the world.
Take the time to understand us before you jump to conclusions.
Do make an effort to know more black locals
Good for you, You know the black bartender’s name at that fancy resort you’re staying at. But do you know the black hotel manager, the black owner of the bar/restaurant you like to visit, the black shopkeeper where you like shop, the black taxi driver that drives you around? I don’t mean to just ask them their names or how much damage they had after a hurricane (please stop asking that by the way). But have you ever bothered to really get to know them? Next time you’re in the Caribbean, make an effort to get to know about the locals you encounter, whatever their color might be because we come in different shades of any color. Dare to get out of your comfort zone once in a while. Hanging out with other tourists might just keep you from experiencing things you otherwise wouldn’t. And wouldn’t that be a shame?.
Do smile and say Hello
Like I mentioned above, we are not scary people. We are not uneducated. Most of us speak multiple languages. We do travel as well and might even have visited your neck of the woods. But no matter what we look like, or the color of our skin, or how poor you might assume we are, it is human decency to smile and say Hello. Try it with your grocery bagger at the supermarket, or the gas attendee, or the store worker or the old black lady sitting on a street corner selling her handmade craft.
Don’t ignore our values and traditions
Just like you, we too have our values and traditions. For instance it is very rude not to say a greeting when you enter a store or walk past someone. It’s important to acknowledge that the person is there. Do say good morning, good afternoon and good evening before asking whatever it is that you want to know from the person in front of you. I’ve read it on so many message boards how a visitor had a terrible encounter with a local and how that local was so rude but did you stop to think how rude the visitor might have been to the local? Another little something to remember is that this is not your home. You are a guest. And while things might not run the way you are used to, it doesn’t give you the right to criticize it or belittle it. Besides, the whole point of traveling is to experience other cultures, traditions and values than your own.
Don’t think you know better just because you come from the great mainland.
This one here is precious because I cannot count how many times I have sat at a bar next to some white expat or visitor, who tries to tell me how talented and well respected he/she is back home and that here we basically should fall at his/her feet and thank him/her for visiting.
I don’t care what you used to do back home and how popular and great you were at something. To most of us respect is what counts. Respect me and my home and I will respect you and yours.
Just because we are a small community does not mean we are helpless or clueless. At no time should you feel or think that you are better than us.
While we’re on this topic don’t make fun of our way of life or accent. We are not your designated black jester, here to entertain you. Besides, You might want to remember that here, you’re the one with the accent.
Do talk to your fellow white person
If you see another white visitor or expat do something considered racist or make a racist remark, dare to call him or her out on it. You allowing that person to get away with such behavior makes you an accomplice and an enabler.
Just remember that while we might have a different skin tone, we all bleed the same and we are all here trying to make the best of this game called life.
I don’t consider traveling a luxury but a necessity. It opens your eyes to other cultures and different ways of life, and that, on its own is a beautiful thing.
The Caribbean culture is diverse, rich, so deeply rooted in traditions. It’s beautiful. You should try to see it from a different angle other than with your nose pressed against the window of an air-conditioned tourbus. Instead of complaining about something you do not agree with because it is so different from your way of life, try to learn why it is that things function in a certain way here. Your way of life might be great but so is ours.
I believe that racism is based on pure ignorance and fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of whatever is different than us. Change your view and perception. Get over that fear and get to know the person or persons you are so afraid of. You might just discover something truly magical there.