“Either I’m nobody or I’m a nation.”
The illustrious Derek Walcott owns those words which are my favourite ever written, because they embody my own experience succinctly. I often look to the descriptive genius of Caribbean writers to explain the strangeness of being from the islands and not fitting the typical island image. The West Indies is the result of centuries of colonialism and immigration, i am a part of the mixed minority which includes peoples of european, asian, latin and arab descent. It can be a very misunderstood existence, and i have spent the greater part of many introductions explaining/defending my person in all it’s elements; skin, voice, attitude. It’s their choice really, my enquirers, they may see me as nobody or a nation if they like. Either way, i will continue to exist as i am and be no other.
When you’re white and from the Caribbean, you quickly realize how insipid some people can be. It’s like the neurons don’t spark, the connections aren’t made and as soon as you relay your background they spew a comment i know all too well and have come to expect; “but you’re white?” Bam, there it is. What they fail to understand is that though inconceivable, i knew this fact, it was whispered to me by a wise wizard on a hill somewhere on my sixteenth birthday. Ugh. Seriously. I feel like Harry Potter every time this grand revelation is made at my face and it’s expected that the fascination should be mutual after hearing it. The worst part? No Hogwarts.
I’m wracking my brain at the moment searching for the best way to relay my experience as a Caucasian who happens to be a native West Indian. My cup runneth over with the many interactions and reactions that come from being a unique combination of human. To many outsiders, the ethnic status quo of the Caribbean region is dominant and leaves no room for diversity. Fact is, racially the majority of the region is of both African and East-Indian descent so the stereotype is there by default. Based on that, I am by the rawest definition of the word: a minority and to foreigners an anomaly.
It’s all Bob’s fault, really; the Rasta image he brought forward fixed itself fast to the general perception and the rest is history. He, being bi-racial, was a great example of west indian diversity. He knew it too, his songs of needing togetherness and unity still have a deeper resonance within the multi-racial Antilles. One love, one heart. Sadly the alternate attitude is rampant within my own country, mostly due to the biased history taught in our classrooms. Our first Prime Minister after British independence, Eric Williams set the course for such racial divide and seemed intent on writing my sect’s cultural contribution out of the history books, a betrayal to the heritage he shared with me as we are related. Harry Truman said; ” The only thing new in the world is the history you do not know,” considering this, there is a Trinidad so many in it have never met.
Whether he liked it or not, the mesh of cultures created one that stood by itself, it was a tempestuous collaboration over time and then there we were, together. To me his vitriol on the eve of our break from the monarchy would never take away that fact, its etched in the land and people. Yes, there’s classism and always will be but that’s a human phenomenon and goes beyond the surface of our skin. It’s easier to play the race card for majority vote and Dr. Williams knew it. Funny how a small chip can provoke such an avalanche of hate. So, ignorance was widely imposed while the truth remained merely a suggestion, we denied our previous alliance and lived dis-functionally ever after.
This aside, I was lucky that i grew up with so many different cultures and didn’t know i was white or considered a French Creole till around 16. Then suddenly labels fell on my head like a ton of bricks. In an experimental colony such as mine, labels are utilized and colloquial-ized; how else would we keep track of each other? Now, in no way am i standing on the side of Colonialism, i am merely a result of it. I do however stand by fact and again can belong to no other but what i come from. I come from one of the oldest French bloodlines in the Caribbean, and it has defined me more negatively than I’d like due to the association with plantation aristocracy. If the logic is that my ancestral vein is blasphemous because of how it began and so therefore i must cease to exist, then applying such an idea to the majority would leave only cockroaches on the planet. No-one is exempt from a checkered ancestry. No-one.
I was inspired to write this because after submitting an article to Thought Catalog discussing Rihanna’s misrepresentation of Caribbean women, i noticed a few comments focused mainly on disparaging me based on my race(my profile picture accompanied the article) it was expected on my end but still annoying all the same. If i hadn’t put my image up would they have quicker respected my opinion as a Caribbean woman based on the stereotype in their head? Most fear what they don’t know and are quick to lash out based on their own limitations. It’s easy to weed out the weakest minds in situations like that. I don’t think i’ve ever questioned a person’s heritage based on the colour of their skin, because i understand the impact of our global community and how the early era of exploration has left an assortment that is everywhere.
When all is said and done, I would give anything to go back to the blissful ignorance of my youth and see myself as i did then, less defined by the pigment of my skin and happily nobody and/or a nation.
Know what, this is all redundant anyway because I’m not white, more eggshell olive.