Thomas Jefferson hated black people but slept with one who bore his children, six of them. That Sally Hemings was also his wife’s half-sister neither stopped him nor did it make him reevaluate his stance toward black thought, which he saw as an impossible paradox.
Strom Thurmond had him a black daughter out of wedlock; the only people surprised by this were the white voters he courted by vehement racist rhetoric. Of course, this behavior, demeaning blacks while desiring at least one, descends from slavery and is how we got most light-skinned folks who “look white” in the first place.
– pgs. 108, 109, THE FIRE THIS TIME: A NEW GENERATION SPEAKS ABOUT RACE, edited by Jesmyn Ward, Scribner, 2016. (The above quote comes from an essay entitled Blacker Than Thou, by Kevin Young.)
But what disturbed a number of Victorian and Edwardian commentators more than the exploitation of African people was that such exhibitions brought African men into contact with white British women, and not only that, but there were rumors of sexual contact between the black men and white female visitors. These claims led the organizers of “Savage South Africa,” the London Exhibition Company, to ban all white women from the area housing the Africans – the so-called “Kaffir Kraal.” When it was revealed that Peter Lobengula had married an English woman, Kitty Jewell, even the most lurid rumors were recounted as fact. American newspapers took great delight in reporting that in London “fashionable women go into the black men’s huts and give them presents.” These encounters, they maintained, were merely the overtures to the “vilest orgies.”
In 1917, a writer in the popular magazine TIT-BITS commented that, “Some years ago we used to have large bodies of natives sent from Africa on military service or in some travelling show, and it was the revelation of horror and disgust to the whole the manner in which English women would flock to see these men, whilst to watch them fawning over these black creatures and fondling them and embracing them, as I have seen dozens of times, was a scandal and a disgrace to English womanhood.”
– pgs. 412, 413, BLACK AND BRITISH: A FORGOTTEN HISTORY, by David Olusoga, Macmillan, 2016
When I returned to Belize from college in June of 1968, no Belizean had ever attempted what I was setting out to do: write creatively as a profession. Zee Edgell, who became Belize’s first novelist with Beka Lamb, had been trained in London as a journalist and was editing The Reporter in 1968. It was a few years afterwards, in the 1970s, that she married, moved away from Belize, and decided to write creatively. My point is that, in 1968 I was going to be a pioneer of sorts.
Family responsibilities soon forced me to take a job teaching English at Belize Technical College, but after the 1968/69 academic year, Technical and I parted ways. I was in the streets for two years before I taught at Wesley College during the 1971/72 academic year, and then I returned to the streets again, hard core.
Overall, I tried to pursue creative writing as a career until December of 1977, when the electoral politics I had been drawn into after my sedition arrest in February of 1970, humiliated me publicly. I did not have much of a choice after that. It was not possible for me to make a living in Belize as a creative writer, that was clear. I became a full time journalist, of sorts.
The fundamental problem the white and would-be white power structure in British Honduras/Belize had with me and my creative writing was that I had become black-conscious during my three years in the United States. This consciousness of my African ancestry had become too important an aspect of my writing inspiration, and the white and would-be white power structure here would not encourage or tolerate such writing.
Seven months after I returned home, I had become the president of a black-conscious organization, UBAD, which founded this newspaper in August of 1969. Six months after that, the late Ismail Shabazz and I, the Amandala publisher and editor, respectively, were arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy. The sedition law had been used only twice before in the history of British Honduras – in 1951 to arrest and imprison Leigh Richardson and Philip Goldson, and in 1958 to arrest and try George Cadle Price, who was acquitted. Richardson, Goldson, and Price were, however, big time mass party politicians: Shabazz and I were not.
During the years I was active in UBAD, from 1969 to 1974, and for a couple years after that, I did almost all the creative writing I’ve ever produced – poems, plays, and short stories.
Here’s the point I now wish to make. The point is that in writing creatively there are subjects you can explore and lessons you can teach which you would not touch in journalism. One of these subjects is sex, and all of us know that this is a critical subject, especially for those of us who choose not to be celibate.
At this time of the year in the United States, a large percentage of the American people are watching the NCAA basketball tournament, a competition amongst American university teams. The tournament proper begins nationwide with 64 teams, and will end with a championship game a couple weeks from now. Presently, 16 teams remain in the tournament.
Now, the crushing supremacy which European people established over African people during the time of slavery was not based on superior physical prowess. But, perhaps the most important aspect of white supremacy, psychologically speaking, was that, as a rule of thumb, the European man could “sex” African women with impunity, but the African man was forbidden, under pain of death, from having sex with European women.
The fact of the matter is that there were some European women who desired African men, and the European man became aware of this. This was something that gnawed at the innards of the European man. It troubled him greatly: in fact, it made him angry to the point where he was capable of the most depraved violence. Consider the 1955 story of Emmett Till, who was only 14 when he was tortured, mutilated, and murdered.
A substantial part of the motivation for racial segregation in the Southern states of the U.S., then, derived from the European man’s desire to prevent any social contact whatsoever between European women and African men. American laws allowing racial integration were passed, however, after much black agitation in the 1960s. It was during this period that the first college basketball team with five black starters, Texas Western, won the NCAA tournament.
Soon, black players became the majority of the starters on most of the NCAA tournament teams. Remember, this tournament is a time of basketball frenzy in America. The problem, it seemed to me, having lived in America during the time of so-called black power, was that almost all the female cheerleaders of the teams were white. I knew how aggravated many white men were by the sight of proximity, much less intimacy, between black men and white women, and there is no event where there is more latent sexuality than the NCAA basketball tournament. The fact of the matter is that young, super-fit black American men are starring the show, and beautiful young white women are cheering for them.
I’ve always given the American white man credit for essentially swallowing his pride during these kinds of events. I’ve found that in Belize the whites and would-be whites nurse secret fears of black men becoming too heroic in things like sports. The whites and would-be whites here fear their daughters may become attracted to the brothers, which would only be natural, when you think of hormones and all that. None of the whites and would-be whites in Belize would ever admit this fear. Some are confused, and some are in denial, I would argue.
A major problem in Belize is that we can’t get appropriate financial support for sports programs from the business community, and one of the reasons is that business and industry here are dominated by whites and would-be whites, and the stars in the major sports competitions are often black. I’ve been in public life for 48 years, and I’ve been involved with managing sports programs since 1972: I know what I’m talking about. There are people, I repeat, who are in denial in Belize. But, you can’t prove it. Ethnic prejudice in The Jewel is very, very sophisticated. It is also sick.
The whites and would-be whites will say that these are controversial statements coming from a controversial man. And those black Belizeans who depend on whites and would-be whites for their salaries, will second their motion. These are people who sing for their supper. They exposed themselves in 1990 for all of us to see, and in 2016 it was confirmed that their Uncle Tom condition is chronic. Tell it like it is, Toms. Speak truth to power. We’ll all be better off for it.
And listen, when it comes to sex, there’s enough here for all of us. You may not always get whom you want, and you may not always get what you want, but it is for sure you can get something nice.
And if you can’t read between the lines in this essay, remember what I told you earlier: this here was not supposed to be a subject for journalism. But there are Belizeans who were uptight 48 years ago, and I guess they still are. Lighten up, Jack. Loosen up, Jill. This is how it all began, in the Garden of Eden…
Power to the people.