48 years ago, when we had just opened our UBAD office at #45 Hyde’s Lane, two young ladies from St. John’s College Sixth Form visited us on two or three occasions. This would be in the afternoons after classes. There was some UBAD-related energy at the Sixth Form, I guess, but I’m not sure when it was that Zinkle actually began banning Afros and demanding that dashikis be tucked inside students’ trousers.
One of the young ladies was taller, slimmer, darker, from Punta Gorda, and the other young student was shorter, chubbier, lighter, from Belize City. What I remember and what is of relevance to this essay is that the lighter-skinned sister had a problem with the word “black.” Because she didn’t look black, in the sense that she had previously understood the word, she couldn’t embrace the concept with reference to herself.
Fate made it so that I was the one, having recently graduated from college in the United States, who did most of the introducing of the black power philosophy in Belize in 1969. This is how I was thrust into public life, and began speaking on rostrums. I never wanted to be a public speaker: I considered myself a writer, and a creative one at that.
Fate made it so that I, a “mulatto,” led a black power movement for several years. I was conscious of the fact that I was half-white, and I always felt there was a limit to just how far I could take UBAD. In Belize, you see, people like me were not considered black, per se, but in America you only had to have a single drop of African blood and you knew where you belonged.
The thing is, in 1969 we Belizeans had already been migrating to the United States in large numbers for eight years (after Hurricane Hattie in 1961), the Americans had released their Seventeen Proposals in 1968, and all the indications were that Belizeans would continue moving to America. My personal belief in 1969, moreover, was that white Americans would be coming down to Belize more and more.
There were white Americans who had become prominent in the social, cultural, and business life of British Honduras in the 1950s and 1960s. These included such as Emory King, Taft Moody, Will Wiley, Ned Davis, Vic Stadter, Jerry Ybarra (?), Shirley Warde, and others. To a certain extent, it is with respect to these personalities that I learn so much when I hold conversations with Stretch Lightburn. When these Americans began setting up shop here, I was too young and too protected to know the games that were being played.
In British Caribbean colonies like Jamaica and British Honduras, and in French colonies like Haiti, the Europeans had nurtured the growth of a distinct mulatto class. They used the mulatto class as a buffer between themselves, white slavemasters, and their black chattel slaves. The whites were unquestionably the powerhouses, so that the buffer class of mulattos yearned to move upwards into white society. Generally, they despised their black ancestry and cherished their European DNA.
The United States was radically different. It was simple in America: if you were not white, you were black. And in America, black, which included browns, tans and everything in between and whatever, was bad news. In the British and French Caribbean, there was that third category, the brown category, and it made matters of race a more delicate, more tricky proposition. America was straightforward, no subtleties.
At the time British Honduras became a self-governing colony in early 1964, the American State Department began involving itself in Belize’s business. Responsibility for Belize in the NATO world was being transferred from the United Kingdom to the United States, as per the Monroe Doctrine. To me, it was important that we Belizeans understand that we were entering a new racial reality. John Bull’s British Honduras was about to become America’s Belize.
Through the years since then, I’ve experienced pressure from both black and brown sides in Belize. A few black militants, I would say understandably, thought I was not black enough. The brown, privileged class in Belize, Clinton Canul Luna’s “Baymen’s clan,” have succeeded in maintaining their high, buffer status after colonialism. They are hostile to me, because I am too black. So, beloved, I am damned on one side for being too black, and damned on the other side for not being black enough. Such is life.
The reason I survived was because a small percentage of Belizeans, mostly roots, became and remained loyal to me. From time to time over the years, we would become of political value to one of the two major political parties.
What has happened on the Southside of Belize over the last quarter century and more has racial implications. But, after UBAD broke up in 1973, I felt I no longer had primary responsibility on the ground. Half of UBAD had become UDP.
Belize has changed a lot. I suppose people think more in terms of ethnicity than of race, whatever the technical difference is. Belizeans have become more multicultural. In 1969, Belizeans may have been thinking more in terms of color than of race. In 2017, it is all an interesting study, because color and ethnicity are crucially mixed up with sex and socialization. Everything is a party these days. It figures: Belize’s leading “industry” has become tourism.
I assume our light-skinned student from 1969 migrated to America. I’m pretty sure our dark-skinned student went home to Toledo. At the time in early 1969 when we held those youthful conversations, I knew what I had to do. There was no other way but the black way: take it or leave it. And so, I did the best I could. I paid a price.
I have reached an age when I now encourage myself in nostalgia, which is a bittersweet exercise. I also like to listen to younger people. I like to read what they have to say. Above all, I seek 2017 enlightenment in the matter of Belize’s disconnect between self-congratulatory black political power and black socio-economic degradation in the streets. Talk to me. Make sense to the I.