Had I known the history of the mulattos in Haiti and Jamaica, for instance, I would not have been so sanguine about making attitudinal changes in Belize through the UBAD experience.
Strictly speaking, a mulatto is the child of a European man and an African woman. I suppose a child (but they were very rare indeed in the old days) who is fathered by an African man with a European woman, is also considered a mulatto.
But, the term is loosely used in the modern era to refer to people who are mixed, where European and African bloodlines are concerned. So then, for the purposes of this essay, consider me a mulatto, and we’ll go from there.
Before the time of UBAD, there had been a movement called the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), or Garveyism, in British Honduras, a movement which extolled the achievements of Africa and Africans and preached black pride. I have a maternal great grandmother by the name of Lillian Gibson Lindo who was a Garveyite in the early 1920s. Lillian Gibson Lindo was brown-skinned, which is to say that she was of mixed ancestry. I met Nurse Vivian Seay in 1969: she was also brown-skinned and a Garveyite. Still, the vast majority of Garveyites, it appears to me, were black in appearance. In the days of slavery and colonialism, most people who were brown were trying to “raise their color,” which is to say, become as European as they could where marriage, social circles, tastes, language, and behavior were concerned.
Garveyism in British Honduras suffered a deadly blow when Marcus Garvey was jailed on a bogus mail fraud charge in the United States in 1925. During Garvey’s two plus years in jail, an opportunistic group emerged at the organization’s New York City (Harlem) headquarters which took over his organization and fought (successfully, in fact) for the huge legacy bequeathed to Garvey’s UNIA by Belize’s Isaiah Morter.
Just about the only aspect of the UNIA to survive in Belize was the Black Cross Nurses, an impressive organization which still exists, and of which Nurse Seay and Nurse Cleopatra White were stalwarts. When UBAD emerged in 1969, the Garveyite era was but a faded memory in the colony, and “raise yu color” had again become the dominant mantra.
As a young, passionate college graduate, nevertheless, I felt that brown people in Belize would be so glad to hear of the glories of Africa and its civilizations that they would be moved to appreciate their African maternal ancestry instead of always being so aggressive, arrogant even, about their absentee European paternity. It didn’t happen.
For sure, roots black Belizeans, especially younger ones, were energized and uplifted by the black consciousness message, and their solidarity proved to be the foundation on which Kremandala would be constructed. I think the majority of the UBAD generations migrated to America, and so now what we have here forty years later in Belize, where black consciousness is concerned, is just the wisp of a flavor, compared to 1969. Essentially the same thing happened to UBAD which happened to Garveyism: they both drowned in tidal waves of economic realities.
The Great Depression of 1929, followed by the disastrous 1931 hurricane, crippled Garveyism in Belize, and Belizean Garveyites ended up, I suppose in some desperation, becoming British loyalists in World War II and afterwards. In the case of UBAD, thousands of black Belizeans headed to the United States in search of jobs, and our family structures, which we had so carefully and patiently built during the difficult, harsh days of colonialism, collapsed.
Belizean mulattos at the apex of our socio-economic pyramid took advantage of their educational and other advantages: you can identify some mulatto families here who are quite wealthy, and have been so for decades. They do not support initiatives designed to assist the Southside. In fact, they have moved out of the old capital: they live in the Northern Highway suburbs, and on nearby cayes.
If I had known the history of the mulatto class in the Caribbean, then I would have written off our Belizean version early in my career. As things turned out, I can say that there have been several occasions in my life when I have reached out to these people, my own people, and they never answer the question. Roots black people, on the contrary, have always been there for me. They help us with their limited resources when we are in crisis, and they boost our spirits with their love when things are hard and the road is rough. This is real.
Power to the people.