I am going to write about a topic that is absolutely sensitive and one that needs to be openly discussed once and for all. There is so much to say about racism, discrimination, colourism, oppression and slavery and the decimation of our indigenous ancestors here in Belize. It’s a topic so close to my heart for many reasons, yet it’s one I shy away from too because too many people just can’t bear the discussion and get defensive and dismissive and in DENIAL… I call it the 3-D’s!
But I too must break my silence and stop worrying about who is in denial, or who would get uncomfortable and/or wants to keep believing the lie that racism does not exist in Belize. I have been discriminated against, and I know the reality of it. As a child I remember not being black enough to fit in with the black kids and still not being fair enough in complexion to fit in with the Mestizo kids. I grew up in Corozal, and I am telling you it was and still is one of the most racist places in Belize, albeit, Corozalenos are generally friendly and nice, until it’s time to decide who you are to marry and deeply associate with. I come from a very mixed racial heritage, and as I grew up and read for myself and saw many of the black and white television documentaries about Martin Luther King, Jr., and even movies such as Mandigo, that are etched in my psyche forever, I questioned many things.
I am still learning and understanding and even debunking prejudices of my own, but I never stop trying to see humanity from all lenses possible and to see how some of those lenses were created and now need to be deconstructed or destroyed. I say this because even people we think are our friends or we like as acquaintances or follow via social media, have shown me this week, how mentally enslaved they are, how self-hating some are and how un-woke their existence is! Some just can’t face the truth and just can’t even talk about it. They cannot see the plight of the other and quickly retreat to their comfort zone and become protective of their own discriminatory views.
There is no racism in Belize!!! Really????
One of the biggest myths that we need to debunk in Belize is that there is no racism here. The fact that we have the seeming majority of our people repeating this myth, tells you how successful the oppressors were at brainwashing us into believing our own lies. According to Oxford Language Dictionary, racism is defined as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.”
In Belize, where we have so many races, or I would prefer to say ethnic groups, the complexity of racism is rather intriguing, as one race or the other thinks it is superior to the other, and there seems to be a pecking order created. Here, what the colonizers and oppressors did was, firstly, to divide the people along their racial differences, and once they were able to keep them hating on each other, or thinking they are better and/or superior to each other, they were able to conquer them. So they, for example, would have treated the indentured labourers from India far better than the black slaves, so that the black slaves would resent the East Indian worker. Meanwhile, both groups were being taken advantage of and suffering grave injustice. However, because the white master was able to keep them divided and thus conquered, they never got to unite with each other to fight a common cause, which was the oppression and injustice against them.
However, the divide and conquer rule went a step further in order to ensure the people were not only physically enslaved, but also mentally enslaved. The oppressors therefore created division within each racial group also. For example, the house slave was treated better than the field slave, and when the female slaves were sexually abused and raped by their slave masters and thus produced “mulattoes” or “creole” children, who would often have skin that was a little lighter, then they were made to feel they were even better. It is from this legacy that here in Belize we hear even to this date people telling you to “marry above your pedigree” or “raise you class” or “go fuh good hair and better skin,” and all sort of variations of these. I heard it growing up as a child… I saw it too! There were families who set out to ensure that their children marry a person fairer in complexion and with straight hair, because the closer you were in appearance to the imagined white master and his white god, the higher you were on the totem pole and the hierarchy of race. The pressure on women to “iron” or press their hair to make it straight existed from then and is even more prevalent today! My people, it’s real; it happened then and it is still happening now. Of course, there are more woke people today, I hope, but from the comments I have seen and the raging debate on social media that has been sparked by the “Black Lives Matter” movement, it seems that the racist in all of us is coming out to the fore.
Sadly, our people who are in denial are lost and ignorant, and this is by design. Comments rage from there is no racism in Belize, to why would we bother about BLM in USA, when we have worse issues here to address. Some ridiculed YaYa for calling for a BLM protest, and the comments were mean, but indicative of how oppressed, and unenlightened our people are. Yes, what you post is a reflection of you and your racist, ignorant self! They say, why not protest for other things of national import such as corruption and child abuse etc., yet when all these protests have been called against corruption, police brutality, land distribution, crime and the list goes on, those same people have never come out and found yet another excuse to justify not supporting the movement. Many cannot look past who is the organizer and focus on the issue, which is an ill in our society! That is how divided we are!
The system of the oppressor!
When I was already an adolescent, I too was in denial and was most upset when I heard progressive persons talk about “the system of the oppressor” and “Babylon” and “the white oppressors” or “the legacy of slavery” and issues of that kind. I kept saying, ‘but let’s get past it, slavery is over’. And I justified myself by keeping in mind what I was taught in school, where I was told “slavery in Belize was not as bad as in the USA and other Caribbean countries” and that it is the past and we are free now. I too wanted to believe that those TV shows and movies and documentaries which invoked so much emotions and a sense of injustice were only based in other countries, that in Belize we are good and a peaceful people, yet in turn, we are the most oppressed and passive, self-hating, unenlightened bunch, easily led by corrupt leaders who care nothing about our personal and social development and who seem to be filled of apathy and blissful in our ignorance. That is a description of the majority of the masses and who get vex, well, be vex… I said it! I too had to become awakened, and this is what I concluded after much analysis:
1. Slavery of any kind is and was BAD! This nonsense that our slave masters treated us better, is pure bullshit, mixed with manure! Yes, they did not document it so that we can prove how awful and cruel it was, unlike what is documented in other countries, but that is worse for us, since they effectively erased the atrocities of our history so that we could never understand the severity of what was done to us. They hid the history of how they robbed and pillaged the land of our Mayan ancestors; traded and mutilated and forced our black ancestors into slavery; brought and sold our East Indian ancestors into a system of indentured servitude and paid them slave wages… and all the other wrongs they did to us and left with us to date!
2. The colonizers did not even want to recognize that these lands were in occupation and possession of the native people of this area, yet they said they came and settled in it and claimed it as their own, because they denied the native title of the original people. They claimed territories all over the world in the name of the crown and ignored the very existence and system of governance of the people they found inhabiting there. Instead they came and imposed their own system of law and governance and used it to oppress those already here. That is our history, my folks!
3. They created their own system of governance and used it to govern and control us and never sought to develop our people, our country, our sense of selfhood. Therefore, when they left and supposedly gave us our independence, they left us the very same system which, while they are not here, they still use to maintain control over us by using our own, to operate the very same system they created and left with us. We still fall under the Commonwealth and have the Queen as our head of state. That is how oppressive our system is, yet we do not fight it. We do not even question it, and when a few of us are awakened enough to question it, the same people we seek to liberate will attack us just to protect the very system that keeps us divided!
4. Therefore, I ask myself: if the system they created was to control us and keep us dependent and non-developed or underdeveloped as a nation, why should we expect that this same system, being operated by our own Belizeans now, will yield any other result than what it has been yielding? Of course, under the same system, all we will get is oppressed, by our own Belizean oppressors, who follow the very system of the oppressor to keep us in line. The players changed, but the system never did… yet you foolishly expect a different result from the same system! How more ignorant can we be, my people?
Time to reflect
The debate and discussion must be had, despite all those in denial. Our education system has failed us to even jumpstart the education process. We are not taught in school the history of our origins on this piece of soil etched out to form Belize. When the Mayas of the Toledo district stood up to fight for their own recognition of their right to their native land, many Belizeans in their ignorance attacked them and peddled in some of the most unenlightened statements. However, the majority of the Maya of the south remained united and won their case in the highest court of our land, despite the government and special interest groups successfully getting a few of their very own to speak up and work against them…. Imagine — to work against their own self-interest. When First Caribbean Bank, now defunct, fired one of its employees for speaking the Garifuna language in the bank, so many who denounced this practice, were attacked, and the most common justification for their not being supportive was that English is our official language! When BGYEA fought for the right to land five years ago (and is at it again in 2020), so many in an effort to ease their conscience said his acts are illegal and they demonized him. Sadly, those same people would never stand and protest against an unjust law, that denies the small man land, but allows huge tracks of land to be given out or sold to single entities or individuals to just sit there with no use while the small man needs only a house lot.
You see, the few who are willing to fight the system, must fight you all who are comfortable with justifying an unjust system. Then it becomes a fight against our own kind, with people against each other, and our attacks are piercing and mean, but they accomplish the one goal designed by the system. That goal is that we keep each other down, instead of working together to help build each other. Could you imagine if all races of people would have supported the Maya land rights case? Oh what an epic moment that would be! Then the next step would be that the Mayas join forces with BGYEA to help them fight for land too! Then those two groups would team up with the Valley of the Peace farmers to fight for their rights to land too, and all of them would team up with the Garinagu people to claim their lands too… and if the cycle of support continued, the government, which operates the system of oppression, would not ever be able to successfully divide us and keep us landless, poor, dependent and fooled! But we cannot see the bigger picture and fight for the greater cause, because we are too taken up with our own prejudices, biases, discrimination and the like. We have become self-hating, in denial of the plight of ourselves and our people, and we seek to comfort our inadequacies, by bringing down the few willing to risk it all to stand and fight.
Yaya is one such activist. She is now being ridiculed and vilified, but she is woke, and she understands the struggle, and she acts for all, even when all act against her! She knows why it is important for Black Lives Matter to take a hold in Belize and those in denial and in power, know why they do not want to open that Pandora’s Box! Together in the struggle, my people!