A large brig loaded with mahogany was lying at anchor with a pilot on board waiting for favorable weather to put to sea. The pilot had with him his son, a lad about sixteen, cradled on the water, whom Captain Hampton knew and determined to take on board.
It was full moonlight when the boy mounted the deck and gave us the pilot’s welcome. I could not distinguish his features, but I could see that he was not white; his voice was as soft as a woman’s. He took his place at the wheel and, loading the brig with canvass, told us of the severe gales on the coast, of the fears entertained for our safety, of disasters and shipwrecks, and of a pilot who, on a night which we well remembered, had driven his vessel over a sunken reef.
– pg. 4, INCIDENTS OF TRAVEL IN CENTRAL AMERICA, CHIAPAS, AND YUCATAN, by John L. Stephens, Rutgers University Press, 1949
Two beautiful young ladies who were students at St. John’s College Sixth Form visited us a couple times when the highly controversial baby UBAD, a black-conscious organization, opened its office at #45 Hyde’s Lane in Belize City in March/April of 1969. One of the young ladies was named Florence, and she was darker-skinned than the other young lady, whose name was Maxine.
The light-skinned Maxine had a major problem dealing with UBAD’s blanket description of all complexions of Belizeans as “Black,” and it may be that wherever she is, more than a half century later, this may still be a problem for her, as it is for most Belizeans of mixed European and African descent. If Maxine has been in the United States all these four, five decades, it is likely that she has changed her perspective on the color question. In America, one drop of African blood brands you “Black.” (Florence, by the way, did not appear to have a problem with being considered “Black” in 1969. To the best of my knowledge, she has remained in the country of Belize in a southern district, and has lived and worked here all this while.)
In slavery and colonialism days in the settlement of Belize, absolutely no mulatto wanted to be Black: they were all fighting to be as white/European as they possibly could in every aspect of their lives – hair, looks, speech, etc. There was an economic aspect to this situation. The saying went like this: If you were white, you were right; if you were brown, you could stick around; but, if you were black, you had to go to the back. The lighter skinned a Belizean was, then, the better that Belizean’s economic prospects were in British Honduras.
Now, strictly speaking, the word “mulatto” refers to children born of European fathers and African mothers. There were a whole lot of other terms, like “mustee,” “quadroon,” and “octoroon,” which referred to the various admixtures of European blood which an individual possessed along with African blood. But, for the purposes of this essay, I will just refer to all of us Belizeans who, in the first instance, are originally descended from unions which featured European fathers and African mothers, as “mulatto.”
(The circumstances of such unions are highly controversial, and require careful, precise study and analysis. In Belize, we prefer not to think of aforementioned circumstances as rape, but what we Belizeans prefer is not based on any kind of solid, scientific research. It is only what we prefer to think, because we want to preserve as much of our mulatto pride and prestige as we can.)
UBAD was a very revolutionary concept in Belize, because it was saying to mulatto youth: your African side is more relevant than your European side. For all the centuries of slavery and colonialism, no one had wanted to hear that, Jack. No one. White supremacy totally controlled our minds.
I don’t believe that, in the long run, UBAD worked, because it is still the case today that most brown Belizeans are more appreciative of the fact that they have white characteristics than the fact that they are descended from the African continent.
What the European enslavers did was use their military force and administrative authority to control the schooling of our children, from the moment any kind of education system was introduced in these colonies. In the case of British Honduras, the first school, an Anglican one, was opened around 1814, if I remember correctly. So our children grew up with the idea that white people had always been the rulers, men and women of distinction, when the fact was that our slavemasters were mostly barbarian roughnecks who made their fortunes through slavery and other criminal activities.
We grew up as brown and black children here in Belize with the false idea that our African ancestors had never accomplished anything before the Europeans invaded Africa in the fifteenth century, and that, essentially, we deserved to be slaves. The Europeans, we believed, had done us a favor by “civilizing” and “Christianizing” us.
Now the fact of the matter is that in their colonies the British and the French used skilful techniques to separate black from brown, creating brown buffer classes (“mulattos”) who usually sided with the Europeans against the Africans and were used in all kinds of nefarious ways to keep Blacks downtrodden.
The United States of America had a different race culture and structure. White Americans treated anyone with the slightest bit of African blood as Black. So that, on slave plantations in the Confederate South, children of white slavemasters and African slaves became ordinary slaves, no rights whatsoever because of their mulatto-ness. To an extent, this was because the white master in the American South usually had his white wife on the plantation.
Such was not the case in British Honduras (Belize). There were very few white women here, so that many white men treated their mulatto offspring with some degree of care. Thus it was that a brown class emerged in Belize which was responsible, it appears to me, for “killing” the fiftieth anniversary Emancipation celebrations of 1888 and pushing the Battle of St. George’s Caye Centenary of 1898.
In my personal case, attending college in the United States for three years in the tumultuous Sixties brought me to a state of mind where I felt totally Black. But many Belizeans in the United States isolate themselves from Black Americans, look down on them as inferior, especially in education, and Belizeans, like many West Indians, become cannon fodder for white Americans to be used in various ways against African Americans. This is not a subject we ever, ever discuss in Belize. But, it is what it is.
Many Belizeans don’t want to discuss the race thing, for various reasons. But, if you want to understand the Haitian Revolution, and the history of the Dominican Republic on the eastern side of the Hispaniola island, you have to start examining the Black/mulatto issue. It is rare for a mulatto in the British and French Caribbean to think Black, and you may argue that it is because mulattos are not really black. But in the United States of America, Black is frigging Black. Story done.
For me, this issue is a personal challenge or dilemma, because I was the mulatto leader of a Black uprising. I had a sense of the limits of my leadership, but it didn’t matter when I was young. Today, it is massively important that we consider our situation here in The Jewel, because we have a country which is minority Black, but is dominated by Black political leadership. But the street reality is that our black youth are cruelly victimized in Belize.
To my mind, this is because of “Black” leadership which is actually heavily mulatto in its thinking. It is for sure something is seriously wrong in The Jewel, and the bottom line is that white supremacy is maybe as formidable here in Belize today as it was in British Honduras during colonialism. If you don’t agree with me, prove me wrong.
Power to the people.