When the “black talking” began in Belize City in late 1968, leading into early 1969, the apologists for white supremacy in Belize soon countered with the accusation that we black talkers were importing a problem from the United States, that in Belize there was absolutely no such problem of race.
I believe that it was in 1863, in the middle of the United States Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865, that U.S. president Abraham Lincoln had freed (the word was “emancipation”) America’s African-descent slaves.
The British had freed British Honduras’ African-descent slaves in 1838. People of African descent were the overwhelming majority of the population in the settlement of Belize, but freedom in 1838 was not that meaningful, because most of the former slaves had to seek employment with the same settlers/mahogany contractors who had “owned” them, and the terms of that employment were dictated by the settlers/mahogany contractors. (Not all of British Honduras’ slaveowners had been white: some were “colored.”)
In the immediate aftermath of the American Civil War, African Americans enjoyed a modicum of political power in the Southern or Confederate states which had fought the abolitionist Northern states to preserve slavery. But that situation of African American political power quickly changed, as the whites from the victorious North and the defeated South began to make deals which disenfranchised African Americans in the South, the slaves who had been freed in 1863.
I am no expert in post-Civil War history in America. But I have to consider and discuss the situation in the American South because it appears that the emancipation of people of African descent in America meant that African-descent Belizeans began to trickle into the American South, mostly through the port of New Orleans in Louisiana. A few light-skinned Belizeans discovered that they could “pass for white,” which opened up employment and economic opportunities for them in and around New Orleans.
Again, I am no kind of expert in African-descent Belizeans’ movement into America after the Civil War. The expert on that is Dr. Jerome Straughan, who lives in Los Angeles, and whose doctoral dissertation research has never had the kind of exposure in Belize that it deserves.
Inside the settlement of Belize, which became a British colony in 1862, lighter-skinned Belizeans who had some African ancestry had always had a better time of it. The philosophy of “raise yu color” had been embedded in the psychology of the settlement from slavery days, because in the settlement white men who fathered children with African slave women here in many cases had pampered their “mulatto” offspring. There were no white women in the settlement of Belize available for white men to mate with. Likewise on the Mosquito Shore in Nicaragua, from which an amount of settlers had been forced to move in the 1780s and come to Belize. Such settlers who moved from the “Shore” to the “Bay” included my great great great great grandmother on my father’s side, Adney Broaster, who was the daughter of a white Shore settler, John Broaster, and an African slave woman owned by John Broaster — Eve Broaster. On his passing in Nicaragua, John Broaster had willed ownership of Eve Broaster to their daughter, Adney.
There were no mulatto people, as far as I know, who made the roughly ten-week trip from West Africa to the Americas chained together in the bottom of slave ships. Those who survived that horrific trip, urinating, defecating and vomiting upon each other for the duration of the trip across the Atlantic Ocean, were all of “pure” African descent. The Europeans had come for them to work in their “New World” plantations, mines, and forests because the casualty rate amongst their Indigenous slave workers was too high, and a priest by the name of Bartolomew de Las Casas, in the first instance, had raised an alarm amongst Roman Catholic Spaniards and Portuguese. This is a long story, and this is not where I’m going.
Where I’m going is right here and now, as Belizeans have fought and continue to fight to survive the terrible economic distress of the COVID-19 pandemic since March of last year. I really don’t know how our people are surviving, because I know that our people were already suffering before the virus even reared its ugly head.
When I began becoming “black-conscious” in the United States in 1966, 1967, I used to think about the Atlantic Ocean trip from Africa to America chained in the bottom of the slave ship, and I wondered if I personally would have survived that trip. Yes, I had African ancestors who survived the trip, but could my European ancestors have survived the horror? This is a question I think so-called mulattos in Belize should ask themselves.
There are some mulattos here in Belize who are enjoying great privilege and wealth, and it is mostly because the system in the settlement of Belize has favored the lighter-skinned for centuries. There are many people here who don’t want to talk about the “color” subject, but since I personally became black-conscious, I have remained such.
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the fact that there are many people of Indigenous ancestry who are living extremely difficult lives along our border areas. It is clear that these Belizeans have been suffering greatly since March of last year, and they have suffered many virus casualties.
This is a very, very serious time in Belize. The masses of our Belizean people are suffering greatly, I repeat. We are on the brink of a human disaster. If this situation becomes worse, the rich will find out that the poor are more. Los pobres son mas. This will mean that the security forces will have to start shooting. Some may say they already have, started shooting, that is.