Perceptions of race in Antigua

Just a short post on my thoughts triggered by a couple of incidents which involved references to my perceived race…

I am an Asian-Indian-American, and though have lived in the US for over forty years have a give away accent, and of course, look very sub-continental too. So it is hard for me to imagine someone mistaking me for a “white”. Since Antigua does not have any history with people of Indian origin unlike Guyana or Trinidad, I cannot think people here would think of me as belonging to the group which is seen as exploiting, grasping and generally non-integrating throughout the rest of the Indian Diaspora world.

The episodes I describe below make me think I was wrong about what I thought was the get-on-with-life attitude of the Antiguan people. From the day I arrived, I was impressed by the energy and initiative of the Antiguans I saw around me and met at the workplace. I had thought they are a well adjusted people considering their historical oppression under the British in the Caribbean, as opposed say, to the African Americans in the US. But now I am revising my naive and superficial reading: The wounds are deep and though they have indeed gotten on and prospered by their own efforts, it only requires a comment mistaken for an insult to bring the true sentiments regarding race to the surface.

The first “incident” happened as I was getting off the bus/bush taxi. As usual I had a lot of “luggage” to unload. An elderly man sitting behind me—he was wearing dark sunglasses as though he were a blind person—asked me to hurry up. I made some humorous remark about how it is easy for him to say that, only I was a mule carrying a heavy load. That is when he started “reminding me”: “You think we black people cannot say anything. The days when blacks had to sit in the back of the bus and couldn’t say anything to a white person are over.” I was startled and made haste to get off, and was happy that it was at the end of my bus ride that this happened. I could not see the reaction of the other passengers as I was very embarrassed for the man, and I assumed they would be too. I saw the driver turn his head slightly to look over his shoulder, but could not read his expression at this unwarranted outburst.

Well, it never rains, but it pours; it would seem.

The very next day, my landlady came down to collect the rent. She is very difficult in many ways and I had attributed her blunt and schizophrenic behavior to her age and to the fact that she used to be a career teacher. But as she was writing out the receipt she commented that I should have brought her the money the day before (30th) as that was the official end of April and that I am supposed to remit the amount for the month gone by at the end of that month. I pointed out to her that I have been paying her in advance and this remittance would be for May. She got agitated—her usual state whenever money matters come up—and said that I was trying to tell her something new and muttered “just because we are black folks does not mean we do not understand things.” And she repeated this couple of times. She knows that I am originally from India, and only a naturalized American; and whatever atrocities were perpetrated against the black people in the Caribbean, specifically in Antigua, Indians from India were not guilty of that. Because from my rudimentary reading of Caribbean peoples’ history, I get the picture Indians who came as indentured laborers to the region were equally subjugated by the British. At any rate, she knows I am not white. May be she just lumps everyone else who is not black with the colonial oppressors? But this just belied the impression she and others had made on me as a group; as I said above, as a well adjusted people, from accepting responsibility for making their own destiny in this world, to the wholesale and unresentful adoption of very many cultural items and artifacts from their former colonial masters, the British (or from the white world, if you prefer): cooking, baking, the genteel sounding expressions—my landlady often uses the phrase “a lovely person”, which I thought was no longer current anywhere—, and of course the inevitable Christian religion that missionaries and social surroundings inflicted on many colonial enslaved populations.

I realize my sample space is very small to form any meaningful conclusions on the perceptions of race in Antigua. So add your impressions and comments; I would be interested in educating myself.


~ by Whydah on May 2, 2010.

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