I don’t enjoy talking about race, or colour, or slavery or colonialism…but it affects me. I know it does. I can’t pretend that it doesn’t, and so each time I write something like this I risk being seen as a ‘racist’. Maybe though, it’s a sacrifice that needs to be made for all of us to begin discussion, to try to see things from a perspective other than our own…so that maybe one day we can truly empathise, know, relate, love. So much more than back home I am forced to confront certain uncomfortable realities. So much more than back home I feel the need to write the things that I experience. I find myself in the position of not wanting to stir things up, to offend, or to create awkward situations, but also feeling like I need to share what I go through and how I feel if anyone is ever to understand or discuss; if change is ever to occur. We often go through life in glorified ignorance whilst declaring liberal intellectualism. We won’t know how far away we are from the truth if we’re always afraid to see it, hear it or confront it.
Since coming here I’ve had to face questions, on numerous occasions, like:
“But why are things like that in Trinidad? Don’t Trinidadians have a native language and customs (that don’t have a connection to Europe)?”
I fully admit that I am highly uninformed concerning Europe/Europeans and so I like when people explain things to me and tell me about their experiences, customs, trials and lives. Similarly, I generally am happy to educate people on Trinidad and Tobago. However, it does get a bit frustrating to have to explain colonialism, and it’s effect, to people (some Europeans) whose ancestors did the colonising. I often feel like “You should know this!”
So many European people seem to be surprised at the fact that people in Trinidad and Tobago speak only English officially, and not some ‘native’ or non-English-dialect language…like many countries in Europe that have their own native languages, be it English (England), Spanish (Spain), Polish (Poland) or Dutch (Netherlands). Many also seem surprised that Trinidad and Tobago has European and East Indian customs. Usually, the conversation would end up on slavery, indentureship and colonialism in trying to explain why things are the way they are. The frequency with which I confront these questions has made me wonder what some Europeans learn about slavery and colonisation. It makes me wonder whether they learn of the effects it had on cultures and on people globally. It makes me wonder if they learn about it at all, especially in countries such as England, France, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands.
I hear a question like: “Is that the island we colonized? (when trying to figure out where Trinidad is) I know that we colonised A and B. We also colonized X, Y and Z and they gave us L, M and N. *Smiles* It must be very convenient now that you speak English! *Smiles again*”
… and I think to myself, “Do many people really view ex-colonies as having ‘given’ them things as opposed to them having stolen it?”
… “Do people really see the convenient gain of English and not the erasure of other languages and customs?”
… “Do people here really see themselves as having simply freed Caribbean nations as opposed to/alongside any acknowledgement that people had to fight for their independence?”
… “Do people here learn about the agency of the enslaved and indentured peoples, or do they learn of the Quakers and Wilberforce?”
… “Do people here teach their children about Africa and the Caribbean as being in constant need of a good saviour as opposed to/alongside why the global distribution of wealth is so skewed or of the fights and triumphs of the peoples of these regions?”
How is history taught in the UK, in Europe?
What do people learn?
How is the world presented to children?
I don’t know. Maybe my next project should be to find out.
Either way, when I could sit down in different classes, right next to different white guys and not have them conveniently happen to choose examples to share, of black ‘inferiority’, then….
When I could talk to different people without Africa always being used as the example of all things poor, bad or backward, then….
When I could talk to someone and they are aware of some of these reasons behind inequality in the world, then…
…Then I will feel like maybe it’s time to talk less. Right now though, No… I’m not quite into sugar-coating.