The dance competition, a few nights ago, was to select a joncunoo or oniwaga dancer. This dancer is special because it is a lone male who sets the pace for the drums. Perhaps the most interesting part of this is the fact that the drummers must follow the dancers feet, but for me it was the fact that the dancers are all in 'white face'. From what I was told, it is meant to mock the dancing styles of the slave masters. I did not find this offensive or uncomfortable because I've never been anyone's master and I can dance. Even though I was only one of two white people in attendance, I felt, if not wanted than, accepted. I am fully aware of the fact that white people have done 'black face' and that this is no longer culturally acceptable, but the circumstances here are well 'special'. And to quote the puppet from Avenue Q, “everyone's just a little bit racist”.
So why am I even bringing this up? Why is this noteworthy? Where is the adaptation? Well that happened on the next night. On my way to the Ms. Garifuna Peini contest, walking with a friend, a man on a street corner yelled out to us various messages of hate.. “white devils, blue eyed devils (my eyes are brown, my friends are hazel), rednecks (surely he couldn't tell by the way I walk that I'm from the south) and then he said “you should pay for what your people have done to my people”. Those of you who know me can imagine that my tongue was bleeding at this point from biting it so hard. My friend asked me to please not say anything to make the situation worse, so I swallowed it.
We went on to the pageant and again I felt accepted. We joined hands for the Our Father and I felt calm again. Throughout the pageant the girls danced and spoke about their culture in the Garifuna language. The children from my friend's host family came to play with us and everyone was having a good time. Then it moved to the portion of the program where the contestants express their feelings about their culture. After each girl spoke the announcer would translate portions of the speech. The main theme in all speeches was 'we must stop the adoption of other cultures, we must not dilute our race, we must not allow inter-marriage'. This was met with a great deal of applause. Now on one hand I can understand cultural heritage and pride, but applause for racial purity, no matter what the race does not sit right with me.
Unfortunately, that day was fraught with racial ickiness as earlier in the day, while trying to find the cartoon channel for my host sister, I came upon 'The Longest Yard' . It was the scene where the white guard is being despicable to a black inmate and the line is something like 'you know why you all call each other brother? It's because most of you don't know who your daddy is so you might be brothers'. Hearing that made my stomach turn. Growing up in the south where racism is not as well hidden as in other parts of the country, I have been witness to this kind of hatred and cruelty. I have also been on what I considered the other side of it, a victim of reverse racism. It was not until the other night when I got a tiny glimpse of what that truly feels like- to not be respected, to not be wanted or accepted. I know that I have no idea what racism truly feels like. I know that my white skin born in the United States to educated parents will never feel more than a glancing blow of true hatred, but I can recognize it.
I would like to say that racism while directed towards people should not be taken personally, that it has been cultivated over centuries having been fed on fear and ignorance, but that would be too easy. There is a reason why most racist people say they have a friend of another color because they probably do because if you look at people on a personal level you can't hate or condemn them for broad sweeping generalizations. Regardless of your beliefs, whether you believe Big Bang theory or Creationism, we all came from the same place and we will one day return to that place.
So how have I adapted? I stayed. I remained present and will continue to be present and I will work to show the people around me that whether you like me or not it won't have anything to do with the color of my skin. By not retreating to a place that feels comfortable and safe, that's how I'm trying to adapt.