Recently, I went on vacation to Barbados and Trinidad with two of my friends. While for me this trip was a visit to some of the places that I knew as a child, for both of them this was a visit to a part of the world that they had not seen before.
One thing my friends noted was the cultural difference between the islands. Trinidad is much more cosmopolitan than Barbados. It has significant populations whose ethnic origins lie in Africa, India, China, Europe and the Middle East. Barbados is composed primarily of peoples of African and European heritage. Trinidadians and Barbadians (or Bajans) have very distinct accents and both use slightly different slang. We ate different foods on each island, that were not common on the other.
It strikes me that every holiday season, a significant portion of our schools population travels to the Caribbean on vacation and stays in all inclusive resorts in hot destinations like Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Barbados. We go for the sun and the beach, among other things -- at no point in time do we attempt to learn about the culture of our host country.
Now, don't get me wrong -- I'm not suggesting that every vacation be an extended social science class. However, there is something disturbing when I, a Trinidadian ex-patriot, is asked by people who vacation in the West Indies: what part of Jamaica is Trinidad? Or, how come you don't speak Jamaican? Unfortunately, it appears to me that this experience is not unique to me, or even to other West Indians. Often, it seems that the richness and diversity of black culture is often disregarded when convenient.
We often use the term "african" if it refers to a homogeneous group of people. To us, an African is dark-skinned with distinct features -- a broad nose, big lips and a prominent backside. He speaks in a strange, harsh tongue. From the media, we learn that Africans are poor and constantly fighting oppression by corrupt politicians. We have a categorization that works for us -- absent is the recognition of the full diversity of Africa.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of ethnicities that make up black Africa. There are probably as many languages and religions to match each ethnicity. Some black North Africans have blond hair and blue eyes and look whiter than full-blood Europeans. Within each country, there are many different cultures. Interestingly enough, much of the fighting in Africa today is a result of the political boundaries that were established by European colonizers, who disregarded the cultural diversity of the people they oppressed.
Too often, blacks are categorized as being one people. We are not. Jamaicans are different than Trinidadians are different from South American blacks are different from Southern American blacks, are different from West Coast blacks, are different from Egyptians, are different from Tanzanians -- I could go on.
As a black West Indian man, I am forced to realize the diversity of blackness. My friends were able to witness some of this diversity when they travelled to the Caribbean. Unfortunately, it is not like that for most people in this country.
The African diaspora is vast and its peoples are different. Categorically lumping us is a racist practice that must be stopped. Yes, we do share commonalities, and some of us a common history, but we are no more similar than white Canadians and white Australians, or Chinese, Malaysians and Indians.
As Ivy league students, we are told that we are among the best and the brightest. If this is true, then it is our responsibility to open our minds to the richness and diversity of all cultures or else we remain just as ignorant as the average Joe. Let us not continue to perpetuate the cycle ignorance and prejudice.Comments powered by Disqus
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