Could racial inequality exist on an island where #Caymankind is a growing motto, and the standard of living allows us to have comforts that many in the region around us may not have? How can a population with substantial mixed heritages have a divide between black and white?
On the surface, these questions may seem trivial. However, how many Caymanians have heard the firm instruction from a parent, “Don’t play outside too long, you’ll get TOO dark.” Or how about the grandiose compliment of “You gah pretty hair”? Many remarks about hair, skin, facial features, all tend to value a European aesthetic (straighter hair and noses, and lighter complexions) and criticise Afrocentric features (kinkier hair textures, broader noses and dark skin).
Some Caymanians have grown up with these comments as conversational set-pieces. Have we ever thought twice about the origins of this type of thinking?
Our subconscious ideals and preferences are fed by the enduring legacy of slavery and colonialism in our country and in the larger Caribbean region. Our society has an implicit bias towards how we look, how we sound, and who we value. Anti-blackness comes in different forms around the world, depending on the legacy of slavery, post-emancipation assimilation and societal development.
We all are watching the events in the United States sparked by the long record of police brutality and systematic racism against Black Americans. Yet, protests have erupted around the world, many in solidarity with ‘Black Lives Matter’, but also protesters feel that the issue of racial inequality is present in all societies.
Some of us have heard stories of our seafaring fathers and grandfathers forced to comply with the laws of Jim Crow segregation when they docked at ports in the southern US. In the same spectrum, many young Caymanians have travelled overseas and had experiences with discrimination and micro-aggressions in countries like the US and the UK.
These stories tell us that we are not exempt from racism outside of our beloved isle. Personally, growing up in a melting pot, my identity was defined not specifically by my skin colour, but by my Caymanian heritage. It was only really when I attended university in Canada that I realised that my culture did not matter to others, in that people who were not privy to that history saw me as black, placing me into a broader racial category.
We can compare ourselves to the outside world and think it may have nothing to do with us, but I believe it’s time to ask questions about the island we live in. Caymanians come in all different hues and shades, but are we all equal in the eyes of our community? Is giving someone a compliment about the texture of their hair just a compliment, or does it come from generational indoctrination to revere appearances that are far more mixed in presentation than aligned with the African features of our ancestors?
Do we have divisions in our public and private school systems? Do we all have access to the same luxuries and live in the same neighbourhoods? Cayman may not have a history of systemic racism, but prejudices and colourism do impact our society.
The anti-racism movement allows us to look at our history. It’s time for us to have open discussions of how we fit into the dialogue that is dominating conversations worldwide, harmful biases that we may have, and how we’d like to tell our story – the full story and not just the CliffsNotes. It is essential not only to acknowledge this history but also to call it out as it has plagued our society with toxic norms.
Ultimately, as a Caribbean island, we should stand in solidarity with our distant relatives in the African diaspora. Wouldn’t that truly be Caymankind?