Thursday, February 25, 2016

Color Blindness

February is recognized in the United States as Black History Month. I felt this would be an appropriate time to comment on the incredible experience I have had living as part of a distinct minority population on this very black island. Indeed, I am the only white person in my village (except for the occasional white tourists who somehow drive by on our little back road and discover our beach—my students always encourage me to go talk with them because “they might be relatives”).
It seems to me that I have become quite color blind since arriving here. Looking out through the pupils of my own eyes, I don't really notice my whiteness (especially since I've acquired a deep tan). All humans I see and interact with on a daily basis are black, so that has become the new normal to me. Everyone here is simply a human—what a wonderful thought! Most of the time, I don't even realize that I am different than them—except when the young children at school want to marvel at my white skin or play with my straight hair (if I had not have donated my long hair prior to my departure, they would have had a great time “platting” my hair). [The picture below was taken just after our school Christmas party on the last day of school—I love my students and fellow staff members!]
Because of how close I have become to my friends here, it troubles me to think that their ancestors were brought here as slaves, and probably suffered mightily under the master's whip. I am so glad that the era of slavery is over, in Dominica as well as America. I'm proud that my ancestors fought for the Union Army in the Civil War (although their main motivation may not have been to free the slaves, but simply to win West Virginia's independence from the rich and powerful eastern Virginians, who treated the poor mountain folks living in the western counties unfairly).
The Peace Corps office in the capital is located near the old marketplace (pictured above, where the blue tarps are showing). Today, vendors sell tourist souvenirs there, but it was formerly the site of the slave market. To think that ancestors of my friends here were herded like cattle and auctioned off troubles me greatly. It was also used for public punishment and execution of slaves. I walked over there one day and pensively took a picture of my shadow while standing upon the same cobblestones where white men bid on slaves—or watched their murder (see the picture at the beginning of this story). The sadness I can feel while standing there is terrible.
Just up the street from the marketplace is a very nice statue, showing an escaped slave, still with wrist and leg irons, blowing on a conch shell. This powerful sculpture (pictured above) is dedicated to the runaway slaves who set up camps deep in the jungle after escaping the plantations. The term for these brave men is “Maroons” and it is derived from the Spanish word for fugitive or runaway—Neg Mawon is the Creole version of the word. Pictured below is the plaque that accompanies this statue.
I'm sure the years I spend in the Peace Corps will profoundly impact the rest of my life. I had already considered myself to be racially unbiased before this journey, but I hope to keep the same sense of color blindness I have experienced down here whenever I return to the USA. It would be good for all of us to look upon each other not as different races, but simply as human beings—because that is what we truly are.

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