The photo above is of me with my "Nanny", a Vincentian lady who worked in my family home in Trinidad- doing a bit of everything, including "minding" me (no easy task and I was the deserving recipient of many of her ass-whoopings!). This was taken in 2012 when I visited her at her home in St. Vincent.
I was born and lived into early adulthood in Trinidad. I am half Spanish (my father) and half East Indian (my mother), so my skin is fair. In the Caribbean, I was referred to as a ‘white indian’ (sometimes disparagingly), a Coolie (always a disparaging term) or as my friend’s Jamaican boyfriend labeled me (affectionately), ‘the white witch’.
School of Dentistry, University of the West Indies, Mount Hope, Trinidad
I spent my summers growing up in England with my aunt (who migrated there from Trinidad as a teenager), her husband of Dutch descent (who migrated there from Ceylon) and my two cousins who were British-born. In the mid-seventies, the ‘Skinhead’ times, certain white Britons were fond of hurling racial slurs like ‘wog’ and ‘Paki’ and we kids were called both (definitely not affectionately), at various times. There were older kids in the house opposite ours in Hayes, Middlesex, who used to lay in wait as we walked around the corner to the sweet shop or the fish and chips shop, to throw small things at us, pull our hair and taunt us. Matters escalated, and one day, they spray painted in red: ‘Get out of our country, you n*****s’ on the pavement in front of our house. That day, we three little kids (ages ranging probably 4-7 or 8) had eggs thrown at us. When my uncle got home from work and heard this, he marched across the road, banged on their front door and told the father to come out and settle it once and for all, man-to-man. Since there was only ONE man in that equation, he never dared show his face, so my uncle basically yelled through the door that if any of those kids ever communicated with or touched ‘his’ kids again, he’d catch them and give them a licking such as they’d never seen. Thereafter, they’d stick their tongues out at us but no more and that was such a commonplace thing for us on playgrounds and in parks from other white kids, that it hardly phased us.
A mid-seventies British "Skinhead"
I have been in the USA since the summer of 1995. I left Trinidad to attend graduate school in Kansas City, Missouri and ended up staying there for 5 years. During this time, I met my husband-to-be, who was a starkly white guy in contrast to my ‘high yella’, a term my future brother in law teasingly called me and the first time I had ever heard it. A new one to add to my personal palette of colour labels.
In my experience, Kansas City in the mid-nineties was a place generally divided into ‘good areas’ and ‘bad areas’, the former being predominantly white and west of Troost; the latter, predominantly black and east of Troost. UMKC was perched near Troost.
The initial 12 months of my course of study was a General Practice Residency so I spent most of it, my first year ever, away from home as a resident at Truman Medical Center East, where the dental clinic served a largely medicaid and welfare population, mostly white. Several of us residents that year were ‘foreign’ and we were all subjected to various degrees of racism. It was not uncommon that a patient (who incidentally may not have bathed for weeks, far less brushed a tooth in their head), would demand to be seen by an ‘American’ or ‘white’ doctor. My co-resident (a soft, gentle Pakistani) got to her car one evening after clinic was over to find that some kind of acid had been poured all over the hood, ruining the paint. The vandal was never found, she was never given any compensation for the damage to her car.
Troost Avenue- KC. A "Dividing line" at the time I lived there
After leaving Kansas City, with a specialty in Oral Medicine and a Masters in Oral Biology, I came to MCV in Richmond, VA to pursue another specialty, this time in Prosthodontics. The dental school was in the heart of downtown, and when I thought to live close by for cost and convenience....I was discouraged from doing so as it was a ‘bad’ area. I came to realize this was an euphemism for ‘predominantly black’. I was steered to the West End, and there (at that time), I hardly ever saw a black person.
In the dental school itself, lines were drawn between black and white, and as a ‘high yella’, I had to carefully navigate and dance between the two. Most of the faculty and lab personnel were white, many of the folks managing instruments and day-to-day administrative duties, were black. Either camp could make life so difficult, a student would not make it to graduation. I directly experienced racism, from both white people and black people, to varying degrees. In perhaps the worst of it there, a white faculty member used his power to discourage a potential employer from hiring me after graduation. I was aware that he disliked me from the day he set his eyes upon me and registered my ‘difference’. And actually, not being black worked against me with him, because he was unafraid of any ‘official’ institutional consequences for his bigotry.
City of Richmond, VA
Throughout my educational life in the US and to this day, I continue to deal with personal and professional discrimination because I am seen first and foremost as non-white foreigner. Discrimination is intensified because I am also female. I realized right away that I would have to work ten times harder to be even half as fairly treated. And if I ever were to voice in some small way, the unfairness of it, I would hear that it was either my imagination or that I needed to develop thicker skin. So mostly, I just learned to ‘suck it up, buttercup’, put my head down and try even harder. It has become habit.
I have been now living in Virginia for 16 1/2 years. I have a second specialty degree in Prosthodontics (Advanced Dentistry) and a second Masters’ degree in Dentistry. I have run my own dental practice for 15 1/2 of those years, which has provided employment for others and paid sizeable taxes. Yet still, I encounter a prospective patient now and then asking me ‘So where are your people from?’ or an edgy ‘What language do they speak where you are from?’. How I look and how I sound is primary. How much education I have and that I am able to execute their needed dentistry with a high standard of skill, is secondary to such folks, never mind that I am an actual PERSON with feelings. They usually decide to get their dental needs met elsewhere.
My dental practice: Shenandoah Smiles, Neff Avenue, Harrisonburg, VA
I have encountered a similar dismissiveness based on racism in the supposedly spiritual American yoga world also, which I have been involved with since 1992. In some ways, that has been even more difficult to swallow since the focus herein is purportedly on the soul, not the body.
I don’t want to make it seem, in recounting some difficult things, that my life has mostly been an unfair struggle. Quite the contrary. It has been a life filled with wonder and much joy and laughter. I have met, become friends with and been mentored by, some truly amazing beings who saw far beyond my material self. Thank god for them.
The beautiful Krishna Kaur, New Mexico
I have remained mostly silent on social media about the race-related issues we are facing in an intense way in the US currently. This has largely been because I have no desire to offend or cause more pain to anyone. But I also feel like I should be able to speak the truth as I see it currently. Particularly because I have ‘front line experience’ of racism and have been shaped by it in many ways.
I also want to say that I am willing to enter into discourse and hear and learn from all other perspectives....and then maybe I will see a new and different truth. Although I cannot literally stand in anyone else's shoes, I think my heart is capable of listening, and my mind open to changing, if I can understand why it should.
But right now, it seems that continuing to narrow focus on extremes of the spectrum, black and white, not only leaves a great many ‘in between people’ like myself out of the equation, but also perpetuates polarization and separation. How about if people living in America, citizens by birth or naturalization, could simply be referred to as "Americans"? Period.
I do not agree that by just being born white you should wear guilt on your sleeve and be motivated by it in your relationships with people of colour. This does not mean to say that a white person can continue to exist in ignorance of the privilege inherent in the colour of their skin. It means you have a responsibility to use that privilege wisely and be willing to give more, share more, do more and to allow the scales to approach balance.
I do not agree that just by being born black, you are bound to be damned by your past. This does not mean to say that you need to forget your history, nor water it down to insignificance but have hope in the possibility of triumph over it. That slavery was allowed to happen is a stain on all of humankind, a karma for which we all must atone, but must it continue to be a death sentence passed on black children today?
Police brutality and abuse of power inflicted on any citizen is totally unacceptable and must be rooted out. The unfair predominance of said abuses on black people is untenable and intolerable: systems MUST be put in place NOW to make this impossible any longer. I cried when I read George Floyd's words as he was pinned under a white officer's knee to his neck: he called out 'Mama' at one point and....‘I cannot breathe’. I did not know then that Eric Garner, Anton Black, Javier Ambler, Manuel Ellis, Derrick Scott and Byron Williams had also said these words in similar situations.
George Floyd at Jack Yates High School in Houston
We must all stand to protect any human who is weaker or disenfranchised in any way, through an ‘accident’ of birth into circumstances which led to social and economic inequality.
It seems to me education is key. This is where I want my taxpayer money to go. Not on funding war games and all their associated paraphernalia and paying fat salaries to policymakers and leaders who have only their own selfish interests at heart.
I pray for the dawn of a day when we will look at another human and see only the energy of the soul. A day when skin colour is simply a descriptor, like ‘tall’ or ‘wears specs’. A day when accented speech is embraced with joy and excitement because it means someone has come from a place you can now learn about and experience, if only vicariously. A day when each person is rewarded based only on merit and capability. A day when no one has to fight harder for respect and the opportunity to make an honest living merely because they are ‘different’ from the status quo. A day when children are not taught to hate.
I am a field of awareness. Any thing beyond that is identification with form...