Ever since I moved to Miami I sensed the tension between people of different races but could never put my finger on it. Reading Jet magazine in Jamaica was part of what of instilled some of my perception of race. The magazine was filed with incidents of racism & initially I thought that was the way things were in America. My visits to America did not seem to prove my hypothesis based on Jet. I would learn that visiting and living in a place is two different things.
Miami had all different types of people from all over the world. My first experience was with a Puerto Rican gentleman who sat beside me on the bus one afternoon. He was upset because another gentleman called him Cuban. What was even more surprising is when he said he was black. Based on the way he looked he seem like a white person. There were some culture clashes between countries but the tension between black people & white Americans was more defined.
As with many Jamaican immigrants I knew I had developed a stereotype of black Americans on moving to America. They did not like to work, wore plenty of gold on there bodies including their teeth & that they never take advantage of great opportunity they have living in America. This stereotype was galvanized somewhat by the men in the neighborhood including my pal Tim. I also had a stereotype for white Americans, which came from experiences including watching MTV during the day and also from some of the things you would hear from the black Americans in the neighborhood. They love rock music; they drove big trucks and have no dancing rhythm.
My new job would become my school on race relations. My friend Damien was white but it was never really an issue for me. There was also a cashier, named Maryann, on the first shift that I had developed a friendship with & liked. If I were the “real me” and not my cousin I would probably try to “check her”. I was there an hour before my shift started & she was there waiting on a ride so we would talk. In fact she was the only girl there who really talked like a mature person. She was white. Fact is I had white, Chinese, and Indian classmates at high school in Jamaica. I grew up around different shades of relatives.
Damian and I were very playful. He loved physical horse play like throwing stuff or “high fiving”. He even took me home a few times on his bike, even though I never told Aunt Fern .
I noticed that the black and white workers barely horse-played amongst themselves. They kept to their own group. I soon learned that my friendship with Damian was somewhat of a taboo. It all came out one day when Damien and one the drive thru cashiers, Shauntell, had a dispute where I tried to be peacemaker. The drive thru was backed up and she blamed Damien for being slow in making her customer sandwiches. Then she said something that caught me off guard and changed my view on race relations forever. ‘That cracker only looks out for that cracker cashier up front and all them other cracker that work here. He does give a d… about my black a…(butt) or any other black up in here.”
I knew she was wrong. The grill was not working well and that was why there was a back up. I had to say something tried to explain this to her. That’s when she went of. She was swearing words even men in Jamaica would not speak. She accused me of sucking up to white people like a house slave because I was ‘redbone’. I heard about you & that white girl. She went on to say why we Jamaicans think they are not black and steal jobs from black Americans. I heard that all you Jamaican men want is long hair girlfriends’ that why you are into them crackers.
There is no way I could match her in “tracing”. All I said was “You are wrong”.
I walked “her out” but my mind was racing a mile a minute. That day I woke up to race relation in America. I was shocked and angered at her accusations. I just never understood how black Americans call each other ‘niggers’ but scream racism if a white person says it even in a similar manner. A word I thought should never be used. My anger had me questioning myself. Was I thinking I was better than black America? I started to reflect on what was racism. That day took me on a journey to learn more about black America & Americans. I joined the library that was close by Aunt Fern’s house & borrowed books on black American history. I would read the books on the way to work. One day while I was on the bus reading an older black man sat beside me and started to peer over at my book. He noticed book I was reading & soon started talking about racism and black history in America. It would be a conversation I would never forget and I learned a great deal.
He realized that I was not American & said it was commendable that I was learning black history. He also said something that was surprising. It is not taught in schools and the black growing up today show no interest in learning about the pass struggles. In Jamaica we learned all types of history including African. He then started to explain to me what it was like living in the South in the 1940’s, 1950’s, & 1960’s. The stories were gut wrenching but the one that touched me was him telling me about his sister. She had fallen in a lake but still had a pulse. They had rushed her to the closest Hospital but were turned back because it was “whites only”. His parents then rushed her to the “colored” hospital which was 10 miles away. They made it and the doctors were able to save her however she suffered irreversible brain damage. The look in his eyes of pain was something I will never forget and ever time I hear of racism it is the story that comes to mind. My journey learning about black history and racism in America was enlightening but nothing compares to the real life experiences. The one thing that was obvious to me as I learned more was the distrust of between black and white Americans that probably could be solved with some frank “no nonsense” honesty.
Even though the comments by Shauntell hurt it did not deter me from the friendship I had with Damien & Maryann or other white people. It did however prompt me to learn & gain a better understanding of being black in America. I also learned how untrue many of the stereotypes I had about black Americans were.
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