Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Confusing attitudes towards black people

Whilst being here for over a month now, I have at times heard some rather appalling or frankly strange remarks about black people or persons - here in El Porvenir. To begin with, one must look at the history to understand the present. The history of black people on Honduras being an intriguing chapter of Latin America's journey. Here in the north coast zone of Honduras - blacks hardly got off to a good start.

At first, they came as nothing more than slave labour - 'imported' by the British from nearby colonies (late 19th to early 20th centuries) such as Jamaica and 'British Honduras' (now Belize) to work on either fruit plantations or in logging camps. Mahogany was the prized hardwood, the territory of modern day Belize was in fact founded by Scottish pirates who created 'logging colonies' - an extremely profitable venture and undoubtedly safer than Piracy. The Spanish had of course left a handful of Negros on the Honduran coast yet they were outnumbered by the English or rather Creole speaking blacks.

Honduran workers, many of them being migrants from inland regions such as Olancho, were employed on the plantations. Whilst the British became less of a force and their presence dwindled in the region of the Central American Caribbean, the North Americans stepped in. Notably with their fruit companies. Notorious organizations such the United Fruit Company based out of New Orleans started making a name for themselves. There is a good book I read on the subject entitled 'Banana Cultures' by John Soluri, published by the University of Texas press. North Americans preferred employing the English speaking blacks to work their plantations - they were also given more positions of authority on certain sites. This deeply aggravated the native Hondurans, a grudge was subsequently born amongst the populace of the north coast towards Los Negros. Blacks were seen to be cheating Hondurans out of work - made worse by their being a people from Africa who didn't belong. Racist and intolerant attitudes surely have their roots at this point in time. It would appear quite strongly, that even to this day, mind-sets in El Porvenir haven't progressed...

'Te gusta las negritas?' I have been asked a few times. It's always hit me here as an entirely inappropriate and indeed unexpected question - 'do you like the black girls?' On being asked by some teenagers I replied after consideration (choosing honesty of course) 'pues claro - si son bonitas' or 'well of course - if they're pretty'. This was met with uproar, the three Honduran girls making ranging comments from the 'best' (least offensive) being 'ay no Ben - las negras no!' to the absolute worst 'se parecen como monos'. The latter comment being completely intolerable in any language - 'they look like monkeys'. Schoolchildren too, will frequently bully black classmates. If a black child does anything to irritate a Honduran, then the typical response amongst them is to shout 'negro!' or 'negra!' at the said black child. We always have to step in as the volunteers and scold those who choose to use the child's race as a reason to bully them. That being said, it's not as if we all come from angelic countries where no one has ever insulted a black person - USA and UK please stand up. We do though have the utmost responsibility to teach that racism is unacceptable amongst those we come into contact with.

Photo: 'Pues claro - si son bonitas'. A previous Miss Honduras

Whilst certain Hondurans display unkindness towards blacks here, they then behave most strangely and contradict their racist attitudes frequently. Hondurans who are quite clearly not black skinned, call themselves and each other 'negro y negra' - for some reason. 'Que tal negra?' I've heard young men say to girls in an almost flirtatious manner. 'Todo suave papi negro' or 'all suave black daddy' - I have heard as an amusing response. A Honduran lady, a mother of a friend says to me every time I see her 'que negro andas' - roughly translating to 'how black you're looking' on account of my progressive tanning. No offence is meant by it, it's like when I was told by the local fire chief that him and his colleagues were going to teach me a style of Spanish (they have a laugh at my Castellano style Spanish from Spain which I've acquired) which they called 'la pura negra'. What they meant by that was I going to speak a kind of 'black person's Spanish' like them...none of them are black though. The conflicting comments leave an outsider like myself  quite perplexed in trying to understand the situation here. Whilst at times locals say things beyond unacceptable about black people they then come across as carrying some kind of affection towards their darker brother and sisters. According to that same mother I mentioned, she told me that in a year's time 'te vas a ser negro como nosotros'. I am apparently going to be black like them. The thing is they have as much 'changing' to do as me on that one...

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