It is a continuous burden, this color and the feelings it brings forth within me. My life in Haiti is constantly defined by how other’s react to the colour of my skin, and the absolute power and contradicting helplessness it daunts me with.
The truth is, I should maybe feel more like a movie star with this rare ivory skin, you see many people come here and act as if they possess more power due to the fact that they are "white". There are the jaw dropping stares, gaping men drooling over our every move, hoards of school children following you like lost puppies. There is the constant gossip which surrounds our movements in the market; veggie mamas eyeing us from behind their piles of tomatoes, whispering down the line of veggie selling women until their talk reaches the women selling fabric. I mean, how could you not feel like a celeb?
The reality of the situation however, is much deeper than the funny glances and weird questions. Because of this obvious difference in my appearance, I am expected to act a certain way and live my life like the hoards of do-gooders that come for short stays in Haiti with donated supplies and one-time teaching activities. Now, I’m not saying that these programs are bad, not at all! But the concept of foreigners by Haitian’s is that they come, drop things in their hands, and leave. And this idea contradicts everything I am trying to do at the grassroots level in my community.
For 4 long years I have tirelessly worked to live like the locals and experience first hand the life of a woman surviving in a third world country. I do not receive a salary from my organization, for many years I have chosen to cover all of my own travel expenses. And I spent my first three years here trying my best to do it like they do: hand washing clothes, lighting candles during blackouts, fetching water when the tap runs dry, and sweating my ass of from the sun’s blistering rays. My goal in this country is to integrate, teach, provide opportunities to children, and learn. It’s that simple. But I have come to discover that the one detail standing in between that goal and myself is the plain fact that my skin isn’t dark. Especially when I receive comments from my own staff saying "Just give me $100, your white, why do you care about just $100, its nothing to you". Being a Blan is a vicious label that cannot be washed off, and it is an issue that millions face as a minority race around the world still to this day.
My situation is far less worse than the demoralization placed upon African Americans in the mid 19th century and I have only a few times been physically mistreated due to my skin colour, which came in the form of drunken grabbing by men or verbal hurts from people passing by in the street. However the daily whispers, rise in prices because I am white, and sexual insults thrown at me can take a toll. In previous blogs I have been careful to leave out some of the dejecting comments often made by people that I am helping here, so I will skip that bitter aspect of the story. But there are some of these comments that do oddly hurt. The simple phrase “Hey Blan (white person), give me one dollar” has burst my eardrums on numerous occasions, and on one special evening a man urinating on the side of the road decided to show me his manly parts while licking his lips and stating “ohhh, I love blan".
Laughing is often a good bandage to such situations, and believe me, I do laugh. These moments are hilarious in their right. But when they are repeated daily, over and over and over again, my emotions get the best of me and leave me feeling drained. I will always be expected to give people things, always expected to empty my wallet and my heart. At the same time I am expected to take the negative comments in stride, feel glorified by the unwanted and creepy attention, and walk through the day with a wide smile as if this is what my skin colour means I was meant for.
In a weird twist though, I put a lot of the white man burden on my own shoulders. Walking down the road, I am well aware that my clothing doesn’t have holes, and my shoes own shoelaces. When I splurge and spend 1000 gds on a decent meal, I shamefully hide the receipt in my purse until I reach home.… all of these little things, which purely make me who I am, plus my white skin, leaves me as a target.
Thankfully I have a handful of trusty Haitians who protect me from the white nonsense. Val, our director, yells at people who shout, “Hey white” as they pass by. We always tell our children that they will be in trouble if they call me or a volunteer by their skin color and that we do in fact, have a real name. And there is our nannies, our cook, laundry ladies, neighbours, the children that come to play at our house, who all now realize the inappropriateness of treating one differently based on skin color. So in a small but triumphant victory, I have succeeded in rationalizing the injustice of this problem to a small corner of this great big world.
It is a lesson that we all need to learn. Wherever we find ourselves in this world we will be judged on our outward appearance. It is a fact that still occurs today, albeit in slightly different circumstances than in the past. The dictionary states that racism is “the belief that all members of a race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.” Four years of living blindly in the depths of racism made me at times a bitter and depressed person. But with the newly realized view that racism doesn’t care if you are black, white, yellow, orange, or purple, I have come to accept this sorry fact and worked to change it.
We are all given this one world to share, each of us with one beating heart and circling feelings of love, hate, happiness, and sadness. The air in the sky and the water in the seas are ours to share. And it does not matter the class in society to which we are born, the religion we commit to, or the shade of our skin tone, we are all together.