White Privilege in Jamaica

 

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Taxi View of the Blue Mountains

Looking at the near-empty bus, I knew I would have to wait at least thirty minutes, probably an hour, before it started its engine and slowly rolled out of the Country Bus Park. To my right, I saw another bus just about to pull out. As I looked at its dokta*, hands on the wheel about to ease his left foot off the clutch, I stepped in line to get on the slow-filling bus.

 

“Eh, eh, miss, room up here!” the dokta yelled to me from his near-moving vehicle. The loada** of the bus I was waiting in line for ushered me up to the adjacent bus in a seat facing the back, the gear shift centimeters from my butt. The dokta smiled at me, turned to the loada, then grinned and said how lucky he was to have me next to him. Flashing him my, “You’re gross, but I don’t feel like getting into that”*** smile, eyebrows raised in annoyance, I nodded. Despite the pervy driver, I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was to get on that bus, saving myself an hour of sweating in the stationary sauna parked beside us.

 

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Fast forward a few weeks as I sat with my host sister, calling to fix the internet. As I hung up, my host mom asked if it was her cousin (who set up our internet) I was just talking with. “Him nah come fi 3 days fi fix it”, she called to me. “No,” cut in my sister, “him a come today, because you’re white.” I nervously laughed which prompted my sister to ask me if I thought her observation was funny.

 

There are few things less funny than racism or colorism, and knowledge is one of our most powerful tools to fight it. As this was the first time my host family mentioned racism and white privilege, I didn’t want to drop the subject. I asked my sister what racism looked like in Jamaica. She told a hypothetical story, in which she waited to order at KFC and a white person behind her in line was asked what she wanted before my sister.

She said she would give the cashier a piece of her mind if that happened to her, but as I later reflected, not everyone has the ability or desire to speak up. Nor should they. It is not the job of the oppressed to constantly raise their voices for change, because it is their voices the oppressors work so hard to subdue.

“So what can I do, as someone from faarin, and a white person?” I asked my host sister. “Me nah know. Is reality, a fact of life” she stated, as if discussing an oncoming thunderstorm.

Her words rang in my mind like a clarion bell. What if, instead of getting on that bus, I had pointed to another person in line, and suggested s/he go before me? In the moment the loada motioned me to the unfilled seat, I never thought to give it up. But as a white female in a country of predominantly darker skinned men and women, I must begin to think about what I never give up, and what I get that others don’t. And once I think about it, I’ll see it, and once I see it, finally, I can raise my voice.

*conductor, driver
**loader: (wo)man who fills the buses with passengers
***Many people say that the dokta will only let women sit at the front of the bus, presumably to grope them, or at least graze their hips and butt as he shifts gear. This brings up important topics like sexism, misogyny, and intersectionality, which I won’t do justice to here, but which must also be discussed. A recent NY Times article spoke poignantly about the challenges of sexism and the female body in Jamaica.

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