Black man lay the pipe: Belize race relations
“Spanish man build the house, Chiney man cook the food, White man pay the bills, Black man lay de pipe!”
Immortal words from a song of Belizean punta rock super star, Supa G.
I keep walking, aware of my long dark brunette hair.
“Hey, White gyal!”
Ah. They’re talking to me. Welcome to Belize race relations, where your ethnicity and skin colour is not something people whisper about behind a veil of political correctness.
Belize has about 310,000 people, in a land area roughly the size of Wales. But it is a melting pot like any large British city. The main ethnic groups in Belize are: Creole, Mestizo, Maya (Mopan, Kekchi and Yucatec), Garifuna, East Indian (‘Coolie’ or ‘Hindu’), Mennonite, Chinese (‘Chiney/Chino/China’), Middle Eastern (‘Lebanese’), other Central American (‘Spanish’), Nigerian, and various Caucasians (‘white gal/bwai/man/’oman’).
It takes a while to get used to being identified solely by your skin colour, but you can’t legitimately get offended once you realise that it’s not much different from shouting “hey you in the red shirt and blue shorts!”: it’s mostly just one of many defining physical characteristics, and everyone does it to everyone else.
But as Supa G’s song outlines, stereotypes do abound. When people yell “white gal”, there is often a silent “rich” in there. My shabby clothes are all just a cunning disguise. Mennonites smell bad; Garifuna people are lazy; the Chinese are stealing all the business opportunities, the Spanish are stealing all the jobs and so on. The usual vastly generalized assumptions that are the foundations of many cultures.
It is mostly superficial, and I have never personally witnessed any vicious verbal or physical racism, but while it may all seem hunky dory, you could easily argue that you just have to look at where the power lies in the country and at the poverty and crime statistics to see that not all is fair and equal between the various ethnic groups. Belize, a country where approximately half of the population is black (historically closer to three quarters) elected its first black prime minister only three years ago. Poverty rates are consistently higher in Maya and Garifuna households. Crime rates are out of control in the Creole southside of Belize City. Child labour is most likely in Spanish immigrant families. And so on.
But as a whole, I would say many so called “developed” countries have a lot to learn from Belize in terms of race relations. My own brother was beaten up in Scotland when he was a child for having an English accent. I really wish I hadn’t heard people at home using phrases like “Paki scum” and the like, but I have, sometimes from people I had considered friends. I honestly can’t imagine anything like that happening in Belize, or at least certainly not in Punta Gorda, and I truly hope that Ray is never on the receiving end of anything like that in the UK or elsewhere.