What if I, an American in Belize, am routinely charged more for the same service than a Belizean? (We call it, “Gringo Tax”.) My Webster’s Dictionary says that the key point that defines racism is the intent to demean or subdue another because of their race. Does that mean the Gringo Tax is not racist? I don’t feel subdued, merely screwed. Could you implement that practice in your home town? Maybe the Gringo Tax is simply charging what the market will bear. Customers that a merchant perceives
to have more, pay more. The driver of the new SUV pays more than the driver of
the old Datsun, regardless of race. Can you make a practice of that where you live?
What about the common practice of hiring a native born individual before a foreign born worker regardless of qualifications? Personally, I am opposed to that practice in my home town and everywhere else. I think it has a negative impact on the business, the consumer and does not encourage excellence. Three strikes.
Regardless of whether or not those things are racist, and I don’t know that they are, racial tensions are commonplace here in Belize. It may or may not be something you see as a tourist but it is absolutely something you become aware of living here. As a friend of mine said yesterday, “You want to know about racism here? Just add alcohol.” He was referring to the magical transformation of the seemingly friendly local turning hostile under the influence of alcohol. It is something most ex-pats here are familiar with. I’ve heard, “My parents would be ashamed of me if they saw me with you.” and “I’ll never apologize to a white man!” among many other such statements. It is the consensus among most expats I know that Belizean government officials, for example, seem to go out of their way to give foreigners a hard time. The practice is not limited to Immigration, nor is it fair to say that every official there is guilty, but most agree that they appear to make things difficult on purpose.
Racism is not restricted to Belizean against North American. The Belizeans and Guatemalans don’t seem to like each other the Maya are treated badly across the board. We have a relationship with a Maya family in a nearby village and, because of their heritage, they have a long history of being treated poorly by their non-Maya neighbors. Physical abuse and exclusion are a part of their lives. Growing up as the victims of racism is a stark reality for them.
The Chinese own most of the grocery stores in Belize and it is common practice to walk in and call out, “Chineeee! Gimme 2 bag ice!” or “China-man! Where de Coke?” I’m not sure if calling them “Chineeee” or “China-man” is racist but I know that if I walked into a shop in my home town and called out, “Chineeee! Where’s my dry cleaning?” I’d turn some heads. What if I walked into Circuit City and said, “Hey black man! Where de flat screen?” How would that go over?
I recognize that the crux of the resentment between many Belizeans and North Americans is economic. “White people” come here, buy a lot of land, open businesses, own a bunch of things and, as a whole, have a better quality of life than the average Belizean. That’s a fact and it can, and does, lead to resentment. Is it racism if someone
resents a group of people for their perceived economic advantage? I have Mexican friend here who is sometimes called a gringo because he is perceived to be from the US. He is an outsider, a “gringo” to some locals. An American friend of mine was recently described as, “…the white, black guy.” His skin is dark but he’s affluent and from the US so he’s described as white.
My last 6 & 1/2 years here have been an education on many fronts, not the least of which is being a minority. White North Americans make up about 1% of the population here. One of the many things I appreciate about Belize is that my children grow up around different cultures and have friends with a different color skin. I didn’t grow up that way and I admit that I personally gravitate towards people like me, North Americans. I have Belizean friends but, to be honest, most of my friends are people from the US and Canada. It is how I grew up and I guess what I’m naturally comfortable with. I was only exposed to daily interaction with people of different color skin when I joined the military. Fortunately I wasn’t brought up to dislike people based on their
race (thank you Mom & Dad). If anyone in the military had inclinations toward racism the frequent training and instruction we received on the subject would certainly have helped squelch, at least, the expression of it. After serving 12 years I can honestly say that I do not think racism was a problem in that environment. I think the reason is that we were trained to be respectful of others and evaluate people based on performance. That might not be the perfect way to do things but it makes sense to me. I think people need to be trained how to act, otherwise fear and distrust, among other things, can become driving forces that lead to skewed thinking resulting in bad behavior.
There is obvious racial tension in Belize. Everyone who lives here is aware of that. I think economics are at the root of much of it and maybe the situation has as much to do with money as actual racial differences. Additionally, racial differences here seem to be more…out in front…people of different races are often called by their race, “Hey, white
man!”, or “Chineeee!”. Truthfully, I don’t mind being called “white man” and I know the Chinese don’t mind their tag. Can we all try to be respectful of others, evaluate people based on how we see them act and treat others as we want to be treated? That might not be perfect but it makes sense to me.