Racism in Belize?

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In your home town, a black man and  a white man walk into a mechanic’s shop. They both ask what a brake job cost. The  mechanic tells the white guy $150, he tells the black man its $200.  Is that racist?

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.

About BelizeBritts

Jim and Jacquelyn moved to Belize in 2004 after spending much of their adult lives as US Navy Deep Sea Divers. Jacquelyn specialized in the Navy's Marine Mammal Program handling sea lions and dolphins with the US Navy's Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) as well as conducting underwater repairs on navy ships. Jim was a Navy Chief specializing in underwater repairs to ships and submarines as well as operating a recompression chamber for the treatment of injured divers. They moved to Belize in 2004 from Pine Island, Florida where Jacquelyn is a 4th generation native. Jim is from all over but calls Nashville, Tennessee home. In March 2013 they moved back to Pine Island, FL to spend more time with their family.
This entry was posted in Backpacking in Belize, Belize, Belize Adventure, Belize Culture, Ex Military in Belize, Ex Pats in Belize, Land in Belize, Living in Belize, Property in Belize, Racism in Belize, San Ignacio, Belize, Travel Belize, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to Racism in Belize?

  1. Sandy Azancot says:

    What you say may strike nerves with some, but you are completely on the money.
    Hanging out with mostly people similar to yourself is just natural though. You have more common ground. I would say that the old adage “birds of a feather flock together” is true around the globe, not just Belize or the US.

    • belizebritts says:

      We do have Belizean friends that we spend time with but the fact is we spend most of our time with North Americans. That’s just the fact.

      • sandy azancot says:

        Yes, we have Belizean friends too, in fact one of them we are very good friends with. That said, most of our circle of friends are ex-pats from North America.

  2. David Taylor says:

    You summarized this one nicely, it’s a subject that comes up between my friends, family and I a lot. I think I am am lucky that I have a British accent, it seems not to attract the venomous and sometimes truculent attitude that I have seen some Belizeans display towards North Americans. I also happen to be half Belizean which is laughably dismissed by some natives because I wasn’t born here. My mother’s family arrived from Merida in 1897, I think my blood has been around for a while. Having said that it seems one those caveats of living in a developing and young nation whose potential has yet to be really seen. I try to engage all races here and am amused by the reaction from the Chinese to whom I can not help being overly polite to, as if to compensate in some way for the local attitude to ‘international relations’.

  3. BradBelize says:

    As a young-ish white man from the States, I have been trained to not say anything about racial issues. lol – Seriously, its true. I am from a place with very high racial tension(Richmond Va). There we dont even use the word black anymore – not even to describe inanimate objects.
    For that reason – I enjoy seeing the open and excepted racism (which is present but not any kind of problem when compared to the other countries around the world). You know we are far far far from genocide here. I like the fact that it isn’t against the law to think a certain way or express an opinion. The thing here is people don’t have a “zero tolerance” mind set. Its OK with me if that guy over there doesnt like me because I’m white. If he decides to hurt me though, that is assault and a crime.
    Here is a thought – make a list of words that could describe people that you think makes it ok to hate them – regardless of there personality – Will everyone agree with your list…
    child molesters
    poor people?
    rich people?
    Here in Belize I dont trust realtors. Does that make me something like a racist?

    On a similar note- prejudice – what do you think about that? Is it ok, not ok, or recommended to prejudge people based on race or appearance? You might be quick to say its never ok to judge someone till you know them. Lets say you are in Belize city and you see a tourist backpacker lost walking around and its going to be dark soon. Do you pick that person up? Are you scared to or think it would be stupid to pick them up, or is it even irresponsible of you if you dont pick them up?
    Now, what if instead of backpacker tourist – what if it was a local guy who looked like a gangster? Is it being prejudice if your answers to the questions are different for these 2 different looking people? Just wondering what everyone else thinks.

  4. Vark says:

    Did you know Belize charges $50 for visas for everyone, but if you are from China, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, you are charged $250.
    If that is not racism, what is?

  5. It is funny how one thing leads to another. My journey tonight is from a comfortable chair at my home in Kissimmee Florida. I have an online tavern and one of the members posted a jerry jeff walker video about being in Belize for me as they know I have lived in Panama, Haiti, and the Dominican republic, further my wife is Haitian and I grew up in a prejudiced home with a bigoted step-father. I am Timothy Paul Perry and I found this through couch surfing where you can also find me. I just wanted to leave a comment regarding your hammock tag as I love innovation..Jim you might want to add a pizza oven to your set-up if you type in my name to your browser I had an article done on me concerning a portable pizza oven I built from a scrapped oven. I do not sell them I simply show you how. Having traveled to 40 countries I have seen everything regarding prejudice etc; The trick is it is you who controls your thoughts. that is as long as you are not being forced against your will. I have seen ex-pats who have moved to exoctic locals many times learn that their ideal life is not to be found in a place but rather in ones own mind. just saying..

  6. I also did my Navy time 1973-1977 went in as a e-1 and left as an e-5 Boatswains Mate. at 56 I am a retired merchant mariner. Loved your site by the way. I might get down that-a-way and will be sure to stop in. I know a slew of great cooks and Jacquelyn appears to be one as well. btw I could show you how to do the best pizza you have ever eaten and if you like KFC I have a close recipe.

  7. Jim
    I have some ideas to form a Happy hammock Travel Club. Let me just copy what i am thinking about in a e-mail I wrote Skip. (Who agrees with your insights)
    ” Anyway, I have been growing very tired of all the web-sites out there that are promoting bullshit pie-in-the-sky paradise for retirees. It is total horseshit and really leaves people unprepared for what they can really expect when traveling, or contemplating living abroad. People like Jim, and you, and I, as well as the thousands of other ex-pats with nothing to sell can change that. Hence the reason I started this inquiry. I would like to form a site where people can get a glimpse of the way it really is.

    International living is just the sort of site that needs to be bitch slapped so to speak.

    I thought it fair to speak openly of my own life since I am asking you to do the same. Would you do it again? Knowing what you know today what would be your choices? See, I believe owning anything is a total trap and hard to escape from and harder yet when you put forth a tremendous amount of your time and resources. I still love to travel. I have been thinking about forming a travel club and am toying with the idea of The Happy Hammock Club. I have a vision that people could actually travel with a clark or hennessy hammock and travel to designated sites on an itinerary that takes them to beautiful locations that are worth seeing. With armed security and great food, and a minimum of portable luxury. Tourism that does not deceive, land based excursions for people who really love to fish, or snorkel or hand glide, etc.. At night I would have security to protect them from getting ripped off and these security guys would have to be trust worthy to do their job.

    Thanks for your insights. I would love to speak more about this and would love to hear more from you-”

    This is not a free CS experience I am speaking about, but rather honest tourism.where people get their tourist dollars true value. I would like to see a few portable pizza ovens as people like me love pizza.

  8. Interesting…I have a much less sceptical view of the same kinds of issues in Belize…see my blog entry http://blog.warasadrumschool.com/2011/10/17/black-man-lay-the-pipe/

  9. Luis Ramirez says:

    I am Canadian of Guatemalan parents. I speak English, my Spanish is ok…..where would I fit into the picture. The article says Belizeans and Guatemalans don’t get along.,so Belizeans discriminate Spanish spekaing Mestizos? Would i also receive alot of racism from whites? There is a strong possibility that I will spending a long time in Belize, just trying to figure out the racial situation.

  10. Luis Ramirez says:

    By the way I am Mestizo. Mayans, even in Guatemala face alot of discrimination. 😦

  11. Chris Mulden says:

    We live in a beautiful home in Las Palomas, in the north:)
    Here we have the chumapas indians and the kalantis related to them, all very belicose…
    Other than that and the mosquitos at 6 pm everyday that make noise like an aircraft, it’s paradise here.
    Parrotas (bye bye in chumapa language),


  12. Aria says:

    I think your viewed is skewed coming from a racist environment. Little well known secret is that most Belizeans are a mixture of every race you think are at odds with each other. Additionally people’s livelihood, where they work and live are not determined by race. Belizeans are politically incorrect, and many view the white man as being privilege in the society and given perks and access not afforded to locals. However, the tax you talk about is more from a view of privilege than race. As you get to understand the social dynamics better, you will be less inclined to believe it is race related.

    • belizebritts says:

      1. I do not come from a racist environment
      2. I am well aware that Belizeans, like many others, are a mixture of races.It is not a secret.
      3. Those races are at odds with each other here. That is a fact.
      4. I did not conclude the tax was race related but, in fact, ventured that it is economically based. I avoid places that charge the tax, as does everyone I know. Those places shoot themselves in the foot. In all circumstances, if you use fair business practices you will get more business.

  13. Marnix says:

    Your blog gave me a good laugh…thank you. I like your story about the mechanic…mechanics overcharge everyone they can get away with…if i walk in with white collar “office clothes” and they sense i don’t know anything about cars, they overcharge me and i am as Belizean as they come. As for other aspects of racism, Belizeans have had to grow with different races surrounding us. Highlighting our differences in a funny insulting way is a cultural thing….we have been insulting each other from time in memorial and people who are new to our country have some problems adjusting to this. Calling you a white man is just our way. Certainly, there are people in public service and other places who have chips on their shoulder but as you noted, this is more of an economic issue. There is definitely racism but most of it is borne more out of poor upbringing (bad manners) than out of some deep seated hatred of a race.

    Chinese grocers do get their share of name-calling but this is also cultural thing…have you ever seen a chinese store owner, especially one who has 2nd generation Belizean kids of their own, “cuss” the hell out of a regular customer who call them “chiney” or “chino”. we all just laugh it off. i think the key is not to take it too seriously and by all means, not let people with real racist agendas that can “demean or subdue another because of their race” flourish in our country.

  14. Steve says:

    Great comments; one of my concerns about coming to Belize is that my kids are Taiwanese and not sure how they would be accepted, but kids are kids and haven’t learned all the crap that we have ingested! Thanks

  15. Mark says:

    Interesting comments on the race situation in Belize. I do think we spend to much time looking and judging people by their colour. As for me I don’t think I even see colour. I’m a ex Marine who served several tours in Belize during the 1980s. During that time I made loads of Belizian friends, visited their home and met their families. My partner is from South Africa, which has its fair share of race issues. She is colourd and refers to herself as colourd! we currently live in London which is probably the most cosmopolitan city in the world, the majority of people here just don’t see colour! however, when we travel we still get some looks. We spent some time in Belize back last year and although we did not come across or experience any racial tension, we were made aware by others that it does exist. However, this has not put us off, as we have now purchased some land and will be looking to build a small place in the next year or so so hopefully we can then add to the mixing pot?

    • BelizeBritts says:

      Sounds like you are the kind of people Belize needs! Best of luck, I’d love to hear more about how it goes from you guys.

    • Margo Morado says:

      I am curious to know how things have developed for you and your wife. Have you built your home? How is that going? Has your experience as an interracial couple been comfortable? Do you have any suggestions for another interracial couple who is visiting Belize next summer with the idea perhaps moving there in the future?

      • BelizeBritts says:

        I cannot imagine that you would have even a single issue being an interracial couple in Belize.

        Apart from that, allow me to clarify a couple things. While my wife may be from another planet (the planet of AWESOME) we are not an interracial couple.

        We are currently back in the US and life is indeed grand!

        Best of luck to you!

  16. Pingback: Perspective | BelizeBritts's Blog

  17. Hi
    Very interesting comments. I hope to write a “reply” or a comment soon. Unless discrimination is very obvious I don,t see it. I try not to go back to places where they knowingly or unknowingly discriminate. I hope and try to be nice to people whom I think might have pre judged me because of the way I look or the way I speak. I believe most of the responses I get from people that I deal with are” natural” reactions. Reasons for such responses may be due to lack of coming in contact with people of deferent race, also may be due to lack of education. I believe it may be a good idea to brush it off and make the situation better (by the way one reacts) or simply walk away ,wait for another day . You may see the same person react much better.
    Every person is an ambassador for their race. The way each one of us react in a social setting help form a general opinion about the race the person perceived to belong. This is probably not right. Changes happen slowly. But we need to be patient and try to make our interaction as better as possible. But we all discriminate to some extend based on our our upbringing and our life experiences. I don,t see anything wrong with it , if what we do do not hurt anybody,s feeling or hurt them financially. We discriminate how we choose friends . who we talk to in a public arena.. We all avoid crime infested areas in any city. Most of us judge people by the way they, dress.
    As human beings we all have built templates in our brain,which guide us every day. This may be based on life experience which are unique and personal. A cat which accidentally fell in to hot water will avoid cold water. I was planning to write a comment later,but got carried away.

  18. Wayne Greer says:

    Hi, Im Wayne. My wife and I are thinking of buying some land outside of the US, initially as a vacation spot, and eventually as a retirement home. We do plan to keep a home in the US. We have been exploring various options and Belize offers some attractive deals for people in our situation. We are both white North Americans. I grew up in a mostly black community in New Jersey and am very comfortable with all races. My wife is not quite as comfortable as her situation was different growing up. What we would like to know is Belize a safe place for us. Would we be comfortable there. I can tell you that back handed comments or mistreatment of any kind would not be appreciated nor would it likely be tolerated. Is Belize the kind of place for us? The country looks absolutely beautiful and we would both enjoy the cultural diversity but we would obviously like to feel safe and would want to enjoy the surrounds. Any impute?

    • BelizeBritts says:

      I don’t think racism should be a consideration for you guys. There are morons everywhere and Belize is certainly no exception. I think a man gets respect as he gives it and the morons aren’t worth our time. There are far more important factors when considering that move.

      Is Belize safe? There is simply no denying it is not as safe as most places in the US. Can you live there and be safe? Yes but it requires more consideration than some other places.

      Is Belize the place for you? I have no idea. I think the ability to adapt, be patient and lower your expectations in some circumstances would be key.

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