To kick off this project, it only makes sense to start with the most common misconception that all people with Caribbean background face.
- “What part of Jamaica are you from?”
- “I’ve been to Jamaica, it’s lovely isn’t it?”
- “When did you move [to the UK]?”
- “Why would you leave the Caribbean?”
For good measure Antigua, St Lucia, Dominican Republic, or Barbados are thrown in as alternative countries, which I only assume are commonly referenced because of the heavy marketing for package holidays from most UK based travel companies. Even once you’ve explained that your family come from Anguilla, people still confuse this with Antigua and tell me how nice their holiday was there!
Is this really a problem?
Absolutely. Now I don’t suggest for one minute that any of the individuals that use these phrases are racist, they’re generally all extremely nice people, but it shows how the Caribbean as a whole is characerised in the Western world, even though almost all of them are owned by, or have strong cultural connections to the US and Europe.
The difficulty I face is that when responding to this type of question there are two challenges no matter how well you know them. Firstly, you have to instantly decide whether to react with frustration or politeness all whilst several hundred thoughts run through your mind about how you can’t believe this still happens in 2020, and secondly, giving an accurate answer of either nature instantly creates for a negative atmosphere because you’re either showing a negative response by expressing yourself which leads to shock, or you’re politely telling the other person they’re completely wrong, which leads to awkward behaviour.
This could all be avoided if the conversation simply started with an open ended question such as “what is your background?” or “where are you from?”. I’m proud of my heritage, and I’d love to feel that you’re as interested to learn about me as I am to learn about you. Another bonus of asking the open ended question is that you might discover Caribbean gems that are hidden away from tourist eyes, untouched with a real cultural experience away from hotels and swimming pools.
No matter who asks the question or how they ask it, this will indirectly always give you a sense of less importance or care, intended or not. Personally, when I’m faced with topics such as these where my knowledge is lacking, I try to take care in how I raise a question about their culture – for example, asking about an oriental background instead of asking what part of China they’re from. There are many oriental countries, I’ll never know of them all, but I’ll do my best to find out more as I meet more people. It also prevents me from trying to ask people questions about their background too, as I know how you can be impacted if someone does this.
In the interest of transparency, I suspect there are many areas where I do actually do this and could improve, and I’d love for those people to help me along this journey if/when that happens!
So if not Jamaica, then where?
- I’m from the UK, I was born here.
- Both of my parents were born here.
- I’ve never lived in the Caribbean, so I’ve never left there or moved here.
- I’ve never been to Jamaica.
My story is quite boring on the face of it, and the only reason I am classed as British instead of English on official papers is because my dad is black, and therefore I am ‘Mixed British – White & Black Caribbean’, or ‘Other’ on a bad day.
This is where my disappointment in society in 2020 starts and ends. How can someone that was born in the UK and have lived here for all of their life, be classed as ‘Other’. It makes no sense! It strengthens the feeling of less importance than others, and strengthens the feeling of being different without even looking in the mirror at your different skin. Combine this with the common phrases I highlighted at the beginning of this post, and you can see why it’s difficult to hold your head up confidently in every day settings with tensions as high as they are around race and culture.
Simply put, you have to get on with it and you have to get used to it, but it never goes away.
Tell me more about Anguilla!
To make things confusing, my immediate family actually do live in the Caribbean! Now, you may ask why I didn’t move to Anguilla – it’s a legitimate question and it often follows after a proper conversation about my background. If you’re interested, it’s because of my passion for working in technology, and also if I move to the Caribbean then where on earth do I go for a great sunny holiday?!
Anguilla is an extremely small British Overseas Territory, and just like when I describe my birthtown of Slough being near Windsor, the best way to describe Anguilla is to say it’s near Saint Martin/Sint Maarten which was made famous by a cruise ship crashing into the island in Speed 2, and for endless amazing low landings of large aircraft over Maho beach.
The island is what I would call a ‘proper’ Caribbean experience, and is extremely safe to explore at your own leasure. It’s notoriously difficult to get to, requiring at least two flights, and is mostly untouched by tourism as a result.
A little known fact about me is that my nan owns a shop called ‘The Aaron-Kane Store’ which sells every day essentials and provides services such as dress modifications, so if you ever visit, be sure to look out of the window of your taxi on the right-hand side as you approach the highway, heading away from Blowing Point’s ferry terminal!
I’m honestly not offended when people use these phrases (perhaps because it’s ‘normal’ for me?), however if you ask this type of question, you contribute to the ~60% of new people that I meet in all walks of life and it’s exhausting. Just by changing the phrase to an open ended question means more to me than anyone will ever know, and I hope for a day when these questions are a thing of the past!