Beyond Race: On Being Black In Belize

One of the things I love most about Belize is the cultural diversity. I really appreciate living around folks from different ethnic groups – Creole, Garinagu, Maya, Mestizo, Chinese, Indian, and those from nearby Caribbean and Central American countries like Guatemala and Honduras. Being from New York City, where there’s a bit of everyone from around the world, the variety of flavors and accents is comforting.

I especially love living in a country of predominantly black and brown folks. Being able to explore more parts of Belize since moving here, it’s been wonderful to visit different areas and see black people everywhere. As a black American, I am aware of the nuanced differences between Belizean culture and where I come from. At the same time, I do feel and believe that there are some things, some cultural overlaps, that connect us as people of the diaspora, and I experience these shared similarities on a daily basis. It is present in our food, music, movement, and the way we greet each other. It is something that resonates beyond language. It’s the familiarity I feel when walking into a bar in Belize City, where Whitney Houston is playing and black folks nod and smile at me. It’s having a conversation with someone where they’re speaking Kriol and I’m speaking black American vernacular, and we understand each other. It’s being able to just be, fully, and not have to explain.

Words cannot describe the incredible freedom of not having to manage white microaggressions every day. The enormous impact of this on my mental health and well-being cannot be overstated. And as much as I do not define my experience here by the comparative absence of white people, it is a huge improvement to my quality of life to not be constantly navigating racism. This is not to say that Belize doesn’t have its own brand of anti-black antagonism and cultural effects of colonialism. I’m saying that it’s different from what I’ve had to endure my whole life in the States. And yes, it is that dramatic. There is a feeling of safety and belonging I feel here no matter where I go, and part of that is because I have more control over how much I expose myself to potentially racist interactions. I have become quite adept at managing them over the years. It’s good to not have to.

Beyond all of that, I mostly just love having my blackness affirmed. It’s a part of who I am that I really dig. And it’s amazing to live in a place where it is reflected and accepted, where I don’t have to make it more palatable or fit a certain type, where it just is. Where I can have the mental and emotional space to focus on other things. Like getting my entire life.

 

 

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14 thoughts on “Beyond Race: On Being Black In Belize

    1. I’m not sure and can’t speak to another person’s experience, but the ethnic groups I mentioned have their own communities here and are also part of the larger national culture of Belize. As far as individual folks’ personal experiences and feelings of belonging, I can’t define that. Belize does seem pretty open, though, in terms of people coming from other countries as tourists or residents.

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  1. I know what you mean. As a black Brit who now lives in Nigeria, and have done so for a number of years, it certainly is comforting to be in a place where you are among people who like you, and therefore do not have to explain yourself. Respect is automatically granted, and there is a fascination because you are from somewhere else. There is an element of the ‘anti-black’ or in Nigeria’s case, I’d call it anti-foreign where at times the word ‘foreigner’ can strangely sound like ‘Nigger’ but putting that aside, my time here has been rewarding, always interesting, and immensely satisfying. The ‘explaining’ I now have to do is not to white people, whenever I return to London, but to family members and friends. They just don’t get it!
    PS
    I notice that you have yoga practice as one of your tags. Well I’ve been attending Iyengar beginner’s classes for the last two months by a women who travels once per year to India to upgrade her practice. Who would have thought I would be able to find this here!!

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    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. It’s interesting that you mention living in Nigeria and navigating that as a black Brit. I lived in Nigeria for a year and experienced some of what you described, and it was also the first time that I had the experience of living somewhere outside of the States where my blackness and race were comfortably accepted and a non-issue. At the same time, I experienced some strange politics in Nigeria around being American and a “foreigner” which made me really aware of the cultural differences that were used to define me in certain ways. My time living there was amazing and weird and so many things, and is really a large part of how I’ve been able to successfully adjust to living here in Belize. And yes, a lot of my friends and family didn’t get it either!

      Congrats on your developing yoga practice! That is exciting and it’s so wonderful that you’ve found that where you live. Namaste, sis 😊

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  2. Thanks for your response. I’m married to a Nigerian and I also belong to an association called Nigerwives, which has been going for 30 years and is specifically for foreign wives of Nigerian men. There is also one in Ghana. Being ‘foreign’ however, is not something that will force me out as I feel that I have every right to be here. Some Nigerians have an idea of slavery and their ancestors role in enslaving those of us in the diaspora, but there is still ignorance on the subject. i guess my fascination of this place is the incredible confidence Nigerians/West Africans have, and for those who are educated, how incredibly independent they are, intellectually. I also lived in South Africa just after Apartheid, but it is a very different place.

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    1. I’m really interested in what you’re talking about and can relate. When I lived in Nigeria it was with my ex-fiancee, a Nigerian man, and I was always the only American around Nigerian folks, mostly Yoruba. I had to educate a lot of my Nigerian friends and people I met because there was a lot of ignorance about the history of black people in the States, and a lot of antagonism toward black Americans. It was a challenging and sometimes intense experience for me. I too was fascinated by and admired the confidence and self-awareness of many Nigerians that I met. It was really interesting to think and talk about and navigate the historical and cultural contexts. I really, really appreciate my time there and hope to visit soon. I miss Lagos – the people I became friends with, the culture, the food, the spirit of Nigeria, even with all its challenges. I also plan to travel to other parts of West Africa as well. There are so many places on the continent that I want to see and experience.

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  3. Again, thanks for your response. It’s great reading about fellow black people who have left ‘home. I hope you get to see other places, and I look forward to read about these experiences by coming to your blog. Take care.

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