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Scary Black People

Little Cayman, British West Indies

Dear Kim:

My fraternization with the workers has not gone unnoticed. It is interesting to see who is uncomfortable.Yesterday at breakfast, a man asked me if there had been a concert the night before in the dining room.

"Sort of," I said. "I taught Louie and Junior a song and now they are teaching me one of theirs." He looked at me blankly so I said,”Gospel. That’s what we are singing.

Do you like gospel?”

His face tightened and he said sure.

(Kim: I think you are like me in that you sometimes like to make people uncomfortable. Especially people who need to think more about something.)

And I knew he didn’t mean it so I wondered what it was that was such a big trigger for him. I wondered if he thought of gospel as a code word for something else—like scary black people.

I told my sister about this and she sighed. Laurel has done a lot of worked in the African American community and has many black friends and colleagues. However, in this instance, she was more interested in lying in the sun and reading chick lite literature like “You’ll Never Nanny in This Town Again”

She is entitled. After the year she has had, she entitled to do whatever the heck she wants to do.

(Kim: Funny how I can't even accept that people should be entitled to do "whatever the heck..." I guess that's my problem having a Puritan work ethic.)

So she looked at me and said, “Give it a rest, Joan, just for one day. I’m on vacation.”

(Kim: I'm getting a kick out of the contrast between you and your sister.)

But it is hard for me to give it a rest when the lives of the people who are making our stay possible seem invisible to so many people, including some of their white co-workers.

One afternoon, I was chatting with one of the bartenders, Stephanie, an amazingly self-possessed 22 year old white woman from Vancouver who has been traveling on her own since she was 17. She said, “It’s so odd, the way these people are separated from their children. They have children and then their mother or someone winds up raising them in Jamaica while they come here.”

I said, I thought they came to Cayman because the economy was so bad in Jamaica. This was a way they could support themselves and their families.

She agreed and said it was odd that they didn’t seem to mind. That they seemed so happy.

And I said, “I think they do mind. Don’t you think you would mind if you had children that you could not see?”

The past few days, since our musical exchange, the sound of singing has been louder coming from the kitchen.

As I was sitting outside at a table, I overheard the man I had met at breakfast say to his wife, “I’m sure they don’t make much here but it isn’t a stressful life.”

And I wondered what he really meant by that remark. Did he believe it? Or was he trying to reassure himself that the status quo was okay.

I can’t even fathom the emotional stress for a man like Junior, to be separated from his wife and seven month old daughter.

(Kim: On the one hand we are giving people an opportunity to support their families...and on the other hand we have quasi slavery.)

Later,

Joan

Wed March 22, 2006

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