Saturday, March 21, 2009

It Takes Two

Belize is the quintessential melting pot of diverse races and ethniticies; the interaction of these cultures in a small community offers, in my opinion, is one ingredient in the antidote against the racial discrimination that has plagued humanity for centuries. Indeed, an eclectic integration of cultures does not guarantee that one's society will be spared from pervasive racism. For example, the history of the most famous melting pot, the United States, is tainted by its civil rights movement of the 1960s - an era that still casts a shadow on its cultural genotype, despite the election of its first African American president.

As the largest minority in the country, the Chinese community have arguably received the brunt of ethnic discrimination in Belize. To criminals, they are perceived as weak and docile, and hence, easily malleable to the forces of crime. Moreover, many ordinary Belizeans exacerbate this perception by their simple lack of respect, courtesy and humanity toward the Chinese, best illustrated in their daily interactions. Imagine standing outside any Chinese establishment, particularly their restaurants, and listen to the salutations that are offered to the Chinese shopkeepers; Chinese workers are not afforded the title "Ms. or Mr." (typical signs of respect), but rather, they are dehumanized by disgraceful epithets such as "chiney bwoy/gyal" or "chino". It could be argued, however, that these are benign elements of Belizean verbal intercourse. Yet, to say that this blatant disrespect does not contribute to our own problem of ethnic discrimination would be to purport that ethnic discrimination itself does not exist in our country.

Although there are various sources of this social malady - the lack of cultural education in the home and at school, for example - one origin that has been continually ignored are the Chinese themselves. Despite being belittled, and quite often, verbally assaulted, they continue to serve their patrons. In America, it would be the equivalent of a black individual serving his/her customer despite being called the 'n' word; in Mexico a "pisa"; in England, a "limey and so forth. Chinese-Belizeans' tolerance of what can be considered nothing less than ethnic assualt unequivocally contributes to their perceived obsequious nature. Perhaps the best corrective measure lies withtin the will of the Chinese themselves to refuse service to any individual who addresses them in an uncivil manner. Until this is done, the Chinese community in Belize will reside in a circle of discriminated groups, ranging as far back as the era of Western colonization, the French Revolution and legalized slavery. In each of these cases, the submissive party revolted for their independence. The Chinese community in Belize can achieve their own emancipation from ethnic discrimination by commandeering respect in their daily interactions with Belizeans. Of course, we can also expect Belizeans to adhere to basic manners, but this may be too expensive for our individual budgets for comity.