Karen Martinez

 

White Creole Conversations Menu

We still remain mysteries to ourselves.” - Caroline Myss

APPETISERS

1. State your name, age and profession.

Karen Martinez, Filmmaker, 54.

 

2. How do you define yourself in terms of race, class and nationality? Do you identify with the term ‘white Creole’? How far back can you trace your family on maternal/paternal lines?

Latin Caribbean. Middle Class. Trinidadian.

Paternal grandmother: Arséne Maingot, b.Trinidad 1890

Paternal grandfather: Manuel Martinez, b. Venezuela 1885

Married 1918

Maternal grandfather: Agustin Orsini, b. Venezuela 1895 d. Trinidad

Maternal grandmother: Juanita Garcia Permuy, b.Venezuela 1898 d. Trinidad 1994

I also know the names of my maternal and paternal great grandparents.

 

3. Do you find yourself thinking about whiteness or race in general? Why/why not?

I think about race and identity quite a bit as it tends to feature in my work as a filmmaker.

 

4. Is there such a thing as local white/Creole culture? What does it mean to be white in your local context, in terms of family, wider social or professional circles?

I wouldn’t say there is a separate local (Trini) white culture – I think white Trinidadians embrace the wider Trinidadian culture but some, mainly those not in the creative sector, tend to interact in the culture within the confines of a closer knit friendship and family circle that may be predominantly ‘white’ or light-skinned/brown/mixed-race.

 

5. Can you talk about what it feels like to live as a white person in the Caribbean? Would you say that your local space operates as a racially ordered society, constituted by segments of society that have little or no organic inter-relation or is it an integrated space? Or, is it simultaneously both but in different areas of your life?

After moving to the UK in late teens and then coming back to Trinidad I actively repositioned myself within the Trinidad society. Going abroad and looking back at where and how I’d grown up gave me a different perspective and made me more critical of my position within the society. However as I’ve aged I’ve developed a more nuanced view of the society. When I interact on a family level and with friends who go back to my childhood I would say I was interacting more in the white society. Outside of that my experience is more integrated. So I guess it is both segmented and integrated. And actually now, particularly with my work I am trying to draw people out into a more integrated space – to have a dialogue and to reflect on their position and choices in the wider society.

 

6. Did you grow up in a family that discussed race or did you inherit ideas about race or whiteness in your family and social circle? Were those inherited ideas implicitly conveyed or explicitly stated and have those ideas shifted generationally? If you have children, do you discuss race or whiteness – why and how?

We didn’t explicitly discuss race but as a competitive swimmer and part of a swimming club we mixed more with a variety of people, and so did my parents, more than some of the white society did. So I think the fact that we were sporty was a real bonus in that respect – and that it wasn’t an elitist sport. I discuss race and culture and privilege and everything with my children – bear in mind they are being brought up in London and they are both very politicised (daughter 19 at University and son nearly 16)

 

7. What did your primary school experience look and feel like racially?
 

Probably quite middleclass and fairer skinned than some schools, as I went to a ‘good’ Catholic primary school but it wasn’t something I really thought about. I just thought we were all Trini kids. I remember we thought of children from St Andrews, a private school with lots of expats, as being more foreign.

 

8. What did your secondary and/or tertiary level experience look and feel like in racial terms? Do you remember anything about the way history was taught and how that teaching felt in relation to your whiteness?

A selective girls convent school – Holy Name Convent. It was mixed racially and I think we grouped more along class lines.

Caribbean history was fairly new when I did it at A level – we studied slavery and it was an amazing revelation. I would say that it opened my eyes to injustice. However, as I saw myself as having more connection to Venezuela than Europe I don’t think I ever identified with the oppressors so there were no feelings of guilt, just of anger for the horrible injustice and cruelty.

 

Nothing, I think, is more interesting, more poignant, and more difficult to seize than the intersection of the self and history. Where does biography end and history begin? How does one’s own memories and experiences relate to what is written in the history books?” Linda Nochlin - The Power of Feminist Art

 

MAIN COURSES

 

9. What makes you feel that you belong or are accepted as a white Caribbean person? Have you experienced deep connection to your local society? Give example/s. Can you speak to what you think binds your local society, together? Is there a national identity that supersedes a racial identity?

I think some people in Trinidad see me as part of the white society. Sometimes when I’m in a white Trini group someone will say something that they might not say in a mixed group as they think I’m ‘one of them’ and it feels safe. I then usually take the opportunity to challenge their assumptions.

I no longer like to think of myself as part of white society though I acknowledge my perceived privileged position because of my skin colour. However I never feel like an oppressed minority and I don’t apologise for the accident of my birth. I just try to represent myself and my work authentically.

Culturally I feel a strong connection to Trinidadian society but I also feel very different form it (not just from white society).

I feel Trinidadian and I call myself a Trinidadian and I think people see me in this way… maybe see me as both.

 

10. What makes you feel that you don’t belong to local society? Can contradictory feelings of both belonging and not belonging be experienced at different times and in different places in your local environment?

I don’t feel I don’t belong I just feel a stronger or weaker attachment to certain norms and yes this changes relative time, place etc. I feel more connected to interesting people and there are enough of them around and these are people who don’t fit the stereotypes or who challenge them.

When I see a huge billboard advertisement that says, “Stag, it’s a MAN’S world”, it makes my blood boil! That macho, sexist stereotype is something I feel totally disconnected from – and I’m sure many others feel the same.

 

11. Do you consciously maintain your identity as a white person? Do you hide the presence of another race in yourself? Do you ‘pass’ for white? If yes, why and how so? Are you read differently, racially, or in different contexts? Is whiteness variable?

Whiteness is variable. A Trini white is much more mixed/browner than an English white. I don’t maintain a white identity but in the UK I have been asked, when people hear me talk (hear my accent) “how come you’re not black?”. Or more ‘radical’ people have asked me if I’m part African and they find it hard to believe when I say not that I know of. They think I’m trying to hide or deny something!

 

12. Do you consciously try to distance yourself from being read as white or do you distance yourself from other white locals? If you are Creole or mixed, what is your relationship to the colour of your skin? How difficult/easy is it to be Creole/mixed? Does it matter?

I don’t distance myself from being read as white but I do make it clear that I don’t adhere to perceived white stereotypical behavior.

Also, I don’t support racist opinions regardless where or who they come from.

 

13. Can we escape race in Barbados or in our local space? Are we a post-racial society? Is this something we should work towards? Is it achievable?

 

I think a society in the Caribbean that is less segregated along race lines is something we can and should work towards and just acknowledging that it is an undercurrent is a start.

 

14. Have you ever felt that you are a prisoner of colonial history as a white person? Do you feel connected to England or the UK as an ancestral home?

No, I’ve never felt a prisoner of any past. I feel connected to the UK now as I’ve lived here for a long time and I love London. And I like the fact that I have a history that connects me to Spain and Corsica and Venezuela.

 

15. What is the most difficult conversation you have ever had around race? Do you feel shame as a white person because of Caribbean colonial history and the plight of the indentured or the traumatic legacy of enslaved peoples who came to work on plantations in the Caribbean? Do you feel responsible in any way?

I don’t find shame a useful feeling. But it is important to acknowledge the past and ones family or national connection to it, and to acknowledge that slavery was a horribly brutal system that has marked Caribbean identity. But on a personal level I think it’s important to act from a position of authenticity and connectedness to the people and situations we meet and to ask people to judge us on that level not in relation to whatever distant connection you might have a painful past.

 

16. Do you think you are colour blind? Is being colour blind useful or damaging?

I’m not colour blind, I’d say I’m colour conscious and I think as a filmmaker it’s important to be colour conscious… to be conscious – how are you representing and who are you representing, and why. You need to be aware of the nuances of colour and shade and accent and size etc, in relation to what you want your work to say. Erasure is not an option. Sometimes colour blindness can render people invisible.

 

“Kentridge argued that learning to embrace ambiguity and shades of gray provides a tool for coping with such a traumatic past because it forces people to keep confronting the moral challenges the events pose, rather than filing them neatly away as over and done with.” - Spencer Lenfield on William Kentridge for the Harvard Magazine

 

DESSERT

 

17. Have you ever crossed boundaries in race or class; have you or are you open to loving someone of another race or are you open to friends or family doing so?

Yes.

 

18. Do you experience privilege because of your whiteness or perceived whiteness? How so? Can you speak about the relationship between whiteness and economic, professional or social privilege? Or, can you speak about having been rejected, denied opportunity or ostracised because of your whiteness or perceived whiteness?

Going for multicultural jobs in media in the UK I was aware that I wasn’t ‘ethnic’ enough in their eyes.

 

19. Do you socialize along race or class lines or choose friends in terms of race or class? Is that conscious or sub-conscious? How do you see yourself in relation to the larger social/national/political landscape?

Possibly along class lines – friendship groups based in media and the arts can often be a bit middle class.

 

20. Are there stereotypes around whiteness? Have you been called names that are racially motivated? Have you experienced positive discrimination because of your whiteness / perceived whiteness?

My first real experience of race, racism and belonging was when 1970s Trinidad. I was 9 and going to school at Holy Name Prep. It was the time of the Black Power marches and there was this real charge to everything. Walking home from school one day the young boys on the bin collection truck started throwing stones and shouting racial abuse at my sister, brother and I. We were forced to run away and I was angry and upset. It was the first time anything like that had happened to me. Many friends and family were packing up and leaving the country because of the unrest but I remember my parents sitting us down and explaining that Trinidad was our home and we were not going anywhere. We were staying put. That was very empowering. I’d never thought about it before but now I really felt like I belonged and felt emboldened to stand up to those boys and their taunts.

 

 

Bio:

 

Karen Martinez is a Trinidadian filmmaker based in London, UK. She has worked extensively in the film world both in the UK and the Caribbean. In 2013 she wrote and directed her first narrative fiction, After Mas, that won the Best Local Short award at ttff13 and was screened at a number of international festivals. Her most recent film, Dreams in Transit, is an essay-style documentary that sees a contemporary migrant reflecting on identity and the meaning of 'home'. In 2013 Karen was selected for a filmmakers immersion workshop with the Argentinian filmmaker Julia Solomonoff. Following on from this she is writing the script for a feature film called “Scattered”; a road movie set in Trinidad.

 

 

 

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