Pearl Macek

 

White Creole Conversations Menu

We still remain mysteries to ourselves.” - Caroline Myss

APPETISERS

1. State your name, age and profession.

Pearl Macek; 25 years old; Journalist.

 

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?

I have always had a hard time when it comes to identifying my race. I live in the United States now and every time the question of self identifying comes up on an application or a survey I always mark “other” just because I don’t 100 percent identify as any of the options given to me. I am white and come from white parents but it is an issue I always try to skirt around when talking about myself. As far as class—I come from a working class family although I have been exposed to every class thanks to my upbringing. When people ask “Where are you from?” I generally answer “I’m from the Caribbean.” I only say that I am from Nevis when talking to other people from the Caribbean and I quickly follow that statement up with “Yes, I know you would never have guessed.” The term “white Creole” does give me some comfort when it comes to identity. Although I am first generation Caribbean born, I feel that if I were to say I was American or British, it just wouldn’t encompass me fully.

 

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

To be honest, whiteness and race has become almost an obsession for me. I have always been aware of race and what it means to be different. If I could have chosen my race and/or color I would never have chosen to be white.

 

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?

Unlike Jamaica or Barbados, Nevis has a very small white Creole culture. There are expats but it is really some of the white kids that I grew up with that formed what I would consider to be the white Creole society of Nevis. Being white in Nevis almost automatically makes you a tourist in the eyes of a local but that is changing. Whites that grew up on Nevis had to fight to be considered “Nevisian” and they still face disbelief about their nationality when they meet strangers.

 

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?

I would say that Nevis has been segmented according to race for a long time and it wasn’t until maybe 30 years ago that some integration started to happen. Unlike other islands where there has been a mixing of the races since the days of slavery, Nevis society has almost always remained unmixed. Now that is changing, most of my white friends are in interracial relationships and have mixed babies.

 

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?

My family has always spoken about race and I can’t remember if it was explicitly or implicitly conveyed (I’m leaning more toward explicitly) but my parents taught me that black was beautiful and that white skin was in a way, ugly. It is something that has stuck with me when it comes to beauty ideals.

 

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

In primary school there was only me and one other child that was white. Race was not an issue (or at least I don’t remember) in primary school and I never really felt different because of colour.

 

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?

Secondary school was different in that color was talked about more and when it came to beauty ideals, black characteristics were considered to be more beautiful than typical white ones—especially among my white, female peers.

 

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. Have you experienced internal conflict in your local society, as a result of race? Give example/s

I think it started when I was a teenager—when everyone is awkward and coming into their own— I started to feel conflicted about the way I looked and the colour of my skin. I wouldn’t say that I suffered overt racism but I did stand out and I was stared at when all I wanted was to fit in. My parents (unintentionally I’m sure) raised me to feel that I had to apologise for my whiteness and I have held onto that to this day.

 

10. 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 that there is a national identity that does supersede racial identity and not just in each and every island but in the Caribbean as a whole. I have much more in common with fellow Caribbean citizens than I do say Americans and it is because there is a Caribbean culture that transcends colour and race. Yes, the Caribbean as a whole has suffered a horrible and traumatic history and has been divided by class and race for so long but what I see now is a people coming together thanks to traditions, food, music and dance that give the world a richness that is unparalleled.

 

11. 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?

In a moment I can have both feelings of belonging and not belonging and yes, I think it is perfectly natural. Nationalism and the love of one’s country has never been a simplistic notion even though it is often conveyed as such. I think I have only really started to learn that—that I can be of a place and yet feel as an outsider all at once. Although it has felt like a curse my whole life I am beginning to see it as a gift.

 

12. 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?

Ever since I was a teenager I have tried to hide my whiteness. I tried to “pass” as mixed or Latina but for me white was ugly and symbolised so many negative characteristics for me. I have been read in many ways and I try to remain as culturally and racially ambiguous as possible because I just don’t feel that I can be summed up by a check in a box when it comes to race and ethnicity.

 

13. 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 white locals but I do distance myself from tourists or expats. I feel that I do have a lot in common with white locals but that tourists and expats often give whites a bad name on the island either because of their cluelessness when it comes to customs and traditions or their blatant disregard for behaving respectfully in someone else’s country. I think this awareness has made me a better traveller because I am so aware of being an outsider.

 

14. 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 wish that we were post-racial but unfortunately we have a ways to go. If, however, any society can reach a post-racial perspective—the Caribbean has a better chance than most regions (in my opinion.)

 

15. 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?

Yes, I do feel I have this luggage of colonial history on my shoulders despite not feeling a strong cultural affiliation to the UK (or the US).

 

16. 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 feel shame, I feel responsibility and I wish I could rationalise these feelings but they have stayed with me all these years.

 

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

It depends what you mean by colour blind. I have friends of all races, creeds and colours but I am aware about race. I am aware that it is painful for me to know that race is still an issue today.

 

“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

 

18. 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?

Most of my close friends are black and the majority of my relationships have been with people of other races. I believe that children of mixed race are in fact the most beautiful.

 

19. 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?

The biggest stereotype is that if you are white then you must be rich and it is something that I came up against even with my closest friends. Coming from a very working class family, it was hurtful but I could see why it was that way considering there were so many wealthy expats around us.

 

 

Bio:

 

Pearl Macek was born on the island of St. Thomas and soon after moved to the island of Nevis where she attended both primary and secondary school. Her parents worked as boat captains which allowed Pearl to see much of the Caribbean and the world—a gift she would find very useful when analysing her culture and background. After graduating secondary school at the age of 16, Pearl moved to Puerto Rico where she studied Psychology at the University of Puerto Rico. After graduating, Pearl moved to Europe where she worked for several years and met her husband. They later moved to New York City so that she could pursue her goal of becoming a journalist. She is now a freelance journalist living in Newport, Rhode Island in the United States.

 

 

 

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