Williams: ‘Subtle race-think’ alive and well in Cayman

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***Editor’s Note: We are pleased to feature a Viewpoint from Christopher Williams, an associate professor at the University College of the Cayman Islands. The following is an excerpt from a draft version of his upcoming book titled, ‘Religion, Race, and Multiculturalism in Everyday Life: A Gadfly’s Philosophical Guide’. Portions of this appear in our story on racial divisions in Cayman’s school system.***

To the extent that racially motivated discrimination in Cayman can be defined as socially institutional, I would expect this description to readily reveal itself along intersecting lifeways (religious, social, corporate, cultural, etc.) that highlight the very social disparities inherent in multiculturalism.

Social institutions are entities that occur because of human interactions, be they disparate, unbiased, or a combination of both, which in turn leads to established systems of beliefs built on hierarchical understandings, racial and otherwise.

Regardless, beyond such disparities, one would be hard pressed to define manifested racism-slash-ethnocentrism as straightforwardly, systemically institutional in nature in terms of schooling in Cayman. The visible self-segregation that occurs in Cayman on the basis of race and ethnicity is telling enough … but no black child, for instance, will likely be barred entry from what many native Caymanians would consider a ‘white’ private school solely on the basis of his or her skin color; expatriate children are not typically allowed to attend public schools in the Cayman Islands by way of a controversial statute perhaps inhering its own xenophobic sensibility … which means that racial considerations would not disproportionately affect expatriate or native children of color who must attend school and who are able – save having to attend another private school before they are able to get into their oversubscribed school of choice – to attend whichever private school they like; all of this, of course, notwithstanding the racial harassment that some of these children of color may well face once they are admitted to the private school of their choice.

Implicating the likely existence of institutionalized racism in Cayman’s private schools, an eight year old black student once confided in me that a white fellow student of Irish descent once confronted him on the playfield before proceeding to inform him that he ‘was allergic to black and brown people’; an adult observer would later confirm the account. In yet another private school, a black teacher recalled being called a ‘ching-ching’ to her face by a twelve year old white student of British descent who was in the habit of ‘regularly’ using the same epithet to describe other black students. Other former students of this or that private school have gone on to recount not feeling welcomed by other white students and teachers alike, convinced that their treatment was based on a longstanding bias itself based on certain racial stereotypes.

While not exhaustive, such accounts begin to point us to two very important social issues at play in some of Cayman’s ‘finest’ private schools; first, there is evidence of the very real ways in which certain students are regarded in the minds of other students with a clear-enough racist bent triggered by what could have only been years of social-cum-psychological conditioning; and, secondly, many students of color that attend or attended private school have somewhere along the line formed the traumatizing perception that their inequitable treatment in certain scholastic situations came as a result of the biased narratives ostensibly encoded into their very pigment.

The foregoing train of thought, inspired both by [Cayman historian Roy] Bodden’s own views of the modern frontier society … together with my anonymous conversations with a wide cross-section of represented ethnic groups in Cayman, has led me to the general conclusion that certain members of every represented ethnicity and race in Cayman are likely in some way to express their prejudice through daily slights including, but not limited to, not returning a greeting to someone of a different race or ethnicity, mentally dismissing a stranger out of hand simply because of her accent or race, or else exhibiting a calculated indifference to racial difference …

The abiding dilemma here however is that it is difficult to prove racially-motivated intent in such slights and any subsequent unfolding conflict becomes further mired in tacit, defensive annoyances supposedly free from racial considerations, when in many cases, such considerations prove the stubborn driving force behind one’s disparaging cognizance of some of those ‘not like him’.

This leads to my follow-on conclusion that racism in multicultural Cayman is itself situationally institutional – an outworking of the natural, dare I say prejudicial tendencies along the spectrum and institutions of humanity, at times intersecting and interacting with the forces of coexistence in such a way that invariably leads to the disfranchisement and/or disparagement of certain ethnic and/or racial groups. What I like to call subtle race-think and its harrowing consequences is very much alive and well in Cayman.

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