June 3, 2009

Day 3 – Conferencing with the kids in Kingston

I got in my morning exercise by walking the 15 minutes from my apartment to the hotel, picking up my friend's daughter, taking her back to our apartment, and walking back again to the conference. Forty-five minutes walking in the hot sun.

On the way to the conference hotel, I stopped in a pharmacy to pick up some lotion. This is one of the things I didn't pack and am just now buying, on day 6 of my trip. This is because my husband, Nando, has been doing the shopping so far, and I didn't want to entrust that purchase to him. As a result, my feet have been consistently getting drier and more cracked. Once I got my lotion, I couldn't resist putting it on right away. I have on sandals, and didn't want to walk around anymore with my feet “jacked up,” as one of my Facebook friends put it.

When I got to the hotel, I went over to the jacuzzi by the pool and put my feet in the warm water to soften them up a bit. After a brief soak and some lotion, my heels became a bit more passable. I figured it was okay to put lotion on my feet poolside, as it could easily be suntan lotion, right? Plus, I don't thinkanyone noticed.

I ran into my friend in the restaurant, where she was having breakfast with her daughter. I offered to take her daughter to our apartment, and her daughter was happy to go and play with my kids, even though she is a couple of years older than the twins. I suppose playing with them beats hanging around the conference, which is not always endurable, even for adults. I barely got through some of the talks myself today.

I arrived a bit late at the first talk, but heard a fascinating paper that got me thinking about racial dynamics in the US versus the rest of the Americas. In the US, historically, there has been a one-drop rule. This is the idea that a person with one black ancestor is considered to be black. Many scholars have contested the extent to which this “one-drop rule” has ever actually existed. To the extent that it has been in place, it is clearly in decline. People with black ancestry in the US, such as Cubans or Dominicans, do not always self-identify as black, and can be identified as Latino, not black, in some cases. There are also some people with black ancestry who consider themselves to be bi-racial, not black.

In some Latin American and Caribbean countries, there has historically been an intermediary category between black and white – often called mulatto, which has allowed some people of African descent to not identify as black. This is a group of people who does not face as much racial discrimination as blacks, yet does not fully benefit from white privilege. The first paper in this panel was on Jamaicans of mixed ancestry who did not see themselves as “black” in Jamaica, yet who were, in some cases racialized as “black” when the went to the US. The presenter argued that these people experienced color privilege in Jamaica, but not in the US.

Because of the stigma of blackness in the US, many of the people interviewed were not keen on self-identifying as black. The speaker argued that people of mixed race do not experience the same privilege in the US as they do in Jamaica. This is key – the privilege is relative. Mixed-race, light-skinned Jamaicans experience a relative, not a complete, loss of privilege when they move to the US. In some cases, they can avoid the stigma associated with blackness, because of their light skin. Yet, their otherness prevents them from being fully identified as white. This is interesting, because it raises the question of whether or not the US has an intermediary category. Is there a group between blacks and whites in the US? Sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva argues that this group of “honorary whites” is emerging in the US.

Her paper also raised the question of the extent to which mixed-race Jamaican immigrants who do not self-identify as black are disidentifying with blackness or aspiring for whiteness – two different phenomena. A rejection of blackness is not necessarily an identification with whiteness. This also points to the idea that there might be an intermediary group in the US, a group that allows you to be neither black nor white.

The next session bordered on disaster at the beginning. The A/C was blowing hot air. There were not enough seats to accompany the participants. The organizer and two of the panelists showed up late. The other two didn't show up at all. The first speaker gave her presentation in Spanish, with an interpreter. I understand the need to share across borders,linguistic and otherwise, but I would have greatly preferred that the monolingual participants simply had not understood the paper. The practice of the speaker saying one sentence and the interpreter repeating a longer version of the sentence in English resulted in an excruciating experience for me, at least. And, by the bored looks of those in the room, I think my view was shared. Fortunately, the intervention was interesting, and it did get better over time. It helped that someone came in to fix the A/C midway through the talk. The talk went on for 45 minutes! That was a bit excessive in my view.

Once I managed to escape from that room, I went home to eat vegetable curry with rice that Nando had prepared. Then, I came back to the hotel with the children. We casually walked into the hotel, and set ourselves up by the pool again. I sat with Nando and my friend for a while, and then went to a panel that turned out to be people who had not actually done any research, but who were planning to. The first speaker reflected on his high school experience, the second outlined a proposal for research, and the third exposed her own racial identity. This particular combination was not something I found profoundly inspiring. However, it took guts on the part of the presenters, especially the one who went on about herself. Public self-exposure is never easy. I left that panel as soon as it was appropriate to do so and went back to join my family by the pool.

After chillin at the pool with my kids, I brought my friend and her daughter over for dinner for some good eats, wine, and conversation. Another good day has come to an end.


  1. ss but not to become white reminds me of the argument made by Ginatta Calendario in her recent book "Black Behind the Ears" about racial identtiy of Dominicans in the DR and inthe U.S. basically, she argues that for Dominicans and particularly women, a lot of the politics around hair involves becoming more indigenous looking, and in the US more Latina or Hispanic looking, not necessarily looking white.


  2. Hey Tanya. Love the blog. I just found a reference for you in the Original Dancehall Dictionary I picked up last year at Sangster's in New Kingston. It's a slang term:

    Visa: Hard to get, or scarce. (Like a US visa). Example. Ow mi caan si yu. Yu come in lakka visa. Translation. How is it that I rarely see you around anymore?

    --Joan Williams, "Original Dancehall Dictionary" 5th Edition. (n.d. (c. 1996) n.p. (Jamaica) Yard Publications) p. 120.

  3. Amalia: Ginetta's book just won the Latino/a Section at LASA prize! I suppose you knew that. Those deliberations add a new dimension to the ideas of "whitening" versus "de-blackening."

    Hey Jake! that is funny about visa as a metaphor for something scarce. Apparently, there is a bus called "deportee". I haven't figured out why yet!