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Being Caribbean is amazing! The food, culture, music and people are awesome and I couldn’t be prouder of my West Indian roots. British Caribbeans are having a moment right now. The 70th anniversary of Windrush, the right to remain review for West Indians in the UK , and the upcoming Notting Hill Carnival mean that Caribbean affairs are on the tip of many people’s tongues. Colleagues and friends who’ve not paid much attention to the Caribbean isles previously, are suddenly planning visits to carnival and attending Windrush events. But, with attention comes queries and for every insightful question received, there will be a million more ridiculous ones. Here are ten of the best, yet worst questions I’ve been asked about being a person of Caribbean descent.
- Are you Jamaican?
This is my favourite question by far and yet I get it at least a couple times a month from people who have no prior knowledge of my heritage. There are dozens of Caribbean nations, so I really don’t understand why some people assume that every West Indian person is from Jamaica! I have friends and colleagues who, despite knowing that my family hail from Barbados, STILL call me Jamaican.One pal said to me recently, “I always recognise your car because of the Jamaican flag in the window”. All I could do was give her side-eye because, sitting proudly in my vehicle, is, in fact, a Bajan flag. Get it right people!
- You must be like, so laid back right?
Well, I was feeling pretty laid back, until you asked me this question. I’m not sure where this particular stereotype came from, but I wish it would go away. Yes, I am a pretty chill person, as are many of my friends and family – but that doesn’t mean we laze around all day, sipping coconut water, fishing, and saying “yeah mon” (despite what some mainstream rum brands would have you believe).
- What’s the difference between Barbados, Bermuda and the Bahamas?
Erm… so, on a basic level, they’re just three separate countries that start with the same letter. Surely, if people can remember the difference between Austria & Australia or Sweden and Switzerland they can manage to differentiate between these three very unique islands?!
- You know I think Caribbean men/women are really hot right?
Okay, granted, this one is often posed as a compliment. Although we are a pretty fly looking group of people, to comment on that particular fact is crass. It’s also erroneous given the diverse range of physical attributes found across the Caribbean. Plus, it’s not cool to fetishize people based on their ethnic origin, so all of you Caribbean lovers out there, please stop giving us the eye in the club when Peter Andre’s mysterious girl comes on.
- Do you eat jerk chicken?
I can vividly remember the first time I got asked this question. I was 11 years old and visiting a friend’s house for dinner. “I love Jamaican food, does your mum cook a lot of jerk chicken?” my pal’s mum asked emphatically. I remember visibly baulking, unable to hide my offence “Well, no because we’re not Jamaican!” I had snapped back.
The Caribbean has a wide range of flavours and delicacies, from spicy Jamaican fare, to the Indian-inspired dishes of Trinidad, and the Creole delights of Haiti. Although we can jerk just about anything, we can throw down a lot more than that!
- Do you wash your hair?
This is one I’ve gotten for years. I choose to wear my hair in long locs’ (dreadlocks), as do many other Caribbean men and women. For me, it’s a symbol of keeping my hair natural, and for many of us, it’s also a representation of spiritual or religious beliefs. In the West, dreads have been largely culturally appropriated, particularly by alternative groups, which has led to locs being associated with unwashed hippy-chic vibes. I believe this is what has led to people (mistakenly) believing that loc’d up individuals don’t wash their hair. Every time I’ve been asked, I’ve been appropriately offended. I mean who would want to live with eternally unclean hair?! So, for the record, I own both shampoo and conditioner and yes, I do use them regularly as do most other loc’d up Caribbean’s.
- I love Caribbean accents. Can you do one?
So, as previously stated, there are a large number of islands in the Caribbean ,and as such there are many languages spoken. Common idioms are English, Spanish, French, Dutch as well as other local creoles, dialects and lesser-known languages. To think we all speak with the same sexy Caribbean lilt is kind of odd. I mean there’s no such thing as a generic European accent so, it’s pretty much the same thing.
- Why do you have a Scottish/Irish/English surname if you’re Caribbean?
I always try to break this one down as simply as possible and strip it back to basics, as the answer can be somewhat distressing. I simply explain in a nutshell that during the slave trade, the traditional names of enslaved people got replaced with the names of their owners, and voila, we’ve got a whole bunch of Caribbeans with European-sounding surnames. It might not be pretty but it’s the reality of a dark part of West Indian (and British, as well as a whole host of other countries’) history and ancestry.
- Do you need sun cream?
This one always gives me the LOLs. Being of Caribbean origin does not simply exempt you from being able to develop skin cancer. The sun’s rays do not swerve around us. Yes, we may have a higher concentration of melanin, but sadly for us, our skin is not made out of bionic, sun-proof casing. We’ve not evolved that far (yet!).
- Can you get me some weed?
Why do people take a look at me and figure that I can get them some green? Even if I could (which I can’t, because I don’t smoke) I would not hook you up, because your presumptions are so exasperating. Marijuana is illegal in most Caribbean nations, and legal in the coffee shops of the Netherlands, private areas in Spain and nine of the US states (for recreational use), yet we never consider the people of those countries as pot-heads.
As ridiculous as these questions are, the fact that I’ve received all of them more than once, shows that some stereotypes die hard. So, to all my Caribbean people out there, stay strong this carnival season! Field off any unnecessary questions with grace and if any inquiries get too much, just take a deep breath, step back and remember “everyting irie”.