This is a guide for my family and friends about my life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cape Verde, Africa. I teach English as foreign language to high school students in Boa Vista, Cape Verde. Also as a disclaimer, the comments expressed here are solely of the author and do not represent the United States Peace Corps, the American Government, or any other governing body.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

I think I would like to talk about racial issues this time. I do not want to sound racist at all, and it is by no means my intention to offend anyone, I just want to tell it like I see it. And it might be a long blog, so if you're not interested in this type of subject, then skip on my friend.

Briefly: The Cape Verde islands are located just under 400 miles from Senegal on the west coast of Africa. Our country is technically part of the continent of Africa, just as Madagascar is. As I have mentioned before, the people here do not look typically African. There is heavy European intermixing, especially in the northern islands, and here on Boa Vista as well because of the tourism and European business venturists. We have a very strong influence of Italians and Portuguese, and there is a lot of interracial marriages. So in this sense a lot of the Africa people here look like African Americans; meaning they still appear with African influence, but lack the dark color that is stereotypical of African appearence. And then there are people here who have immigrated from Senegal and Guinea-Bassau and even Nigeria. You can always single these people out. The color of their skin is very dark, and they are strikingly black. These continental countries have experienced little interracial mixing, almost none and therefor are true black people. As I mentioned before, they are immigrants, and so work jobs that a typical immigrant works in any country, and are therefore slightly poorer than most of the rest of the "Cape Verdean" population. They live in a seperate part of town, that resembles a slum-like little village and mostly keep to themselves.

Now to most of us (namely most volunteers and Americans in general I would hope) race has long since been a major cultural issue. There is, of course, the occassional off-color comment, or the small joke among close friends (even multi-racial close friends). But the kind of racism that I have seen on this island alone is completely appalling. I have to say that I am wholly surprised at the level and severity of the racism that is freely expressed on a daily basis. I think it stems from the idea that Cape Verdeans don't really consider themselves 'African' in a sense. They seem to have forgotten that, although they are not technically on the continent, their country is part of this area of the world. The continental Africans, those from Senegal and Guinea are often scorned or made fun of. A friend of ours who works at the bar accross the street is from Guinea-Bassau and when we go to the disco, he cannot get any girl to dance with him. Not becuase he is an unattractive person, but because he is "African". Yesterday I was sitting around at the Youth Center with Leland and the five other people he works with there. One lady, Vilma, is probably the lightest in skin color of the five of them. She may be fairer than I am. It looks like she maybe has some Brazillian influence (also very common around here). She is well-educated, has travelled to both Portugal and Brazil, I believe, and is university educated and works with computers. Iva, the director of the Youth Center, made a comment yesterday that we should all go to the continent of Africa for a vacation. Everyone who works at the Youth Center should pick a few countries like Senegal and Guinea and travel around for a few weeks or so. The others were discussing it and Vilma chimed in, "No, I don't want to go to black Africa. Let's go to Brazil!" I hope my mouth was not too wide open when I looked at her.

But that is the kind of mentality that is so apparent here. Their background is so diverse, that I believe they think themselves better than everyone else. It's ironic that the mixed-race people should find themselves for once feeling above the pure-blood race. Very un-Harry Potter :) I was trying to think today if I could complare this mentality with any that most people in the world are familiar with, but I just couldn't think of another instance where this was the case. So I thought I would share this little social conundrum with you all.


Blogger HIStoryInTheMix said...

Dear Nadia

Thanks for sharing this, its interesting, and quite shockin too, especially if we're not used to it.

Love Poonam

21 December, 2006 21:28

Blogger Indiana Jonesing said...

Hi, and thank you for posting this. I am an American born Cape Verdean and can tell you that the attitude of racism you are witnessing is a product of colonialism. You will find the same attitudes in the Caribbean islands and India as well. Unfortunately, it is not at all uncommon in countries or islands which were inhabited by whites and where the races have mixed. The people born there learn that "lighter is better". The attitude is also prevalent in the U.S.

Be well.

25 December, 2006 23:01

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a American born Cape Verdean and I consider myself mixed not black. The reason for this is because we as Cape Verdean's whether we like it or not we have both cultures European & African. Race isn't skin color it is species/human. For example a species of apes (chimpanzees,gorilla, and baboon) there isn't any race it's different cultures that make them difffernt. They can mate and have monkey babies. If a human being and a monkey mate they can never have a baby, and for those that think we come from apes then why hasn't any ape evolved yet to human. Scientist have said apes has been on earth before man.

28 October, 2007 16:24


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