Life for a West Indian Woman in New York

January 29, 2008
By Samantha Randolph, Brooklyn, NY

My great-aunt, Beatrice has gone through many of life's hardships once coming up to Manhattan of New York City in the spring of 1952. Now at the age of ninety-four, she was most obliged to share one of her many experiences as a West Indian woman in one of the metropolitan areas of the United Sates with me. One of her many struggles did not deal with racism at all, throughout her time in New York, not one Caucasian person were calling her any form of racial slurs. In fact she used to work for a Caucasian couple in Long Island in the late 1960's. Surprisingly she had it a little easier compared to many African-Americans in the Deep South during those days. The situation that she did not find so easy to accomplish overtime, and still remembers to this day, was in the form of prejudice. An unfounded hatred, fear, or mistrust of a particular ethnicity, social status, religion, or nationality that has befallen on her since 1957 when she was living on 135W Street, 106th street near 110th street through 145th street on 7th avenue, dubbed " the Renaissance" by my great-aunt. It was where the Labor Day parade normally took place, where people from all over gathered to see the sights, fun, and festivitie, and where she was the object of scorn, mistrust, and hate for female African-Americans who were born and raised in the United States. Why? Because they simply didn't like black women from the Caribbean Islands, especially my great-aunt who immigrated to New York from the island of St. Lucia. " People from the West Indies eat only fish heads and chicken feet" and " West Indians only like themsleves" was whatthe women would say predominantly about West Indian women. As shwon the hatred stemmed greater from black women, the male African-Americans would often poke fun at West Indians, but most of the time they would keep to themsleves. An incidient where they would not keep to themselves was the time when her late husband had once worked with these same men in a car wash in New Jersey. They had taunted her husband, saying cruel things to him that he should cross at a " red light". Her husband came to America a few years after my great-aunt, therefore, he didn't have a full grasp of traveling throughout New York and New Jersey, believed them. Due to their teasing of him, he also felt that she was leading him on when she, having full experience of traveling in New York, told him not to corss at a "red light" because another car could come around the corner at anytime, strike, and kill him. As she told me, not only did a black woman from Aerica tell these horrible things to a West Indian woman as well, they didn't want anything to do with them. Furthermore in her story, a couple of incidents that have happened to her, accoring to my great-aunt, proves how much an ordinary black woman living in New York shows no hospitality towards women of their own color, who are not from America. One particular incident was when Mrs. Skepple, who moved throughout a lot of apartments due to different jobs on Manhattan's upper west side, was taking her usual route to buy fish and vegetables around 9th and 42nd street by taking the 11 bus. While trying to get off the bus with the 4- wheeled shopping cart that she alwys carried to assist her in her shopping, she tripped and fell down . A black lady who was behind her the whole time saw what had happened and left the scene without even stopping to elp her, thankfully two men from a nearby restaurant came to her aide. Another incident was an encounter with a woman who my great- aunt knew personally and who lived not that far from where my great-aunt use to live during the two incidents. Mrs. Skepple used to love on 62W 116th street and Mary Jones, that was the woman's name, lived on Manhatan Ave on 106th street. Mrs. Skepple's building was in the middle of 106th street. This incidnet happened on a Sunday, every Sunday, my great-aunt would take the bus on Columbus Ave to go to church and Ms. Jones would take the same bus from Manhattan Ave and walk by Mrs. Skepple without dso much as a warm greeting. They both attended a local Catholic church, the location Mrs. Skeppple has forgotten a long time ago. The priest, Father Armon, believed that a Chrisitan-hearted person should show kindness and hospitality towards one another with a greeting of any kind. Ms. Jones, trying to show how much of a " Chrisitan" she was tried at one point to shake Mrs. Skepple's hand as she walked across the aisle, but my great-aunt refused due to the way Ms. Jones constantly pretended to never notice her anywhere outside of church. As expected Father Armon, despite the mistrust between blacks and West Indians, did not like this outcome. " They didn't like West Indians, they feared them, hated them, and didn't trust them just like whites didn't like Negroes in the south" Mrs. Skepple says to me. Later on, it turns out , as she explains to me that the main reason that African-American women were so prejudice towards West Indian women was because they were jealous of the fact that the West Indin women had men that were supportive and hard-working , they had traits that the African-American men in New York apparently, and to the disgust and disapproval of the females, did not. As such the women had turned their anger and hatred towards West Indian women and not the men. In some ways it could be possibly be similar as to what happened down in the South, that maybe the whites down there were probably jealous that they had to share their law system with the blacks and wnated to handle everything themselves without the interference of others. Maybe back then, the FArican-American women wanted their families to handle themselves respectivley and with care since they have problems of their own, facing small racist comments every day, and they too didn't want no one not even people of their own race doing what they think a true American should do. But since the black men didn't cooperate and that people, especially of another country and of their own skin color, had all family members cooperating with each other, possibly the only thing that the Afican- American females could do to " try and bring a positive aspect to their situations" was to humiliate and taunt West Indian women. How did my great-aunt know about how the African males were back then? She had happened to work as a cleaning lady for a man that worked in a popular newsstand in the 60's, Shrugue was his name, his surname to be exact. Shrugue had made a survey to show how many black males were and were not lazy and how many black women were working of providing for their families. The exact number is unknown but it was proven that since the black males didn't see any good reason to work and just sat around all day, the women simply wanted nothing to do with West Indian women but leaned in favor towards the West Indian males. Now, in 2007, all has been said and done, racism and prejudice still occurs, and my great-aunt now lives in a project for the elders on 135th street is still disappointed with the fact that African Americans make up excuses to hate or dislike each other. She feels that not many Negroes have been helping each other out as often as they should and should stand behind positive leaders like Oprah Winfrey and Condoleeza Rice , my great-aunt's role models, and help them out in any way rich or poor, capable of working or not. She also feels that Condoleeza Rice should gain more respect from Africna Americans becuase Democrats, as Mrs. Skepple feels, won't give her that position as secretary of State as they are no good themselves ( all according to her) And yes, my great-aunt is a full- fledged Republican, recieved letters and mesages from the President himslef, but back to the matter at hand. " Emmitt Till must be turning in his grave with joy o see the positions that Rice and Supreme Court judge Thomas have for life" she beams. Emmitt Till is one of the many victims whose lives have been destroyed due to the feud between blacks and whites in the South. Though still disappointed in the behaviors of many black societies she is happy that many have rose to a higher position and seek and perform many big changes in the world. Now as I concluded my interview with her she has given me some advice of her own, and one is to read, " you learn a lot when you read" alot about the strengths and weaknesses of the world, about the ongoing war of prejudice, and more importantly to see past the exterior of other people may it be their race, religion, or nationality into their interiors and to try and help them with their own weaknesses.

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