When I was a tween, my family vacationed during the holidays in Nassau, Bahamas. One year, I befriended a landscaper at the posh resort where my parents liked to stay. At the time, I was too young to fear friendly strangers, in general, and black men in particular. I'm grateful for that openness, and also that I was curious about a person who came from a culture different than my own. My parents, on the other hand, were very worried for me, and made me promise to “stay away from the staff." Naturally, their warning only encouraged me to interact more with the staff.
The landscaper- whose name I've forgotten - invited me to his home for dinner and to meet his sister and mother. A few days later, I met him and his mother at an open market in Nassau. They purchased some greens and a chicken with its head still attached, then we walked what felt like miles on dirt roads to a part of the island I'd never seen before. The only thing I can compare it to is inner-city neighborhoods I’ve been to where everyone seems to know everyone else and greetings are shouted from front stoops to every passerby. Because of the islanders’ heavy accents and the pigeon English, I barely understood the words going back and forth that day, but it seemed to me that everyone was friendly and happy.
We arrived at an apartment where we were greeted by the sister who had stayed home to watch over the black beans cooking on the stove, and to make the one-bedroom apartment they shared presentable for their guest ... little ol’ me. I watched the mom hack up the chicken, dredge it in highly seasoned (almost red) flour and fry it. My new friend explained that they only had chicken on special occasions, and I qualified as a special occasion. I heard stories about island life and about their holiday traditions including the upcoming Boxing Day parade. I was enthralled by their depictions of the parade - the costumes, floats and music - and inquired if I could attend the parade. I was told not only could I attend, I could participate.
The following week, I stole away from the resort and took a taxi to where the parade route began. There, I was offered my choice of head dresses. I chose a 3- or 4-foot-tall ornately plumaged Phoenix. The instruments to choose from ranged from drums to washboards to hand-carved flutes. And everyone had a whistle. To this day can remember the exact beat we blew with our whistles - ta da-da-ta-da-da-ta.
Years later, my parents would move to Jupiter, Florida. Though their home was “only” 5,000 square feet, they liked to tell friends that they lived in the same gated community as Celine Dionne and Tiger Woods, and boasted of the 60-foot fishing boat parked in their backyard (the Intercoastal Waterway), and Olympic-sized pool where my youngest learned to swim.
This week, I am thinking about the family I met in Nassau - how they fared Hurricane Irma and its aftermath - much more than I'm thinking about the residents of Jupiter. Those in Jupiter evacuated on private planes or helicopters and have second homes to stay in until power and normalcy is restored. And while they may have lost material possessions, and that is tragic, they have homeowners insurance that will pay to replace most of what was lost in the storm.
The family I met in Nassau most likely weathered the storm in place. They also lost material possessions, most of which probably were not insured. Their jobs may go away because the resorts where they work will have been destroyed. And they will not eat chicken, much less have power, for many, many months to come.
This picture I’ve painted you? It is what people are talking about when they refer to “white privilege.”