A White Man’s Perspective: Something You Have Already Heard Before

William Shain - Ecuador


November 26, 2018

Not every part of this journey is amazing. Many parts are unforgettable,
but that’s not always a good thing.

The picture above is from a park in Ibarra, the hub city for fellows in my
area. Walking through on my way to lunch, I was caught dead in my tracks.
At first, I searched for a deeper meaning, a message about racism or
corruption or discrimination. I found myself begging the mural to tell me
something, anything, other than the outright racism and painful absurdity
that I initially perceived. I got nothing. This is nothing more than a
vile, awful message to anyone who looks upon this wall.

The more you look at it, the more intentional details you notice. Just take
a minute, soak up every aspect you can.

The deliberate inclusion of stretch marks on the white baby in comparison
to its blatantly malnourished black counterpart. The bubbles in the bath,
the tub itself, and even the rubber ducky horrendously portraying the idea
that not only does the baby have everything it needs, but everything it
wants too. The backgrounds showcasing a beautiful meadow next to a scene
remnant of artistic depictions of Hell. This is immoral. This is wrong.
This is disgusting. The longer I stared the more frustrated I became.

It is easy to forget the privilege I innately hold solely due to the color
of my skin. In this world, I do not worry about facing discrimination. I
walk down the street forgetting that I face significantly less challenges
in life due to something I received merely by chance. For millennia, those
with lighter skin have been praised. Terms such as ‘fairer skin’,
‘bleached’, ‘pale’, and ‘ivory’ have become synonymous with beauty, laying
way to countless acts of shaming others for nothing more than their
skintone.

As I write this from Pimampiro, I must acknowledge that the racism charging
the idealization of lighter skin is not held solely by white people.
Pimampiro, of a primarily mestizo (Spanish term for mixed race) population,
is less than fifteen minutes from the Valle del Chota. This valley has been
home to a black population for nearly five hundred years. Around the year
1532, Jesuit priests brought African slaves to this valley to work on sugar
plantations. This abuse and mistreatment of a population continued for more
than three hundred years, until slavery officially ended in the mid 1800s.
As we very much know however, emancipation hardly meant the end of
maltreatment towards blacks in Ecuador. For more than a hundred years,
black families were incredibly impoverished, turning to the only work
available – working in the fields. Though race relations have started to
change, the vernacular of Ecuadorians has not. With a geographical divide
between the two, the mestizo people of Pimampiro regularly spew racist
comments about their Afro-Ecuadorian neighbors. When explaining that she
lives in Carpuela, a town in the Valle del Chota, my coworker Grace
regularly receives responses asking her if the ‘negritos’ are safe or treat
her well. I have heard comments that the ‘black people down the mountain’
are the ones holding this town back from progression. This morning I even
engaged in a debate with my host mother when she told me it isn’t safe to
go out on Saturdays because black people come up the mountain.

I find intense offense in these remarks and sentiments despite my inability
to fully comprehend what being black entails. Yet, too often has the white
man spoken for others. So, I want to declare myself an ally; not speaking
for others, rather about others. Highlight the amazing contributions of
countless black artists, politicians, and activists have given across the
world. Challenging what others believe with factual evidence and emotional
anecdotes.

We have made amazing strides towards a world with more equality, but this
is something that is far from over. This is a continuous conversation, an
ongoing challenge ignited and carried by the voices of a people that will
not stop until they have received what they deserve: respect.

William Shain