Un autre regard

[Aqiil Gopee] To echo many of the posts that I have been seeing, I would urge Mauritians to remember that

le Mardi 2 Juin 2020

Aqiil Gopee is a Mauritian writer and poet. His first book, La Pièce was published in April 2012 by Edilivre Paris, after reception of a jury mention in the Prix du Livre d'Or 2011 presided over by Ananda Devi.

-- The Black Lives Matter movement, and the structural changes it strives for, are not and have never been limited to the United States or to the ‘West’. Mauritius was also built on the backs of (African) slaves and the multicultural ‘paradise’ you sell has disturbing roots and maintains a traumatized legacy of subjugation. 

-- White people might represent a numerical minority in Mauritius, but they still hugely benefit from the treasures colonialism begot their ancestors.

They monopolize wealth and land and have thrived within a toxic culture of exclusivity over the centuries. I, and many others, have been called racist for calling them out, but I reiterate that their racism is alive and well, and has been regularly manifested in the ways they interact with other Mauritians and how they ontologize themselves as Mauritians. (I remember how this white woman from Le Morne justified ravishing land from the families living there because that land had allegedly belonged to her father, and how Franco-Mauritians came to her aid saying how they had been the first on the island anyway, and how they hence had more claim to it.

I also remember how a friend and I had conducted this ‘experiment’ and cruised the Facebook profile photos of Franco-Mauritians and noticed that almost 99% of them displayed some form of nautical activity at the beach.

While there is nothing wrong with that, per se, it does testify to the ‘tropical’ culture that they have constructed for themselves and that remains alien to the realities of the majority of Mauritians (who have access to the same beaches, but who somehow tread their sands differently). 

-- Racism is not exclusively performative.

It is important to disburden ourselves of the notion that one is racist only if one overtly displays hatred or contempt toward a racialized individual or group. Racism is primordially structural, and even somebody who has never been prejudiced against an individual of another race can benefit from the racism their ancestors have instituted.

This is also why non-White Mauritians cannot be racist toward white Mauritians. They can be prejudiced, yes, but they remain inhabitants of a system that has historically been about their subjugation, and that still maintains those dynamics (I find it abnormal, for example, that private ‘French’ lycées host more White students – a minority – than they do non-White students, which reflects the imbalance of wealth and privilege in our society).

-- That being said, non-White communities can be racist toward one another, and in Mauritius, they absolutely are.

The anti-Blackness pervading Indo-Mauritian (Muslim and Hindu) culture is probably the most flagrant. Creoles are seen as belonging to the lowest rung of the social hierarchy and are called out for their perceived incompetence, sloth and lack of intelligence. I remember how my Black best friend at Royal College Curepipe (the name of that school and of many other of our ‘star’ schools makes me cringe now), was called out by a random man on the street who congratulated him for being a ‘nation dan royal’ given, again, the imbalance of pedagogic privilege and its inflections on race even in our public school system. Creoles are also more likely to be perceived as criminals, to be arrested and to die in police custody (thinking of Kaya and more recently, Cael Permes). 

-- Colorism is an offshoot of racism.

There are historical reasons for its prevalence in previously colonized societies, and it is so deeply seared into Mauritian identity that even now, writing this as a fresh college graduate, I worry about going out into the sun for fear of darkening my relatively (to other Mauritians) light skin. This brings me to the observation that racism does not only cause interpersonal damage: it also festers within.

To feel less attractive given one’s darker skin tone is an example of intrapersonal racism. I am also thinking of how, back when I was a teenager, I would almost exclusively write stories with white characters, who were blond, blue-eyed, milk-skinned, even though I probably only knew like three or four White people at that point.

I noticed the same trend in the short stories, novels or poems written by many other Mauritian teenagers who name their characters European names and have them lead European or American lives, even though this  is not and has never been our reality. Our literature does not have to be about us, but I believe that there is something fundamentally disturbing about how our first instinct is to internalize the absence of non-White bodies – or of their presence as sidekicks, as peripherals – as normal and to perpetuate this in our writing. 

-- There is no easy remedy to structural racism and the related scourges that have fructified therefrom.

It has taken centuries of slavery and colonization for it to materialize, and it will probably take even more time for it to be properly erased. One of the first steps that we can take, though, is to acknowledge the complicated legacy that has been bestowed upon us – and the perpetuation of which we have participated in – and to stop denying or dismissing the racism upon which Mauritius has been founded and continues to wallow in. We are a multicultural nation, yes, but we will never truly united if we keep avoiding discussions that need to be had, and battles that need to be fought.

Mardi 2 Juin 2020

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