How To Be Blackety Black in Panama: Part Two

Welcome back. The response to Part One of my Slave Descendant's Guide to Panama advice on things to know before visiting/relocating to Panama tells me that my experiences are not singular. I stress again that I feel compelled to pass on the good, bad, and ugly, specifically from the Black perspective, because these types of jewels ye shall not find in retirement guides intended for pasty Floridians with pensions.

Let's dive the hell on in, yes? Yes.

3. Patience is essential. 

Look. Nobody cares that you are in a hurry except you. Your precisely timed procrastination and your pressing appointment matter only to you. Yamila in the Farmacia Arrocha has a text conversation infinitely more important than anything you could possibly need. Expecting a delivery or installation and you've been quoted a two-hour window for anticipated arrival? Better clear your schedule for the day. Let's just say that critical thinking skills are...Let's just say that critical thinking skills are...not...well, I mean...basically there is no Panamanian equivalent of "sense of urgency." Figure out a coping method to get you through--pinching yourself, meditation and deep breaths, a touch of that Lindsay Lohan in your nose--and learn to deal with the daily injustices of life. When depending on a taxi to reach your destination, know the following: 

Panamanian Taxi Law 33

Taxis are often communal. Santiago wants to find one or two other people going in the same direction as you to make the most out of his trek, a service for which you should be bursting with gratitude. Similarly, if your destination isn't in the general direction of where he is heading, even if sans passenger, you're out of luck and expect the Taxi Driver Finger Wag of Death, which, in English, roughly translates to "Fuck You."

Panamanian Taxi Law 34

You are at the mercy of the driver. Is it raining? Is traffic heavy? Is it late at night? Are you Black, threatening, and murderous? All worth considering when planning your journeys.

Panamanian Taxi Law 35
If sharing a taxi with another passenger, which you have no say in, selfish motherfucker, don't be surprised if you're detoured elsewhere before being dropped off. You will not be asked; You will be told. Maybe.

In general, you're going to have to chill the fuck out. It took me almost 20 months to realize that. It took me retreating to New Orleans, falling into an amazing life of excess and languor, to be able to cope and not hit spinning back kicks across the checkout counter. Down here in the Platano Belt, if nothing else, you will learn to relax. Because nobody cares, broham. 

4. People will never guess that you're American.
Me, the Brazilian, Dominican, African dance and fitness instructor.
This isn't necessarily a distinction you will ever find yourself craving. When I taught CardioDance classes at Powerclub, I was Dominican, Cuban, or Brazilian, "because Black people dance there." I've been African, Jamaican, Haitan, Nigerian and everything else. American is never an option. As recently as this week, a taxi driver pegged me as a Jamaican doctor, unable to believe I was American, because a. I wasn't white and b. he thought the only Black people in America were Barack Obama and rappers. Yesterday, a friend's student assumed she was "from Africa because people in Africa have brown skin," not realizing that we come from other places. I've learned that many often associate Whiteness with America. A few have even told me that "only white people are Gringos."

I've even noticed a difference in some panhandlers and street vendors. I've been sitting on the patio of a popular restaurant and observe them skip me to approach lighter diners with the few English words they know. Not that I'm complaining, but it shows the true effectiveness of the White is Right campaigns I mentioned before.

A necessary distraction.

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5. People may assume you are "blessed" or are "selling" something.
I can admit to not entirely rejecting the role of sex machine people loved to place on me in the beginning. As an athletic Black man with locs who was for a time allergic to anything but jock straps and Timbs tank tops, people I'd encounter had surprisingly developed ideas about what I was into or capable of. 

On my first night out alone to a club in Panama City, a beautiful Colombian boy told me his name after sliding his hand in my pants to break the ice, assuming I was smuggling a table leg in my underwear. We later went home to bake cookies and shit. In Spanish. This is the slight upside to many people having limited intimate interactions with us. I've been the First Black Screw more often than expected, bestowed with some of the same hypersexualization found often in interracial porn, where the Black savage wreaks Black havoc on his victim's orifices. And for a split second good while, I reasoned, "Fuck it. I'll be that." Who am I to disappoint the curious? And besides, a worshiped dick is a happy dick, no? Assumptions about the Black man's sexual prowress are not uncommon. It does get old, but indulging people on occasion, never hurt anyone. Because I'm a nice person.

Costume Party in Casco Viejo. Me, as "El Black Person."
The night of the above photo, at a costume party at Relic Bar in Casco Viejo I was approached by a pair of intoxiKaties, not pictured. "We want a Black guy," they propositioned whitely with bubbly entitlement. I was one of three Black dudes in attendance. The others didn't exactly scream HEALTHY CHOLESTEROL LEVEL VIRILE VAGINA VANQUISHER, so I suppose I respect their discernment. No word on if they found the the two-on-one thrashing they were seeking. 

For women, though, the sensation is quite different. I know more than a handful of Black women here who have been asked, "How much?" in far more vulgar words by a thirsty fucknugget, while minding their own luscious Black business. Shocker #1: There is some fetishization toward Black women here (and everywhere). Just among my friends, I've heard of taxi drivers caressing and raving about a Black woman's skin, asking for a kiss among other things, overcome by her radiantly radiant mahogany radiance. I've heard of men being drawn, apparently uncontrollably so, to glorious, chocolatey curves, complimenting, propositioning, and gesturing, caught up in her enrapturing chocolatey rapture. 

Shocker #2: Street harassment is a thing here. These are, after all, still brown men. Dudes say some pretty vile shit to women. And don't you have the nerve to be sexy in addition to merely breasted. A rocket launcher Tough skin is mandatory. Construction workers are notoriously pathetic in this regard. For this reason, I question why spray bottles of acid middle fingers are not more of a thing here.

6. You, Black man, are a suspect. Because.
Two weeks ago, while speaking to the owner of the fitness studio (in Paitilla, a whiter nicer part of town) where I used to teach, two police approached to ask her if she was alright. How do they know she wasn't preaching to me about preparing for Jehova's return and that IIIII wasn't the one melting inside? Such is life here. Earlier this year, on a bus ride to Portobelo with friends, the bus was stopped at a checkpoint and ONLY Black men were forced off the bus to be searched and questioned. One rider even opened her Black ass mouth to say, "Sí, es para la seguridad." (Yes, it's for safety.) 

I have been placed in the back of a police truck because they questioned my status in the country and my entrance stamp inside my passport was smudged. 

Last week, a friend and fellow teacher, well-dressed and 20 steps from his office's door, was arrested and held for seven hours because police questioned whether his MacBook, purchased five years ago, was actually his, as he didn't have a receipt for it. Of course this was legal as positive Black images on reality television. 

I was once stopped and asked to exit a taxi, as the Black motherfucker inquired about my profession. 

Me: I'm a dance teacher.
Him: Oh, you teach passa-passa

He then insisted on calling the gym I was heading to teach to confirm my employment and that I was "okay."

And other such fuckery.

As much bullshit as I've encountered, it never stings less. That urge to Black out and hit these motherfuckers with an uppercut never subsides. I tend to become indignant when dealing with these uniformed subhuman shit-eaters. My few instances of rage here can all be attributed to the degenerates with guns. And because I, a Black man, am automatically a suspect, I stress that, even though offenses are pulled from the sky, and searches are selective and often venture into illegal territory, no Black man needs to give these ill-trained swamp donkeys any additional power over them. In short: don't give them a reason to celebrate. Don't get busted with anything you need not have. Don't let your visa expire or wander out without identification and walk up on a random "checkpoint." Don't do it. As my friend Bintu summarized recently: "Don't have what they expect you to have."

As police impunity and barbarity, along with widespread, seemingly intentional, culturally sanctioned institutional ineptitude are all realities here, know your rights. Police here hate to be outsmarted or corrected. Reminding them what is illegal or threatening to call your attorney friend (which every coloured should have) can occasionally de-escalate a situation.

Women, unless you're a sex worker, in which case you face sexual assault and deportation if an "agreement" can't be reached, are rarely bothered by police. Still, don't be brown without identification. Not worth the risk. There is virtually NO recourse for their thuggery. So just be mindful. 

Okay. That's enough for now. Check back tomorrow for the good parts of life down here in Panamaland.

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  1. Your insight is Epic.

    - and yes I'm in the Bronx.

  2. Treated! Epic! Salute. She should go get some of that purple drank and trip! Take that instrospective trip.


  3. Los policias en Panama no solo la cogen contigo por ser negro. La verdad es que con cualquiera. una vez golpearon a un doctor y el no era negro. El abuso policial está de mal en peor en Panamá. La vez pasada miembros del SENAN mataron a un pescador y todavia no se sabe el porqué .


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