The origin of the term is not clear and several explanations have been proposed. It could be a word from the Igbo language where it describes a European. A local tradition holds that it is derived from the question « eh bé qué ? » (« eh bien quoi ? », similar to "What's up"), an expression picked up from the French settlers. Another explanation is that its origin lies in the term « blanc des quais » ("a White from the quay") as the White colonists and merchants controlled the ports. In contrast, the "Blanc Péyi" is used for White people born in the Antilles and adapted to the creole life who are not descendants of the first White settlers.
The békés represent a small minority in the French Antilles; however, they control much of the local industry. The 2009 French Caribbean general strikes were to some degree aimed against the class difference that exists between the békés and the predominantly Black majority population.
Racist statements in TV documentary
At the beginning of 2009, Canal+ aired a 50-minute documentary called "Les derniers maîtres de Martinique" ("Martinique's Last Masters"), in which a prominent member of the Béké community and one the island's economically most powerful figures, Alain Huyghues Despointes (Chairman of Groupe Alain Huyghues Despointes), is filmed (openly, no hidden camera) making the following racist statement: "When I see families of mixed couples (black and white), their children have different colors. There's no harmony. Some have the same kind of hair as mine [points to his straight hair], others have tightly coiled hair. All in the same family, with different skin colors. I don't think that's right. We have intended to preserve the race." The voice-over adds that members of the Béké community who marry Black people are excommunicated.
- Du Neg nwe au Beke Goyave, le langage de la couleur de la peau en Martinique, Isabelle Michelot« Il est composé du complément du nom -péyi (signifiant local) en construction directe sans connotation économique, par opposition au Béké (où le sème de "riche" est dominant) et au petit blanc (où le sème "pauvre" est dominant), appellation méprisante du blanc qui n’a pas réussi économiquement »
- La Rue Case-Nègres de Joseph Zobel
- "Blacks slam white minority in Martinique strike". Associated Press (International Herald Tribune). 2009-02-13. Retrieved 2009-02-16.
- Les derniers maîtres de Martinique