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“Is There Racism In Barbados?”
A question that keeps coming up
I’ve been launching I’m Tired of Racism in Barbados, and twice in a week I’ve been asked about the need for such a book in Barbados. If you’ve read it, you know I make the links among different experiences of racism globally, and show how even in a country where most people are Black, the tentacles of colonialism and white supremacy are long and deep.
As I tried to answer the question, I thought about the racism people can experience right here in Barbados. Likely, they don’t always name it as such, but it exists nonetheless, along with colorism and other types of discrimination.
In my most recent attempt to answer the question, I thought back to my schooldays. While people of different hues were all together in class, and most would have been appalled had anyone mentioned the R-word, there was still a de facto apartheid that often happened during leisure time. Those who identified as white (unpacking what that means in a Caribbean context is a task for another day) would generally gather in one area.
To some extent I get it: they knew each other, their parents were friends in some cases, and they socialised together outside of school. Nobody ever questioned the history of enslavement that led to that situation. And nobody questioned the “segregation” that ensued. Yes, there were always exceptions, but in a lot of cases that’s how it was. And I’m told, that it still happens to some extent today.
In my parents’ and grandparents’ time and I assume in my great-grandparents’ time too, as they were born to formerly enslaved people, there were areas of Bridgetown and its environs where it wasn’t safe for Black people to go, unless they had official business. And there were places that operated like sundown towns - once the workday was done, your Black behind had better be elsewhere. There were also clubs of all kinds that were once barred to people who look like me. I still have friends who cast a beady eye on the Barbados Yacht Club, to name just one example. Though it’s technically open to all, unless it’s booked for a special event, many of the crowd are of a paler hue.
Even today in Barbados, there are events which feature a predominantly white crowd and those that feature a predominantly Black crowd. There are events that you’ll probably only go to if you’re in a certain income bracket, which are beyond the reach of those with modest means, or unappealing to those who prefer not to go where they’ll feel excluded.
Of course, it’s not only white people who uphold white supremacy. Something that’s happened in Barbados for decades is that Black salespeople or vendors will ignore their fellow Black person when a white person rolls up, assuming that the white person is more likely to spend money. And that’s not old news; I saw it happen just a few weeks ago.
Add to that the white expats and sometimes tourists who come to the island and try to live like the colonial “masters” of the past, and yes, it means it IS possible to experience racism in Barbados and the Caribbean.
When I was interviewed recently about the book, the presenter acknowledged that in Barbados, many find it difficult to talk about these topics. That’s certainly true, but how do we deal with them if we aren’t prepared to even acknowledge both the past, AND that these things still happen today?
So yes, there is still racism in Barbados, along with colorism and discrimination. And, just as there’s been a partial global reckoning on racism, I think we HAVE to start talking about it in Barbados too. What do you think?
Thanks for reading,
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© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2023. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.