If you ever stopped to think about it, it would be very disturbing. While that sentence alone isn’t enough to identify what I mean when it comes to Black experiences (a LOT of disturbing things happen to people who look like me), this time I’m talking about the history that’s hidden in plain sight.
As I mentioned in an article on slave cabins on AirBnB, in Barbados we’re surrounded by reminders of our history, even if very few people talk about it.
It’s always been a mystery to me why a country that was a pivotal part of the triangular trade didn’t talk about it more. But then, maybe it was too painful and nobody wanted to be reminded. Still, the signs are there, if you know where to look for them.
Signs like the remains of sugar mills in their distinctive shape and in various states of repair or disrepair. You come across those in the most unlikely places, and it’s a reminder that pretty much everywhere in Barbados was once a sugar plantation powered by enslaved labour. There’s still one occasionally working windmill at Morgan Lewis, though nobody talks much about the people behind the processes.
Signs like the myriad roads that criss cross this small island, weaving between what used to be parcels of land and huge plantations. And signs like the distinctive outlines of those old houses with thick walls and sloped roofs, and the crumbling sugar factories, now almost defunct.
Signs like avenues with tall trees leading to properties that are less glamorous than they once were, but which you know were once plantation great houses, with all that implies. And of course the ones that still remain. For example, my daughter’s school was on Francia Plantation, and the relatively modest house by ancient standards still stands and houses the school’s library and administrative offices. The history is lightly acknowledged but not really talked about.
It’s similar with tourist attractions like Nicholas Abbey and Sunbury Plantation. If you look at what’s on display you can surmise the history, but even when it’s mentioned, they tend to gloss over it. And then there are places that have all but disappeared, like the cabins in St. Lucy, which I remember being there in the 70s.
And of course, the descendants of those who most benefited are least likely to acknowledge this. Many of them stay within their group unless they’re at work or school, and they retain the attitude of superiority (and assumption of Black people’s inferiority) even in 2023 in a Black majority country.
There are some signs that change may be afoot. As I was driving the other day, I saw a sign pointing to a burial ground for enslaved people not far from where I live. I haven’t been yet; my experience from visiting similar locations in other countries suggests that it’s best to be emotional ready for that experience.
And there was a recent announcement that a museum of the history of slavery will be built on the island. I do wonder how many artifacts remain to fill it after so many decades pretending it didn’t happen.
Finally, while I’m talking about Barbados today, remember that the history of enslavement is hidden in plain sight in many, many countries, both those where enslaved people were oppressed and the countries that were responsible for the oppression. Can you find any in your area? If you can, please come back here and share.
Thanks for reading,
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© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2023. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.
I am an anti-racism educator and activist, Co-Founder of Mission Equality the author of “I’m Tired of Racism”, and co-host of The Introvert Sisters podcast.
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I was in Montgomery for the opening of the Legacy Museum. Life changing.
So much of the history and culture of the Caribbean is based on enslavement, invasion and domination. Yet, it must be faced head on.
We must decolonize our minds, and seek the truth of our history. Enough with the #WyteSavior bovine excrement. Face it, work through the pain, and find a way to do better.
I am truly horrified to learn that, according to the press, the government children's home in Guyana has mostly indigenous girls as residents. It's the 21st (expletive deleted) century, and we are still doing this nonsense. Obviously, I do not have full details but given the history of such institutions in other countries, this is deeply worrying.