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Becoming Anti-Racist in Barbados: Q&A – Noteworthy

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There are countless ways racism impacts people on a personal and systemic level in Barbados.

Unfortunately, we don’t have easy access to the same statistics that other countries do, but here are some things which several Bajans have shared as part of their experiences below:

As you read these points please remember that just because you may not have experienced or seen these things first hand does not mean that they do not happen or are untrue.

1. Unequal access to wealth and resources.

White people as a group, through early property ownership, have been able to invest, save, share, receive loans, start businesses, and build their income over generations in ways not available to Black people until recently. Many Black Bajans report having issues to this day receiving business loans, so they are unable to start businesses at the same rate.

As is often repeated, “Money makes money.”

While Black Barbadians have never been financially compensated in any way for being enslaved, the white slaveholders were provided financial compensation at the end of slavery. They were given sums on a case by case basis. You can look up your last name here and see if your family received money they were able to invest in themselves, which benefits you today. Note that Black families were often forced to take on the last names of those who enslaved them, but did not receive this compensation.

Financial stability and community safety nets translate into health, education, power, security, and more which white Bajans of all financial backgrounds benefit from.

2. Unequal access to opportunities.

White and white-passing people are often more likely to receive “managerial” level positions, help one another find jobs, and more. Additionally, they are more likely to hold overseas citizenship which helps with access to overseas education, employment, health care, and they are able to go overseas without worrying about police brutality, racism in education, health care or from everyday citizens.

3. Unequal baseline physical and mental health

In addition to present-day wealth impacting access to healthcare, people who were enslaved did not benefit from basic levels of health care. Mental and physical health issues can be passed down through multiple generations and is being studied in a field known as epigenetics.

4. Unequal access to justice, safety, law.

  • Treatment and access to courts and justice.
    Due to their wealth and influence, white people are better able to have favourable outcomes in courts of laws, resulting in them being less likely to be prosecuted, serve time in prison, and more. White people in Barbados often have the means and know-how to settle out of court, resulting in clean records which make it easier to find employment and more, even when they do commit crimes.

Additionally, Black people often fear reporting racist incidents to those in authority, because they expect to be disregarded or even punished (and often are). White people are able to report discrimination with the comfortable knowledge that an authority will probably support them in some way.

“My clients are being taken into police custody and held without charge for days on end and moved around different police stations. That is unacceptable”.

Injustices are absolutely committed by local police particularly in low-income communities, Attorney Lalu Hanuman explained in the Barbados Advocate article ‘Not Enough’ by Tre Graves on June 14th 2020.

Due to the connections that most white people have with other affluent people, white skin often serves as automatic protection against police misconduct because it is recognized that there will more likely be repercussions. In 2015, Selwyn Knight, a Black Bajan, was murdered by a police officer who remains out on bail and still has not been tried in court, something which seems unlikely to have occurred if the victims were white.

  • Treatment by citizens.
    Many black Bajans report receiving threats from white Bajans in private and on social media, particularly when they talk about racial injustices. While this is deplorable on many levels, white people may feel they are able to do so knowing even subconsciously they have access to better treatment in the courts.

While it is probably less common than it is in the US, black people are still more likely to have the police called on them for simply being seen in a white/affluent neighborhood in Barbados despite having done nothing wrong.

5. Subtle and overt racism about physical appearance and acceptability.

Everything from how hair can be worn in professional and academic settings, to referring to adult men and women as “boys” or “girls”, lighter skinned and mixed people being praised for their beauty, while darker skinned people might hear that they are beautiful ‘for a black girl’ etc.

BLP parliamentarian Dr Sonia Browne shared something many of us are familiar with in Barbados Today regarding one of her patients, “.. who has two sons and she favoured the lighter-skinned one, saying he was more handsome.” This message is repeated in many ways in our society.

6. Differing levels of service

Ever waited a long time to get served in Barbados? Yes, we’re known for that! But white people often are given special treatment, whether served faster, or with a higher level of service, than Black people.

In fact, even Barbados Labour Party parliamentarian Dr Sonia Browne is not immune, sharing in Barbados Today: “When I was building my house I went to buy tiles. I walked all over the store, no one came to my assistance, but then a white woman came in and the attendants rushed towards her.”

7. Segregation.

Well into the 1960’s there were regulations which did not allow Black Barbadians and White Barbadians to occupy the same spaces, and even though these are no longer legal, the impacts continue to this day.

Whether intentional or not, white people often socialize mainly with white people, support mainly white businesses, go to ‘whiter’ schools, go to white gyms, live in white neighborhoods and so on. This limits everyone’s success and limits the potential of all races. It also means that white Bajans are often somewhat oblivious to the realities and issues facing other Bajans because we become comfortable in our bubble.

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