I woke up this morning to comments on the Facebook page of the online newspaper Barbados Today, about half of which were not in favour of the winner being a Caucasian woman. My first reactions to the posts were that I could not believe that in 2016, a vast number of Barbadians of African descent, truly believed that a woman, though born in Barbados and a resident, was unqualified to represent our country at the Miss Universe Pageant, based on the fact that she did not “look like the majority of Bajan women”. Some persons even alluded to her assumed “privileged” upbringing which was thought to have given her an unfair advantage to become the eventual winner.
Having moved from feelings of shock, disbelief, embarrassment and annoyance on the subject, I thought long and hard about the deeper issues which I believe we as Barbadians (of all races) are either too afraid or can’t be bothered to tackle, except for the “9 day wonders” that are argued about on social media.
Why are so many people up in arms about the winner of the pageant? Why were they so angered by recent issues in Barbados which brought the discussion of race to the forefront? Was it a latent reference to the Karen Harris missing person incident? The Bjerkham shooting case? Generally how we continue to live for the most part as separate communities?
We do not trust each other. We do not interact enough. We do not talk to each other enough. We do not understand each other. As a whole, we do not engage each other in meaningful conversations about many things, especially race, in Barbados.
The impact of slavery, colonialism and their trickle-down effect are an oozing sore on the Barbadian landscape. For the most part, we socialise separately, go to school separately, live our lives separately. Based on the establishment of communities and neighbourhoods historically in Barbados, up until recently, we even lived separately. What is the reason for this? Are we afraid of each other? Do we think that some things are better left unsaid?
Even I cannot put my finger on it. I do not know if it is rooted in what our parents teach us at home (e.g. perpetuations of stereotypes which have a historical basis) or whether we simply feel as though we are unable to relate to each other. I do think there is some deep-seated annoyance and/or resentment of White Barbadians because while being in the minority, they are seen to hold much of the historical wealth (cash, properties, business) in Barbados which is is seen to be out of reach of the average Black Barbadian.
The average Black Barbadian will tell you point blank that they, while making up the majority of the population, would never be able to obtain financial assistance from “Uncle So and So” because their uncle simply does not have the wherewithal to assist (or in some cases, may not wish to). However, the average White Barbadian may tell you the same thing and that unlike what may be thought, they have experienced hardship in their lives.
Not so long ago, a White Barbadian woman went missing and was eventually found. We all know the story, her friends and family (a large number of whom looked like her) engaged resources that the families of most non-White Barbadians either did not have or did not imagine could be used, to scale an all-out search for her. We expressed our views about how we hoped that anyone else who went missing would receive the same type of treatment and would be searched for with the same fervour. We hoped that the institutions which assisted in the search would do so equally for everyone. The result? In some subsequent cases of missing persons, while similar searches and companies were engaged to assist, the subject situation has not been matched. Why is this?
I believe that there is much which is misunderstood about the ways we live our lives in our little country. We are quick to tear down without fully understanding the full situation. We live in a country where families, no matter the race, experience financial hardships, relatives who are drug addicts, victims of domestic violence and all kinds of issues. However, for the most part, we see one type of person distraught on the front page of the newspaper or in the court pages. Will we say it is because we are in the majority? Or is it that we should learn to keep our hardships private?
We also have to address the fact that we are very class-conscious and we have a large group of Black Barbadians who are quick to tell you that they do not “go there” or a certain type of event “isn’t their speed” or that they would not be “caught dead” in certain places because of the demographic which is likely to attend. These are the same Black Barbadians who will tear each other down and make disparaging comments about someone being “too black” or praise someone for having “pretty” hair. We also need to look inward at ourselves and seriously get on the road to self-love and help each other to succeed.
Many of us will say or ask, “But we have White/Black friends!” and “Can’t we all just get along?”. Not enough. The issue is much more far-reaching than that. We need to put a stop to avoiding each other after we have left school or the office. Or blatantly not speaking to each other if we happen to cross paths in the supermarket although we spent 5 years in secondary school together and “smizing” with no eye involvement. We need to cut out nonsense statements like, “Not me and that, that is for white people!”
We need to think more about the fact that we would rather remain in our comfortable enclaves or sit behind our computers to spew vitriol about each other when certain incidents occur. We need to be able to say to each other how we feel so that the other side can explain their perspective. We need to own up to the fact that many of us are simply not willing to admit that our history has affected us as strongly as it has and we need to talk about it.
On to the pageant. I didn’t attend and was only familiar with some of the girls, having read a number of their profiles online. However, based on the little I knew of Shannon, my sister and I called her as winner or at least a finalist from the beginning based on her background as a model and generally how she looked. Obviously pageants assess other categories and as I did not attend, I cannot comment on those. She is not the only Caucasian Barbadian to represent us at an international pageant, in the past having been represented by Marielle Wilkie at Miss World in 2012 and Linda Field at Miss World in 1974.
We are not the only country to have sent citizens into an uproar because a pageant delegate has been “too dark” (Trinidad’s Wendy Fitzwilliam, Miss Universe 1998) or “not Japanese enough” (Japan’s Ariana Miyamoto, Miss Japan 2015). We cheer on Chelsea Tuach and Jason Wilson without saying they are too white to represent Barbados so what is wrong with having Shannon represent us? I remember not too long ago Bajans were finding everything horrible to say about a young Barbadian with a “light” complexion and green eyes who “couldn’t sing” and “wouldn’t last long” in the music industry. We all know where that ended.
Best of luck Shannon, there are a whole lot of Bajans who are rooting for you.