Sunday, April 14, 2024

A valid racism?


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WE’RE FAMILIAR with the question: if a tree falls in a forest when no one is around, does it make a sound? In other words, is the idea or concept of sound self-existent or does it depend on the hearer and his or her interpretation?
Some months ago I raised the question of racism in Barbados. This was during the election campaign in the USA when it was the unreserved view of many worldwide that President Barack Obama’s blackness was a major stumbling block for those who opposed him. I was struck by the fact that although individuals of various shades in Barbados were vocal in their agreement that this was indeed the case, there seemed to be a great reluctance among the general populace to discuss any question of racial differences right here in Barbados.
I therefore attempted to raise in two articles the question of race, simply setting out the facts as I saw them: separation between ethnic groups, specifically Blacks and Whites in its various forms. I did receive some feedback confirming individuals’ awareness of the racial divide, but what I was conscious of most of all was the silence.
How was I to interpret this silence? Was I barking up the wrong tree? Was there a tree at all? Had the tree fallen perhaps without anyone being aware, or if a sound had in fact been made, had we moved so far away from the forest that the dim echo of a falling tree made very little impression?
Let me make the point that my raising the race question was not to encourage social divisiveness. To do so would be in total contradiction of the values I continually espouse in my column: neighbourliness and concern for others. One of my reasons for raising the matter is that I was and still am very curious as to how we hope to move forward as a united Barbados with “all hands on deck” if we remain divided in the vein, as appears to be the case. Aren’t others concerned? Why the silence?
In answer to the questions above, it is my sense that for the majority of Barbadians, the question of race is no longer valid. Not in the way that it was in the past. Education, with its opportunities for social mobility and greater economic advancement, has served us well. In addition, Black people in the Caribbean have always had the advantage of being in the majority. We have no sense of being second-class citizens and are blessed with numerous examples among us of successful Blacks whom we can emulate. Generally speaking, we have made great progress and continue to do so.
Globalisation is another powerful force. Young people who study or live abroad and who mix with and marry into all ethnic groups are gradually helping to reconfigure the race question. The Internet alone  is perhaps the greatest solvent of racial, social and cultural barriers.
I have to agree with Peter Wickham that any discussion relative to race  at this time must take on a new perspective. To bring the old rancour into present day Barbadian life is counter-productive. The cold fact is that many Barbadians are concerned with present difficulties and couldn’t care less about the past (not that one would commend such an attitude.)
Their approach is that we cannot change the atrocities of the past nor the bigotry that still remains among some individuals.  What we need to do now is move forward rather than hold on to a history of exploitation and oppression that we should remember mainly to ensure that it could never happen again.
To advance the view that white people should be excluded from the Senate, or any other area of nation building, is an absurdity. Are they not Barbadians with a duty to their country like anyone else? Furthermore, why aren’t we discussing the fact that with all the blood-mixing in this island, the strict division of Black and White is more of a farce than anything else?
I’m not one to believe that something must remain as it is simply because it has always been so. As a people we may deny the tree of racism its life-giving nutrients by refusing to feed our prejudices, biases and other divisive behaviours.It will take time for the tree to fall. But the other option is to keep the tree alive and let its bitter fruit consume us.
Esther Phillips is an educator, poet and editor of BIM: Arts For The 21st Century; email


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