Wednesday, April 24, 2024

PETER WICKHAM: Voluntary racism

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IN FEBRUARY 2007, on the heels of the report of the Committee on National Reconciliation chaired by Sir Keith Hunte, the NATION commissioned a poll of public opinion which touched on issues of race. The poll spoke to the public’s perception of race relations in 2007 specifically as it related to:

• The state of race relations in Barbados,

• National perceptions about the ownership of wealth in Barbados, andz

• The extent to which the public is (was) interested in discussing race and economic ownership.

In the first instance close to half of Barbadians believed that we did not have harmonious relations between the races, while almost one-third believed that we did.

Running counter to the general trend were the demographic categories of race and age. At that time, Anglo-Barbadians were more inclined to think that race relations in Barbados were harmonious, while Afro-Barbadians generally thought they were not. Younger people were less likely to believe that race relations were problematic.

Beyond perceptions, the poll used racial diversity among friends as a proxy for the state of race relations since friends are almost always a result of accidental encounters.

In a place like Barbados where Afros are in the majority, one would assume that both Afros and Anglos would have a majority of Afro friends, but this was not the case in 2007. A comparatively smaller number of Anglos reported having a majority of Afro friends, while more of these same persons had a majority of Anglo friends.

This finding was curious since it implied that Anglo-Barbadians “go out of their way” to meet Anglo-Barbadians to the extent that 69 per cent of them reported having a “majority” of Anglo friends, even though less than ten per cent of Barbadians were Anglo at that time. That major finding therefore supported the assertion that “voluntary racism,”  a phrase coined by the Hunte reoprt, exists in Barbados.

The other issue probed was that of economic ownership in Barbados and the extent to which Barbadians felt that “white” Barbadians owned a disproportionate share of the wealth here and the extent to which people felt this issue was even worth discussing.

In this regard, 68 per cent of Barbadians believed that “whites” owned a disproportionate share of wealth here and only 35 per cent felt the issue was “worth discussing” at that time.

Although this study is eight years old, it presents a clear picture of race relations which helps to understand the reactions to the recent missing person pursuit. A majority of white Barbadians responded to calls from the lady’s family for help and this is entirely consistent with the fact that, as a white woman, her friends would be most concerned about her well-being and most inclined to look for her. It is, however, difficult to explain the response of the authorities who seemed more anxious than normal to start looking and deployed resources in that search which have heretofore not been seen locally.

That response is, however, entirely understandable in the context of the appreciation of economic power and influence illustrated in the 2007 survey. Both then and now we have an almost exclusively black political leadership which appears to respond more readily to the minority white concerns and this instance illustrates the extent to which our authorities are simply following the lead of their political leaders.

In my own opinion (which I am now being encouraged to write from), the response of friends and family is reasonable and moreover is something from which the Afro majority in this country can learn.

I am, however, entirely unsatisfied with the explanations given by the authorities for their disproportionate response to this missing person who was clearly more special to them than dozens others who have disappeared before and since.

As is the case with the disproportionate Anglo influence in the economic sector, I would assert that this state of affairs is entirely “our” fault.

The economic ascendancy of white Barbadians could only happen with our cooperation, in much the same way that we cooperated to find the missing lady. If then there is racism here, it is entirely voluntary and something about which we should perhaps not complain.

Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES). Email:  peter.wickham@caribsurf.com

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