A member of a Government-appointed committee set up 14 years ago to deal specifically with the issue of race relations in Barbados has warned that racism remains a serious problem in the country, and he is putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of the authorities for failing to act on the committee’s recommendations.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY, Bishop Gerry Seale, a member of the 2001 National Committee on Reconciliation, further warned until all ethnic groups talk to, rather than at, each other the already deep-seated prejudices and stereotypes would only worsen.
He was speaking amid heated public debate about the level of response from law enforcement and emergency agencies – including the Royal Barbados Police Force, the Barbados Defence Force, Police Canine Unit, Rapid Response Unit and the Red Cross – to the search for missing Caucasian woman Karen Harris last weekend.
The Rowans Park, St George resident was found about 24 hours later, but a race discussion has ensued, with many Barbadians suggesting that had the missing person been black, the effort would not have been as intense, neither would it have attracted the same level of participation.
However, Bishop Seale, who is also a member of the National Reparations Task Force, suggested that the debate may be out of perspective.
“Given the amount of talking at each other as seen in the social media and in the print media, I wish we could get to the place where we could talk with each other and actually resolve some of these stereotypes, some of these presuppositions, some of these prejudices that we just trot out unthinkingly and which continue to make it difficult for us to build the kind of society that we want to build,” the head of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the West Indies (PAWI) said.
Saying that he regretted that nothing had come of the recommendations submitted by the National Committee on Reconciliation, Seale said the underlying issues that promote racial disparities continue to fester while the measures that could be implemented to assist, go unheeded.
“I was extremely disappointed that it took well over a year after the committee submitted its report for the report to be laid in Parliament, and once laid in Parliament that was the end of that. None of the recommendations saw the light of day as far as I know; there was no serious discussion on implementation, so the underlying issues remain in the society,” the leading cleric stressed.
“Until we are courageous enough to say ‘let us have this conversation with each other . . . let’s have the shouting, if you’ve got start with shouting’, then let’s move to a place where we can talk with each other, begin to understand each others points-of-view.”
Seale acknowledged that Barbadian society was made up of people of African, Asian and European descent “and all have an experience within the society”.
He suggested that as long as people continued to reinforce “prejudices and stereotypes, we are not going to make progress in race relations in Barbados”.
The head of the PAWI grouping also said that the church in Barbados needed to deal with the race issue and not pretend the matter did not exist.