While Barbadians have been joining the rest of the world in Black Lives Matter protests, it has been suggested that instead of “mimicking” what the United States and others are doing, people here must speak out on issues that are unique to this island and seek to address them.
That was the view expressed by panellists who took part in a Barbados TODAY discussion on Race Relations in Barbados over the weekend.
Political scientist Peter Wickham contended that in Barbados the problem was more about class than race.
“Black Lives Matter is an important opportunity for us to audit our race relations, but unlike the United States, our issue is more class than race related, since the majority of our businesses here are black-owned or managed but there is still the perception that white people control the bulk of the island’s capital,” he said.
Attorney-at-law Lalu Hanuman, agreed, saying: “In my view, race is superficial, it is more of a class thing. For example, in Nigeria, where black people are in the majority, two per cent of the population control 80 per cent of that country’s wealth, and if we look at Barbados, 75 per cent of our population, whether they identify as white or black, are of mixed race when you check their bloodlines.”
With that in mind, Wickham and the other panelists said the idea of a Blackout Tuesday, which is aimed at supporting black-owned businesses, should be viewed in a different context in Barbados.
“The conversation here should be, how do we help small businesses grow, so ideally any such idea should focus on entrepreneurs now getting started, such as those people who went into business for themselves during the recent pandemic,” said secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association Sulieman Bulbulia.
Aqua Tafari, a social activist and farmer, added: “It should be common sense to redirect business to the smaller business people working within our communities; surely, one day when Barbadians shop elsewhere should not affect those big businesses too greatly.”
UWI lecturer Tara Inniss agreed with these sentiments, adding that “the time has come for us to address some of the other inequities in our system, including our education system, specifically the Common Entrance Examination and access to land”.
The statue of British naval admiral, Viscount Horatio Nelson, whose continued presence in Heroes Square has resurfaced as a bone of contention in recent weeks, also came up for discussion.
Bulbulia, stressing that he was giving his personal views and not speaking on behalf of the East Indian community in Barbados, agrees with those pushing for the removal of the statue.
“I stand for justice and truth and Nelson has no place in Heroes Square. Ideally, he should have been moved when Heroes Square was established in the late 1990s,” he said.
Although noting that Antigua and Barbuda, which Nelson used as a base, has done a lot to commemorate him, Wickham added that “he has no real relevance to Barbados, unlike Bussa and the other statues we have built to reflect our history, so I think he should be placed in the museum.”
Retired professor of History at the UWI, Cave Hill Campus, Pedro Welch, said he believed it was a mistake to rename the area where the statue of Nelson stands Heroes Square, “because that area is far too small for any meaningful commemoration of this island’s past”.
“Since Warrens is developing into a town, and we also have the National Botanical Gardens on stream in Waterford, there is a lot of land available where we can celebrate our past, but it will call for a systematic approach,” Professor Welch contended.
Beyond that, the panellists suggested that it was time to go beyond mere discussion, to create substantive strategies to deal with all inequities in Barbadian society, not only in terms of economic enfranchisement, but also LGBT issues, gender issues and the discrimination Rastafarians face based on their religion.