Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.
by M. Jordan
I would like to submit a response to a letter written by a Mr. Kellan, which was published in the September 14, 2022 edition of Barbados TODAY (‘Time To Move On’).
Oh dear, Mr. Kellan. I just couldn’t ignore your opinion piece about (to paraphrase) ‘stopping all this slavery talk’.
Ok, let me start with your comment about ‘The past is the past. It cannot be changed.’. You’re correct. What happened, happened.
However, how can Bajans of African heritage truly move on from the past when Barbados is, quite frankly, pickled in the legacy of slavery? The legacy of slavery is everywhere you look. There are so many examples, but let me limit mine to three:
1. Apart from working environments (where it always seems to be black people working for white people – I’ve never seen it the other way around), look at the noticeable lack of social interaction between white and black people on the island.
Sure, everyone has the right to interact with whomsoever they wish, but let’s be honest about the historical reasons behind it: the majority of black people living on the island descend from African slaves, while much of the white Bajan population descend from slave owners and overseers.
After 400 years of slavery (and with slavery only being officially abolished on the island less than 200 years ago, and colonialism ending less than 60 years ago), do you really think that all white Bajans see black Bajans as truly equal? Let’s not forget that white people partaking in the trans-Atlantic slave trade went as far as to re-categorise African people as being only ‘three-fifths human’ to justify their enslavement of Africans).
2. The stark economic and social disparities between the white and black populations on the island is definitely a legacy of slavery. White slave-owners were paid reparations for the loss of their chattel (i.e., slaves) when slavery was abolished and black folk were forced to remain working on the white-owned plantations because they had nowhere else to go. The descendants of white slave owners and overseers had pots of money to build on and pass down the generations – they certainly didn’t start with nothing.
In contrast, following the abolition of slavery, black Bajans have had to try and build themselves up from zero. However, the socio-economic structures that perpetuate on the island even in 2022 originate from structures embedded during the times of slavery. These structures were built by white people FOR white people, and us black folk have to do whatever we can to achieve what we can under a system that was never meant to include us. It’s why white people from all around the world seemingly migrate to and settle in Barbados quite comfortably, while the local black population (for the most part) always seem to be slapped down with obstacles when trying to progress themselves economically and socially.
3. Please explain to me this particular oddity of Bajan life: Tell me why in my 42-year association with the island, I have never seen:
1. A white policeman?
2. A white postman?
3. A white petrol attendant?
4. A white check-out clerk (unless they are working in a white-owned store)?
5. A white bank clerk?
6. A white taxi driver?
7. A white bus driver/conductor?
I am more than happy to stand corrected if my observations are inaccurate!
Do you notice that all the above roles relate to serving the public (and in the case of Barbados, a black-majority public)?
So, why do some of us ‘delight in wallowing in the past’, as you put it?
No. Black folk certainly do not enjoy having to talk about slavery and its continual impacts on us, but we do have to keep talking about it until those modern-day beneficiaries of slavery living comfortably on the island can be honest about what their modern-day wealth was built on.
Jewish people rightly remind people about the atrocities their forebears endured during the holocaust to ensure those horrors are never forgotten and can never be repeated. Why is it always our race that’s told to ‘stop all this slavery talk’, particularly when we continue to experience the fallout of slavery in the form of racism and discrimination? Do you honestly think racism and discrimination doesn’t exist in Barbados?
So, to finish, Mr. Kellan; my final question to you is this: If you’re tired of people going on about slavery, does that mean (as the proud black man you say you are) you are content with the status quo in Barbados?
M. Jordan, a very proud black woman not scared to speak the truth. This column was offered as a Letter to the Editor.