Missing from race debate
RECENTLY, the social consciousness of Barbadians was aroused and a national conversation ignited over the disappearance of Karen Harris, a 49-year old Caucasian woman from Rowans Park, St George.
It was reported that “Harris’ disappearance sparked a search which was unprecedented in its size, intensity and range of service providers involved.
Members of the army, the police including the Special Services Unit, the private operated Roving Response Team, members of the Red Cross and hundreds of individual volunteers and teams from some high-profile businesses. People on horseback, in trucks . . . even the use of drone technology was employed . . . while notices of her disappearance were posted on the electronic boards at Chefette Restaurants . . .”. (Sunday Sun, March 1, 2015).
The scale of the search prompted a necessary, sometimes uncomfortable, debate on social media. Inevitably, many black Barbadians came to the conclusion that because Mrs Harris is white and has a certain social status, the police put more resources into finding her. These sentiments are true, despite what Acting Assistant Superintendent David Welch would have the public believe. But missing from that discussion are the reasons why.
Since the beginning of 2015, at least ten people have been reported missing. Of the ten, four were black teenaged girls; four were adult black men and one a Guyanese national.
There seems to be an over-saturation of news alerts of missing black people in this country. This is not surprising in the context that Blacks are the majority of the population. But it is surprising when considering the total population and taking into account that we are only three months into the year. Perhaps as a society we have become desensitised to news of black people going missing, because it is an all too frequent event.
But we are not accustomed to reports of missing Caucasians. It can be argued that Karen Harris’ disappearance was an uncommon occurrence, which indeed prompted an uncommon response.
If you scroll through the comments on social media regarding the stories of the missing teenaged girls, you will see people commenting that she is just “another runaway”, or she “gone by a man”.
On a daily basis the ‘The courts’ section of the Nation newspaper is filled with stories of young black men in court for possession of marijuana, burglary charges or various other offences.
If you ask any local what they think happened to any one of the 20- or 30-something-year-old black men who are missing, they will tell you he was “probably engaged in illegal activities and someone made him ‘disappear’”.
It is these stereotypes and, unfortunately, their frequent validation that prevent occurrences of missing black Barbadians from being viewed and treated in a serious manner.
Although most Bajans will not publicly admit it, many of them have the belief that they should not exert an effort or invest in resources to search for someone who was “probably up to no good” in the first place.
For black Barbadians who assert that Karen Harris’ case is yet another example of how race and class affect how people are treated in this country, I agree that your points are valid. But I hope in your discussion you also examine your own assumptions and stereotyping and how they affect your own action or inaction in helping your fellow Barbadians.
I hope you are discussing the social conditions causing young black men to engage in illegal activities and what can be done to address them. I hope you are discussing why it is that so many teenaged girls feel a need to find solace in the company of older men.
For those non-black Barbadians who question why race is brought up in regard to Karen Harris’ case, or downplay its role, at the end of the day, race is always a factor. This country has the legacy of slavery and colonialism that enables the white minority to maintain an economic majority and therefore a perceived higher social status.
Race and class are inextricably linked. Take, for example, the disappearance of Hughson Brathwaite, who was reported missing on February 11, 2015. Brathwaite is a 63-year-old diabetic, who was residing at the Soroptimist Senior Citizens Village in Eden Lodge, St Michael.
I pose the question to those people and the Royal Barbados Police Force: Why did the disappearance an elderly black man with a medical condition that could result in a coma and/or his death, not warrant an “unprecedented search”?
– ZOLA AMARA