GET REAL: Race talk–touchous subject
IF I SAY Barbados is a black country it should be obvious I am referring to the overwhelming percentage of the population who would be identified as black.
This should be straightforward, like saying Obama is the first black president of the United States.
Except, race talk is rarely ever straightforward.
It is a bumpy, narrow, winding road, with lots of signs, that are sometimes written in pig Latin.
There are so many side roads and alleys to get lost in. And when you go down the race-road, be prepared for road-rage.
People are touchous when it comes to this subject. Race talk is always lively. But we can talk it to death without ever giving birth to increased understanding and awareness. When it comes to race we are like the “Touch Me Not” plant. Get too close to the issue and our minds close up like leaves.
Because we feel like we get it, like we understand the race issue. Because we have a lifetime of experience as a member of a race. As in most things, it would be a mistake to use my personal experience as the only means of coming to a general understanding. If you are too close to the issue your vision becomes blurred.
When we seek to study the issue more in depth, we face the trap of only focusing on information that validates our personal experience or point of view. Someone who is very sensitive to continued racism today may tend to see every negative interaction between a white person and a black person as a race issue. If you talk race history with someone who is more concerned with the backlash from racism, they may want to keep the conversation about William Wilberforce and the abolitionists.
And some don’t want to talk about it at all. Ignore the issue and it will go away. Some say they are colour-blind, that race is never a factor in their minds. Common sense and science say they are wrong. Common sense says that it would be very difficult to see two groups evenly in your mind, when you’ve never seen the two groups evenly in real life.
Barbados is a fairly racially segregated society. The nature and extent of your experience with one race versus another will usually be very different. There are clear colour lines. To erase those lines in your head is an act of imagination and creativity. It is a good thing.
Being able to see equality in your imagination can motivate you to help move society towards that goal. But if you can’t tell the difference between your imagination and the reality, then your sanity comes into question.
Science argues against claims of colour-blindness with the Implicit Bias test. This psychological test is regarded as one of the most accurate psychological tests available. It measures biases and prejudices that you have, that you may not know you have.
Hopefully, we all recognise that we can sometimes surprise ourselves with how we think and act. In tests of racial bias, people are often shocked by what the tests reveal about them. Many of the people who believe they are colour- blind are in actuality blind to their true selves.
A young woman once told me she was colour-blind. She was extremely proud of her relationship with her non-black employers. For her, it was an excellent example of how races could work in harmony. She then informed me that the experience was so good, she refused to ever work for a black man again.
It is difficult to deal with an issue you refuse to see.
Seeing race issues where they aren’t is as bad as not seeing them at all. The trouble is, it can be so hard to tell. Famous CNN anchorman Bernie Shaw when asked about experiencing much racism during his career, replied he had not, because “they’re much too subtle for that”.
Hence the need to be vigilant against racism, without being hypersensitive. Again it is difficult to say exactly where that line exists. Opinions will vary as to whether or not Mr Bizzy William’s objection to calling Barbados, “The freest black country in the world,” was vigilance or hypersensitivity.
I object to the statement as well, for a different reason. It’s like calling me the best black alpine skier. It says nothing about my achievement except in being black. I might not have even cracked the top 200 alpine skiers list.
To say that Barbados is a black country does not imply that there are no other races here, or that they have not contributed. It is a clumsy way to state an obvious fact. Barbados got in mostly black people.
As David Comissiong noted in the press, Barbados can only be called a black country if defined by population. If defined by who has the most economic power and influence, it could be called a white country. Many years ago a German man fled Barbados with millions of embezzled dollars. He famously boasted that Barbados was a white man’s land. What race did you picture when you read “German?”
It is probably best to avoid referring to a country in racial terms. If we have to give Barbados a colour it would make sense to be green, because of the bush and monkeys.
If you want to get technical, Barbados is an Amerindian country.
The Taino (wrongly called Arawak) called this island Ichirouganaim, which means “Red land with white teeth,” referring to the red soil of the Scotland District and the coral reefs. Maybe they named the island after geographical traits to avoid offending the Caribs.
Adrian Green is a creative communications specialist. Email [email protected]