TONI THORNE: Prejudice and racism often mixed up
LAST SUNDAY, I swear the words “Shannon Harris” were trending all across social media platforms for Barbadians. It was the morning after the pageant and I woke up to a myriad of statuses congratulating this 21-year-old young woman I have had the pleasure to work and interacted with since she was 15 years old.
What I found disappointing were comments by some persons that Shannon does not “look like a Bajan”. I find Shannon to be pretty, so forgive me if I immediately assumed that these people were stating that a Bajan must look ugly. I can imagine that these comments meant that any representative we send to Miss Universe in 2016 should be black and “represent the look of the majority of Barbadians”. What a notion. What a sad day for free education.
At the pageant, and whilst filming with Shannon for my show, I was elated that she spoke intelligently and with a stark Barbadian accent. For me, what comes out of someone’s mouth is more important than what someone looks like.
My second disappointment came when in response to the sad views that Shannon “ain look like a Bajan”, many sought to claim that the black people who were spewing these views must be racists. As I scrolled past the many statuses calling people racists, it became more and more clear to me that many of us have very little understanding and have done little to no research on race relations and exactly what racism is. Why is this the case? Is it a situation where people say “not my monkeys, not my business”, where they believe that they have never experienced racism so as a result there is no need to read or really find out about it? As a result, when the very enlightened Jewel Forde explained why black people can be prejudiced but not racist, some were confused, others enlightened, and some probably stupsed their mouth and scrolled along still believing that black people can be racist.
Allow me to quote Ms Forde:
“Racism is not just about not liking one race or another, racism is also a structure/system that enforces the dislike/hatred and perpetuates stereotypes of what one race defines as “other”. South Africa and the Jim Crow era laws of the American South are the more extreme versions of it but it can also be subtle in other ways. [For example] you send in an application for a job and your name and address immediately disqualify you even though you have the qualifications for it because of the biases of the employer. Racism is also built on stereotypes such as black people are “lazy”, “come from chimpanzees”, are “violent”, [and so on]. The power dynamic that is necessary to enforce racism is not in the hands of black people. We just don’t control the system or the structure to do it. So in essence all of the noise we’re seeing about Miss Barbados is really prejudice rather than racism.”
Ms Forde said it best. I have crafted a simple test to prove this: ask the poorest white person if they would rather be black. They would most likely say no. Ask a rich black person if being white may make their life easier. There is a chance one of them may say yes.
That said, with this misinformed behaviour, there is also the view that people who speak out on race relations are prejudiced. This, in my case, could not be further from the truth.
I find Barbadians more and more speak out on issues that they find may make them come across as “cool” or in the “in crowd”. I saw many people “do bad” in this pageant situation that I have never seen to be vocal about the many issues that exist in our society or in the world. This also disappoints. Nobody likes the arbitrary Facebook politician who always has to air their view on every “Samcoochie and the duppy”. However, one of the most important things a person can have is a point of view. Your point of view cannot and should not be crafted when you think it is appropiate or strategic to have one.
Two other things last week Sunday taught me. Firstly, classism is still very much alive and well, as not all victims are equal. A lot of noise for the amazing Shannon but very little noise, for instance, when a 12-year-old girl is raped, St Joseph residents go without water, and when more of our young men continue to believe that if they kill a man and spend 20 years in jail that it is “no time really”. Secondly, Sunday taught me that if I ever am blessed with a daughter, I am not sure she would be allowed to enter a pageant. Many Bajans revel in kicking a dying dog. Not my daughter!
Toni Thorne is a young entrepreneur and World Economic Forum Global Shaper who loves global youth culture, a great debate and living in paradise. Email: [email protected]