Opinion

Barbados’ reckoning with race

While celebrating his 32nd birthday at a hotel in Barbados earlier this month, British-Nigerian musician Tinie Tempah took to Instagram to announce he’d been racially profiled by hotel security at a resort on the island.

“I want to open up about something heart-breaking that happened to me this weekend”, he wrote to his over 700k followers before describing how while “walking into the hotel gym I was stopped by a security guard and aggressively challenged about why I was there.”

The post has since earnt a response from government and almost 10,000 likes and 800 comments. The theme amongst many of the non-Bajan commenters was surprise – racism…in a Black (majority) country? Never.

“And in the Caribbean, can you imagine the cheek?!”, one responded, seemingly in shock.

“The irony of this happening in a Black country too…they’re running a hotel in a Black country but don’t want Black people in it!”, another lamented.

Others were surprised that a star had received such treatment.

“Don’t they know who Tinie is?!”

But the elephant in the room given this experience is the question of what life in Barbados might be like for the average Black Bajan– possibly without such a platform to air their grievances, and who can’t simply board a private jet to escape.

The Caribbean, and in this case Barbados, has all the surface-level manifestations of racism that we see and challenge over here in the UK – and then some.

Colourism impacting employment opportunities, police brutality, discriminatory entry policies, uneven sentencing for the same crimes…this isn’t even delving into the elements of systemic racism that stem from the island’s status as the first slave society in the western hemisphere.

And yet, these struggles that are mirror equivalents of what we claim to be fighting against here in the UK still seem to surprise us – that’s if they pique our interest and make it on our radars at all.

“Some insist that Black Lives Matter is a North American thing and can’t be brought into our [caribbean] context”, says Bajan-Jamaican filmmaker and mother Marcia Weekes who has lived on the island for over 20 years.

“Others”, she explains, “have taken the opportunity to discuss anti-blackness and how it functions within our society and the wider Caribbean”.

Marcia and other activists have spent much of this year drawing attention to racial injustice in Barbados and creating community initiatives to counter it.

The statue of Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, which stands near the entrance to Bridgetown, the Barbadian capital. Photo by Nick Kocharhook on Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0.

This includes starting a Buy Black agenda across the country and wider region, an attempt to challenge the perceived imbalance in economic power between Black and white communities.   

Then there’s been the campaign  for the removal of a statue of Horatio Nelson, which was finally achieved this month. There’s even a soundtrack by popular Bajan artist Lil’ Rick in support of this struggle. Yet outside of the Caribbean, few in the UK have been vocal about such issues – despite their proximity to our own.

“The Caribbean has always had a strong involvement in issues that affect Black people worldwide”, Marcia explains.

“From the renowned Jamaican Marcus Garvey, Trinidadian Stokely Carmichael, to noted Guyanese historian Walter Rodney who aptly stated that  “Every African has a responsibility to understand the system and work towards its overthrow – I think that’s what has been happening in Barbados and other Caribbean countries”

This September, Barbados became the first commonwealth country since 1992 to declare its intention to remove the queen as head of state, ruffling feathers in the UK and starting an important conversation amongst other commonwealth nations.

A step in the right direction yes, but not a straightforward fix to the discriminatory structures that continue to impact local Black people.

Thinking back then to the unfortunate Tinie Tempah incident earlier this month, perhaps Black celebrities – and anyone else –  who experience similar situations could best lend their support by ensuring that the outrage doesn’t start and end in their comments sections – or with their singular bad experience.

As one Bajan commenter wrote, “I’m seeing in the comments people can’t believe racism exists in a Black country but I tell you there’s a lot more than meets the eye. If you have a few decades I can get started”.


Support the Buy Black movement in Barbados and the region :

Note: While this article focused on Barbados, it should be mentioned that several Caribbean nations have joined the movement to remove colonial statues – Victor Schoelcher in Martinique, Colombus in both Trinidad and the Bahamas.

2 comments

  1. I’m sad that Tinnie Tempah experienced this. This is just one of many examples of internalised racism as is colourism, shadeism and featurism. We should be citing the plethora of Caribbean and Black British Caribbean authors in this space for balance and amplify those who have been writing on this topic for decades, to create a well evidenced article.

  2. I’m still flabbergasted by the racism towards black people in Barbados by the black Bajans if we describe it as that!!

    My first visit to Barbados noticed this in the Cave Shepherd in Holetown the assistant overlooked as in looked past the black woman in the queue and did her best to catch the attention of the white woman behind her Yes behind the black woman both had a child it was the bookstore section.

    How dare she I shouted up the woman in front is next unbelievable and thereafter over 20 years later still observe the subservient behaviour of the black Bajans with the yes Ma’am.. “No please” what exactly does that mean. Even the young children say spout this ridiculous speil!!!

    I have lots of stories to tell of my observations look how the Black Bajans are treated.

    The island and the majority of the businesses couldn’t function without them but they are not paid well and treated shoddily as we are observing now that Covid is here and the hotel workers released with no pay Shocking..

    This the fault of the Governments over the years allowing the White Bajan to compromise their responsibility to their employees!!

    It’s history of slavery and plantations are over and the Black Bajans should have taken the freedom of slaves as such..

    I have never seen a white worker in the supermarkets etc.. unless in a managerial position.

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