I tend to walk Dayo across the main road in my neighbourhood on the way to daycare every morning. Occassionally, when its dry, I take him via the scenic route along the cliff that runs pretty much parallel to the main road.
No matter which route we take, we are fixtures in the neighbourhood. Since we’ ve known some of the people out here for more than twenty years, and I am naturally friendly, we say hello to almost everyone we meet.
Recently, a family moved in one corner from the corner of 9th where Dayo’ s daycare is. They have a little baby girl, barely three months if nuff, and another little girl who is about six or seven.
This morning, as I passed in front their downstairs apartment, I heard a piping little voice call out, “Hey White Lady!”
I was so shocked, I turned around to see who was calling out, and who she was calling out at. Now I am red in Black people’ s terms. I am yellow, but not ‘ high yellow’ . I have a mixture of African and Ameridian features, so I do not understand how I could ever be construed as white.
I realised she meant me, and called back, “Hello my little friend. Can you hear me? Are you listening? I am a Black woman just like you, and Black people come in all shapes, colours and sizes. Did you hear what I said?”
“Yes!” Her little voice responded.
“Alright then,” I called and waved. “Have a great day!”
I was moved to blog this, because over at Barbados Free Press (who sang glorious praise for the little King yesterday) and blogged my “Death of the Caribbean Media House” at the same time, posted some very interesting observations of Barbadian society.
Their post was prompted by a press interview with Allure Magazine, where Rhianna confesses to being bullied at school for being “white”. And here’ s the thing, as BFP says, “I know exactly what you mean Rhianna.”
When I went to primary school in Barbados, Grace Hill Primary School (later Lawrence T. Gay Memorial) I was one of three girls in the school who was ‘ red’ . Of the three, there was one girl who was extremely pretty with long red hair, and another girl who was a few shades darker than I was, and me somewhere in the middle.
I was teased unmercifully. It wasn’ t just that #160was red. I had on top of it, a presumably unpronounceable African first name, short red blonde picky hair and at the time, a very heavy Trinidadian accent. So I was red, a foreigner and to make things even worse, I lived at my grandmother’ s house, where many of the children passed, and it was a ‘ big house with a long driveway’ .
The children called me ‘ red goose’ , ‘ grey goose’ , ‘ red bitch’ , ‘ red foreigner bitch’ , ‘ white bitch’ , ‘ grey monkey’ and an further assortment of epithets similar in nature.
There was a little girl, named Marilyn, who sat next to me in class. She and I were sharpening our pencils, and talking and she took her pencil and jabbed it in my eye. I still have the mark in my eye, where the pencil point just barely pierced my eyelid.
When asked why she did it, she replied, “I wanted to be like her.”
Yet, the children were not the worst abusers. The teachers victimised me too.
I was dragged from my chair and flogged in front of the class for failure to add correctly, and when my ‘ teacher’ (Miss Barker, who I hated passionately) was hitting me with the wooden ruler, she ground out vehemently, “You feel… ”
“… that because”
“… you red and …”
“… you live…”
“… in a big house…”
“… with a long driveway…”
“… that you…”
“…better than me?”
Lash. Lash. Lash. Lash. Lash. Lash.
I was also victimised in other ways, but that is not the point in this little discourse.
It got so bad at that school, that my mother eventually pulled me out and put me in the Ursuline Convent. However, the racism there was coming to the same point, but from a different direction.
I was red, true. However, I did not have ‘ good hair’ , I was eccentric, a tom boy, and was not white enough to compensate for my utter lack of money and my fondness for taking my grandmother’ s tote bags to school. Worse, my mother was a single mother, a teacher.
I navigated the waters of this treacherous river that is racial politics in Barbados my entire life. It in fact invested me the ability to be chameleon-like.
Yet I was never really “black”. I was told that over and over and over again by so many people. Yet, because of my mother’ s interest in Black history, and her choice of friends, I knew enough to know that I was not white. Still, it was a confusing time.
I simply ain’ t black enough for Bajans, but I’ m a nigger everywhere else. Maybe not everywhere else. One of my deep pleasures going back to Trinidad #160as a teenager for the first time since leaving it, was the realisation that in Trinidad, I didn’ t stand out, and I wasn’ t unusual. I was just another racially mixed woman, and it was the strength of my rhetoric that identified me as an African. And hear what, in Trinidad they say AFRICAN. It’ s not like in Barbados where they say, “I come from Barbados, not Africa.”
My colouring has effected my journeys as well. In England, I am convinced that part of the reason why I had a great experience in terms of people, is because in part I am a non-threathening slightly racially ambiguous looking WOMAN. If I was dark, and didn’ t believe so deeply in elocution and diction, I believe my experience would have been quite different.
To cut it short, while I was here thinking I was MILES away from the ‘ foreigner white bitch” talk from my four year old incursion in the the Barbadian public educational system, this morning took me right back there. At least now I am a lady, but the ‘ white’ and ‘ red’ talk disturbs me tremendously. Hence my immediate response to my little friend.
The irony of the situation is this: You have never met a country of Black people who are essentially ashamed of being of African descent. (Although Nigerians, sadly are probably very close in that race.) They don’t revel in their African-ness, and the average Barbadian has little to no knowledge of their African heritage. They still deliberately mispronounce African names, are a little embarrased by those who overtly identify as African, and in 2007 no rise in visibility of the Rastafarian, Orisha or the Pan-African Commision has been able to mitigate this.
It is stil me, who in conversation, will invariably drop the knowledge. It is me, who feels compelled to educate the (willfully) ignorant of who WE are as a people.
Now, while I was socialised as Black, I claim all parts of my heritage including that which makes me slightly more milky than the average Black woman. Yet, I came to understand very early on in my youth, that I’ d never be white enough for the whites or Black enough for the Blacks. Made up my mind, and accepted the reality of it.
Yet, I will continue to try and educate whenever and wherever possible, because it is only in being very vocal and demonstrative of my own reveling in #160my African-ness that I can affect any change in my environment where being ‘ red’ , ‘ white’ and ‘ yella’ is concerned. I love for the day, when we are just brown. A thousand shades of brown, but just brown.
BFP’ s post really touched a personal nerve, especially coming on the heels of the Hey White Lady incident.
It’ s like the more things change, the more they stay the same.
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