Today we had a class meeting with Kendra Kelly who is a white Bajan. Her mother is from the US and her father is Bajan. Kendra was born in the US and lived there until she was 12 and then moved back to Barbados. Kendra has lived around the states and in Barbados, but she said that Barbados feels the most like home. Kendra talked to us a lot about crop over — or kadooment as it is called by Bajans, which is a festival in the summer that celebrates the end of the harvest and the independence of Barbados from the UK. The festival involves people getting together in bands, or groups, and they all get a costume, which is usually very elaborate and involves lots of gemstones and feathers, and then get together during the day to go around in a parade and dance and drink. There is a competition for the best band, but many groups just go to have a good time. I would love to come back to the island sometime to see crop over or be a part of a band.
Kendra talked to us about what it is like to be a white Bajan, and she said that almost every single day someone mistakes her for a tourist until she starts to speak and then they recognize she is a true Bajan. It is hard for Kendra to go out and do things without being stereotyped even though there are white Bajans, many people who she tells are shocked and say that they have never met a white Bajan before — even though they probably have but they have just never realized it. On the island, people who she called “high brown” or light skinned black people are considered more attractive. This comes from the mixing of the Irish and African slaves in the early days of the island, and continues today. In fact, this past years Miss Universe Barbados winner, Shannon Harris, is almost completely white with a little african, and people protested her winning because they felt that she did not actually represent the island. The response was that Barbados is increasingly a melting pot and that people had to get used to this, and that Shannon blew everyone out the water — probably because she has modeling experience.
One thing most people coming here did not know about is the existence of white slaves. Irish and Scottish were sent in thousands after England conquered them because the king was afraid that they would rebel, so he sent them away — similar to prisoners sent to Australia. There are still redlegs, as they were called then, or poor whites, as they are called now, living on the east side of the island. Most of them live in extended families in small chattel homes and have no electricity or running water. When the white slaves were freed, they were not given any land or money unlike the black slaves. They still are living in poverty because of this. I saw a very interesting article that I will post below on the Irish of Barbados.
One thing Kendra talked about that shocked us was that the island is extremely homophobic. She said that gay men on the island are discriminated against, verbally harassed, and that there is violence against them but it is often covered up by both the police and the media. Many of these men seek asylum in Canada because of the discrimination and harassment. I find it horrible that we still live in a time where people cannot live where they were born and raised just for being who they are. A few years ago,a list of almost 200 men who tried to hide that they were gay was realised and this meant that they were no longer safe.
Later that night we went out to a place called Raggamuffins where you got dinner and saw a drag show. There were three women — one of which I talked to afterwards and said she was also a model and has met Will Smith (so cool), but I thought that it was so brave of them to get out in public and be themselves on an island where being yourself is not always safe.
I noticed that our talk with Kendra was very different than our talk with Ian last week. I think that Ian wanted us to see the island in a more positive light, in fact he told us that the island was generally very tolerant of gay people. Kendra told us that anal sex was illegal, and that especially compared to the US Bajans are not accepting of other sexual identities. Having lived in the US and Barbados, I think Kendra had a better perspective on our own views coming here, and I think that as a cultural advocate for the island, Ian could not always say what was really going on here.