Barbadians are a fascinating people. This I always knew but it was confirmed to me not just through my experiences, but by the personal accounts and perspectives of Barbadians themselves.
What fascinates, if not dumbfounds me, is Barbadians' unwillingness to treat people- any person- at face value with the dignity and respect that should without condition be afforded to any human being. To be treated as such only comes after some kind of assessment, of which the criteria is class, power and money. Throughout my life in Barbados I have witnessed this template being applied unashamedly to the point where you would actually not dare doubt its absurdity.
Case and point, I once worked for an employer who made it their business upon you joining the organisation to take you home at the end of the first day of work, if public transport was your only mode. This was necessary because, according to them, where you lived and how your house looked determined if you could be considered as having pedigree. Of course you name, your lineage was taken into account and perhaps most notably where you went to school as well. If you did not attend the 'top three' schools, you weren't "nuhbody" and were 'reminded' where and when ever possible.
Imagine then my pleasure and astonishment when recently reading through some local literary journals of the early 1930's and 40's, most notably, The Outlook, that this assessment, once thought of by me as an anomaly, was actually part of the very fiber of the Barbadian tapestry of life. In this groundbreaking journal, albeit a short lived 6 months, the contributors told the truth about this peculiar and fascinating state of consciousness of Barbadians, even going as far to compare it to that of Trinidadians.
Many anecdotal and short stories were offered as evidence of this way of assessing human worth and value.
"I ain't nuhbody, so dat is how I wud get treat."
While this journal gives an account of Barbados in colonial days, these conditions still apply to contemporary Barbados today. However, the criteria for evaluating and determining a person's worth and value has changed dramatically. Don't get it twisted! It is still a criteria based on "I am here and you are over there" mentality.
The criteria not only builds on the old; taking into account the socio-economic and education classification of Barbadians, but also extends to nationality, assertiveness/rebelliousness, association and your point of view on drugs. This determines where and if you are going to fit in comfortably into the collective.
Whereas, the socio-economic and education classification determined how far you could go up the totem pole, today in contemporary Barbados it is sadly a blight against your character. So often, even in political fora and other platforms on which public speaking is done, we hear of "them people up there on the hill who don't know what dey doing." But this perspective goes even further when getting an education or acting or behaving "bright" makes you some kind of leper. For a country, whose founding Father Barrow fought for free education up to the tertiary level, it is quite absurd to think that anyone who took the time to invest in themselves by the way of education is somehow looked at with disdain for just trying.
As for nationality, I don't have to argue my point if you are aware of the goings on in Barbados for the last 10 years and their relationship with "foreign people" across the region. The minute it becomes known that you are not Barbadian, but a CARICOM national, you are marked with a scarlet X. It becomes almost impossible to be considered a Caribbean sister or brother, instead you are deemed an enemy who must be defeated if marriages and jobs are to be saved. And since everything is fair in love and war, treating non-nationals like they are human and entitled to a sense of dignity and self-respect is sadly (to use my favourite word) absurd.
Assertiveness and Rebelliousness. This one is my personal favourites because as the word 'personal' suggests, I have felt this one. Barbadians are considered the world over as perhaps the most passive of the Caribbean nationalities. Yet in some irony, in this part of the world, when you are quiet and Mary, Mary quite contrary, you are taken as some kind of a joke. You can't be polite, you can't be compassionate, you can't be forgiving and you can't be self-possessed. To be these things is to guarantee a character, and maybe even a physical assault too. The thinking behind this is, if you are the aforementioned in character, then you are fair game to be taken advantage of- bullied and humiliated. Why? You are not, it is assumed, going to fight back. Sadly in Barbados, assertiveness is only understood through curse words, fighting and true to their passive nature, Machiavellian tactics that are always subversive in nature.
While in colonial days one's ability to conform was taken into account in the assessment of worth and value, rebelliousness is today's bog standard. The more wayward, outrageous and thuggish you are the more likely you are to be respected.
Hence, there is this aggression in Barbadians (I know ironic considering their passive reputation) that makes it impossible to treat people with a level of understanding and empathy. Just to survive you have to strip yourself of these normal human characteristics because to not do so would make you vulnerable to the most egregious attacks of character and reputation.
Last but by no means least, the extent to which you subscribe to the use of drugs will surely determine if and where you fit into society. For those who do not subscribe to it in any form or fashion, life is hell. You would think that if you don't have any business in that kind of business that they would just let you be. Sadly, it is absurd to think so.
As a young woman who came of age with no male presence around, I want to suggest another criteria to this list as well. Whether boy or girl, I do think that the extent to which you have a male presence in and around your life also determines if you are to be considered as human. If you have a strong male presence, especially the ignorant ones who don't mind spending some time in jail, I believe that even if society deems you not worthy to be treated with dignity and respect because of failing the criteria, your chances of making it through this maze is greatly improved.
As for my personal experience, like I said, I was not that fortunate to have such a male presence when I came of age and became aware of this fascinating state of affairs. Maybe if I did, life would have turned out quite differently for me.