Guard Still on Duty and “I Can’t Find Me Brother at All”

I am fascinated by the forms of knowledge and the identities than make it possible to belong to and claim membership of communities. It is no surprise that I have not been able to avoid questions of citizenship within my research.

The form of citizenship that I am most interested in is “economic citizenship.” I believe that Caribbean economies are aspects of our social realities within which hierarchies of citizenship are painfully exposed. As I struggle to define the ways in which I will use the notion of “economic citizenship,” I find that my experiences simultaneously reinforce and call into question aspects of the work I have read.

Within the past two days, two incidents have convinced me that it is necessary to define this concept in ways that are in line with what I am seeing and experiencing.

There is no doubt that tremendous socioeconomic progress has been made in Barbados within the past few decades. I am disturbed that this progress has ironically made it possible to practice forms of sexism, racism and classism that are subtler, less overt and more difficult to identity. I find myself thinking that “isms” have become more entrenched in our societies and are becoming increasingly difficult to contest and root out. In the past two days, I have experienced two incidents. During each incident, I initially found myself doubting my perceptions. I have experienced classism and have seen it in operation. However, in the second incident, when I encountered the combination of classism and racism, I found myself unable to disentangle one form of discrimination from the other. Also, I initially wondered whether or not I was just being silly, paranoid or overly sensitive.

Last month, the Nation Newspaper ran an article “A Look Back at Belleville.” This article followed another article “Guard at the Top of the Gap” in which the writer did a “then and now” of Strathclyde. For those of you who are non-Barbadian, Strathclyde is an elite residential that, during the colonial era, according to the old time stories, was unsafe for blacks. In the newspaper article, it is observed that black women entered Strathclyde as domestics. I have heard stories of the disappearance of “trespassing” blacks from Strathclyde. Due to the fact that adults often tease children with stories of the bizarre and terrible, I find myself re-examining what I was told as I write this post. The article on Strathclyde ends with a statement that, “The elite Strathclyde has simply become a relatively quiet residential thoroughfare.”

However, I believe that the guard from Strathclyde has not disappeared. He pops up in different places in various forms. In the first incident that I describe he is a physical 21st. century guard. In the second, he has gone off duty and has been replaced by a guard that does not physically exist; his whereabouts can easily be denied. In this incident, the consequence of I and my friend’s “trespassing” is not death but is rather a calculated refusal to acknowledge that we exist. Our access to the benefits of a specific economic space is deliberately curtailed by the negation of our identities as paying citizens. We later become citizens in a portion of the Barbadian economy in which ideological whitening is not as blatant. The second incident gives new meaning to the slogan, “Tourism is our business, let’s play our part.”

Before I recount these incidents, I must note that it is not my intention to malign those involved. I lovingly caution you that if you are too invested in the status quo or are easily offended, that you should stop reading now.

I apologise for the abruptness of this post. I have two tight deadlines. Thanks for dropping by!

Incident 1

Yesterday, I needed to cash a cheque at Royal Bank of Canada. I got there around 2:40. The line was long and when the bank closed as 3:00 I was still in line. A Caucasian gentleman arrived after 3:00. The security officer unlocked the door and allowed him to enter the bank. I glanced at my watch to double check the time. I saw the eyes of other customers drifting back and forth between their wrists and the bank’s clock. I caught another customer’s eyes and we both shrugged. Less than three minutes later another gentleman arrived. The funny thing was that he was told, “Sorry, brother, de bank close.” I’ll leave you to guess about the colour of the officer’s skin and of his “brother.”

Incident 2

Earlier this afternoon, I had the pleasure of lunching with a friend whom I have not seen since last semester. We could not decide on a place to eat. To cut a long story short, we finally wound up at Bean and Bagel Café on the West Coast. When we arrived the restaurant was almost empty. I ordered a chicken wrap and a coffee with whipped cream. My friend ordered a tuna salad sandwich and orange juice. As we chatted the tables around us filled as tourists trickled in for lunch. We noticed that almost immediately after ordering the tourists were served with their drinks. Eventually, we counted three tables of people who arrived after us and had been served with both food and drinks. The blender pulsed on and off as frappachinos and other blended drinks were whisked to various tables. The waitresses bustled to and fro as they served everyone but us.

Over half an hour later, neither our drinks nor our food had arrived. My friend and I finally decided to take a hint; we quietly got up to leave and politely requested that our orders be cancelled. Like magic, my friend’s orange juice was placed on the table while we were still on our feet and before we could turn to leave. Out of courtesy, she went to the counter to pay for her drink. I accompanied her. While at the counter, I was told that my coffee was finally ready. Likewise, I, out of courtesy, decided to pay for mine.

While we were paying for our drinks, the lady who was operating the counter offered to check on our orders. She attempted to explain that they were complicated and would take a long time to finish. Her words rung hollow. Her refusal to meet our eyes and the falter in her voice erased any credibility that she might have had. The puzzling thing is that I have a grill at home; it takes me far less time than half an hour to grill wraps and sandwiches. I suppose that our wrap and sandwich would have been fancier than the others that were not only ordered after we arrived but were also served before we decided to take our cue and leave. We’ll never know… We thanked them, apologised for cancelling our orders and quickly left.

My friend and I eventually wound up around the corner at Super Centre where we cued for sandwiches with similarly hued people and were actually served in the order in which we arrived.

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