Karl Watson: Does Rihanna’s poor white ancestry have any meaning for her?

Growing up poor and white in 1950’s Barbados

“I often wonder whether Rihanna… ever thinks of or knows anything of her poor white ancestry, their specific role in Barbadian history, their heritage…and if it has any meaning at all for her.”

by Karl Watson

As in everything, the situation at the Yacht Club and Aquatic Club was more complex than it seems on the surface of a compartmentalized black and white scenario. In the early 1950′s and 60′s, the Yacht Club was definitely white with an emphasis on expatriates and upper and upper middle class Barbadian whites.

“Those with the wrong pedigree or background were blackballed.”

The Aquatic Club was mostly white or whitish (i.e. individuals with about a ten to twenty percent Afro admixture that everybody knew about, as genealogies are/were pretty well know for that class) middle class Barbadian with a sprinkling of more obvious i.e.darker mixed race individuals, but also of a middle class back ground.

Working class whites were simply too poor to be admitted…it probably never occurred to them to think of applying for membership.

“So as others have pointed out, in the simplistic equation of poor black and rich white…the fate of the poor whites is often omitted.”

From my personal experience and though we were Bayland poor, my family was not of the poorest, being blond and blue eyed did not save us from being run off the Yacht Club beach in those days. Yes, we “white” children were forbidden to walk on the Yacht Club beach. We would swim to the Aquatic Club with other friends and hold on to the steps like every one else. I almost lost an ear when one day, I made the mistake of stepping on the bridge and was unceremoniously “jacked up” and marched to the entrance to the club and thrown out. You shouldn’t do something like that to a child, but it was done to me.

Memories of childhood.

Yet I look back on my youth with a degree of fond nostalgia and not bitterness. Maybe since discrimination was such a part of life, I did not consciously question it. I remember the nights of waterpolo, when I played for Harrison College and the changing rooms were accessible to everyone..the Harbour Police, Seafarers as well as Tarpons or Snappers. In the game, black, white and brown mixed together and there was equality in who swam fastest or threw the ball with greatest accuracy. I remember the dances and the excitement of rock and roll and the twist and then the invasion of Jamaican ska and rock steady. Heady times.

So as others have pointed out, in the simplistic equation of poor black and rich white…the fate of the poor whites is often omitted. Just because they do not fit into the standard/generalized schema of society, does not mean that we should ignore their trials and travails, and centuries of abuse, neglect and discrimination. I often wonder whether Rihanna, product of a black Guyanese mother and a poor white Barbadian father ever thinks of or knows anything of her poor white ancestry, their specific role in Barbadian history, their heritage…and if it has any meaning at all for her.

This post was originally seen as a comment on our story: Barbados Aquatic Club in the old days: A good place for some…


Filed under Barbados, Culture & Race Issues, History, Human Rights

14 responses to “Karl Watson: Does Rihanna’s poor white ancestry have any meaning for her?

  1. Karl could just as easily have asked the same question from the other way around. Rihanna, is seems, probably had other things on her mind and didn’t spend time wallowing in the colour question. Look where she has reached. Bravo, let’s all hope she keeps going. ‘The Singer not the song’.

  2. Greg

    One of the other great ironies is that Peter Evelyn, who was also once denied access to the Yacht Club beach, went on to become Commodore of the club later. Perhaps the greatest irony of all is that though the Club opened its doors to all races, it has become largely irrelevant, and few of them care about joining anyway….irony of ironies.

  3. John


    If Peter Evelyn is the Peter Evelyn I think you are referring to there is an even more remarkable irony.

    A relative of his, George Birt Evelyn was the speaker of the House of Assembly in the 1940’s and a member of a very powerful Christ Church family.

    George Birt’s cousin was married to the Chief Justice of the time, Sir Allan Collymore.

    Almost certainly George Birt Evelyn would have been welcome, and yet Peter Evelyn was denied access.

    Even within families there were clear lines drawn.

    They are gone today.

    Noone cares.

  4. 5

    What more does Rihanna have to do short of hitting Bajans over the head with a bat to get Bajans to understand that she is not that into Bajans. She cursed Bajans to foreign reporters when she first arrived in the U.S. She has shown no interest in being an “ambassador” to Bajan youth, even though the late Prime Minister, David Thompson, made the mistake of making her an ambassador. She only does things for Bajans when she is asked to and paid to do it, unlike other international celebrities who contribute to charities in their homelands without being asked.

    To date, Bajans have given Rihanna a million dollar piece of property, a vehicle, jewelry, the title of ambassador to Bajan youth, and now the exclusive right to promote Barbados. That is on top of the free education and healthcare provided to her, her brothers, and her Guyanese relatives. Now Bajans are forking over $75 to $500 for concert tickets to see her. What has she given Bajans in return? Nothing. Nada. Zilch

    Karl Watson, Black Bajans who have been more prominent in Rihanna’s life have no meaning for her, so naturally the White ones don’t.

    I await the “Your just jealous” comments that people who dare to speak the truth about Rihanna get on blogs.

  5. bajeabroad

    sour grapes!…..this blog does anything for internet hits by mentioning Rihanna’s name….LOL!!….according to the rap song….”how low can u go!!”

  6. bajeabroad

    And still the response volume poor!!!….that’s why i get my news from BARBADOS UNDERGROUND

    Where real bloggers go

  7. tiredofwhiners

    just another nail in the coffin of bajan blacks who constantly refer to the racial inequities of the past as their reason to take what is not theirs today if it is owned by bajan whites…they ignore all the other castes and colors who were equally affected by society’s past unfairness…another reason they should GROW UP!

  8. 6

    Very interesting article – people focus on the article Rhianna is just an example as would any one of that mix……

  9. There is an evolutionary reason why we are different shades. So if we insist on blame, then we’d have to blame Fate,….Or God ?
    Can’t we stop wasting physic energy on shades, and put that same energy to better use ?
    Intelligence levels are the same. It just depends on what you spend your time doing, moaning or surging ahead.

  10. ac

    And to think who started it all. !

  11. Observer

    If Rihanna were not so famous would white or black Bajans give two hoots about her ancestry. The next article I expect to see is one written by a Guyanese complaining that she refuses to acknowledge her South American ancestry.

    Give Rihanna some space. She never asked to be a role model for anyone and for a 23 yr old coming from quite a challenging background she has done a lot better than one would have anticipated.

  12. Bajan Lead Pipe

    The Educating of Rihanna, in all things – Diplomatic, Socially Acceptable, Philanthropic/Charitable, Historical and Ancestral, will take a while. How many of us at 23yrs. of age, had all such matters down pat?

    At this stage of her development she is focused on her act. Be patient with her, while subtly, quietly teaching her. Not shaming her.

    We are tough on our people/our children, as we would want to be proud of them. Living “vicariously” through their achievements.

  13. Anonymous

    Why would Rihanna give a crap about her ‘poor white ancestry’? Is it because she is now in a position of influence, stardom, or whatever? Stupse I know people who don’t even check for those things, and they appearance shows more of their racial ancestry than Rihanna.

  14. Pat Hunte-Cusack

    Nothing to be proud of.