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…