COLUMN – Race test on Browne’s Beach . . .
What does the ongoing saga between Sean De Freitas and the group of small black businessmen who operate on Browne’s Beach say about the state of race and class relations in Barbados?
For the benefit of those Barbadians who might not have been paying attention, let me briefly recap the facts.
Sean De Freitas is a white businessman who owns or manages The Boatyard –– the largest and most powerful restaurant and beach bar on Browne’s Beach, the number one beach of choice of native Barbadians.
And over the past month, the said Sean De Freitas has taken it upon himself to wage a campaign of trade-related aggression against a small group (some 14 or 15 in number) of small black Barbadian businessmen who ply their trade on Browne’s Beach as jet ski, snorkle boat and “banana” boat operators.
De Freitas’ “trade-related” aggression has taken the following forms:
1. He has stipulated that every person who purchases an entry ticket to patronize the services of The Boatyard restaurant and beach bar is contractually obligated not to avail themselves of any of the jet ski, snorkle boat or banana boat services offered by this group of small black Barbadian businessmen. (And any customer of The Boatyard who breaches this contractual stipulation is liable to be immediately ejected from The Boatyard –– as in fact happened on February 1, 2015,
to a Mexican tourist by the name of Pedro Gracia.)
2. He has erected a “Notice” in The Boatyard which asserts as follows:
“Due to the unruly behaviour and refusal of some of the jet ski and watersports operators to conduct their business in an orderly and professional manner while on this beach, as well as to ensure that your stay with us is as hassle-free as possible, we regret to inform our customers that one of the conditions of entry into The Boatyard will be that once you choose to use our facilities and wear the required wristband, you also agree not to do business with these operators while doing so . . . we apologise for any inconvenience this may cause; however your safety is of great importance to us . . . .”
3. De Freitas also avails himself of a public address system, and regularly informs the tourists lying on his beach chairs on Browne’s Beach (as well as all others within earshot) that the group of jet ski and water sports operators are substandard, unsafe and suspect, and that they (the tourists) must have nothing to do with these Barbadian service providers.
It also needs to be noted that the 14-odd jet ski and water sports operators are all legitimate service providers who possess licences issued to them by the Barbados Government’s Division of International Transport under the Shipping Watersports Regulations 2004, and that several of them have been plying their trade on Browne’s Beach for in excess of 30 years –– long before The Boatyard was even thought of!
Furthermore, on several occasions these jet ski and boat operators have had to go to the rescue of customers of The Boatyard who have swum out to sea and found themselves in difficulty!
And, needless to say, this campaign of trade-related aggression has taken a toll on these small black Barbadian businessmen, with virtually all of them confirming that De Freitas’ negative characterization of them has so damaged their reputations in the minds of the tourists that they have experienced a massive 80 per cent fall-off in earnings over the past three or four weeks!
Now, the first question that comes to mind in relation to this matter is: “What is there in the social culture of Barbados that would permit a man like De Freitas to form the notion that it is permissible for him to openly denigrate the reputations of these Barbadian businessmen and to so aggressively set out to denude their business prospects?”
Well, De Freitas needs to be aware that, in a country with our peculiar type of race-based history, many people will take note of the fact that he is white and wealthy, and that the jet ski and watersport operators are all black and small business persons. Whether one likes it or not, issues of race and class are always simmering under the surface of social life in Barbados.
It is a fact of our history that for over 300 years Barbadian society was based on a foundation of “white supremacy”, and that a social culture was created in which white people were so possessed of a sense of privilege and superiority in relation to black people that they felt they could do as they pleased and that no one would dare question them.
No less a Barbadian than the great George Lamming has publicly testified time and time again that when he was growing up in Barbados in the 1930s and 1940s, he did not know a single black Barbadian who was not afraid of white people.
And so, back in the 1930s or 1940s, it was not unusual for white Barbadians to engage in self-centred actions that showed little or no regard for the rights or interests of their black fellow-citizens. It was clear back then that such behaviour wasa product of our sordid history of slavery and colonialism. But this is not the 1940s –– this is 2015 –– and we are now almost 50 years into our journey as a post-colonial, Independent nation!
Are we really to believe that after nearly 50 years of Independence that the state of our race and class relations in Barbados is in such a primitive condition that rich white Barbadians are still indulging in the backward thinking and behaviour characteristic of feudal societies?
Oh, say it isn’t so, Barbados! Please tell me that there is no truth to my suspicions? Tell me, for example, that the white corporate leaders of such organizations as the Barbados Chamber of Commerce (BCCI) and the Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association (BHTA) have already met with and spoken to De Freitas and explained to him that what he is doing is unacceptable and just plain wrong!
Well, BCCI and BHTA, have you already acted and done the right thing in this “95 per cent post-slavery black society”, or are you still captive to feudalistic social notions?
Whatever the answer to that question may be, I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to send a message
to Mr Sean De Freitas and all those who still think like him.
And my message is that the black Barbadian community has reached such a stage of consciousness that we will no longer permit our “unfaired” brothers and sisters to have to fight their race and class-based battles alone! On the contrary, we are resolved –– where justice demands it –– to come together in solidarity and to lend our skills and strength to brothers and sisters in need.
In fact, let it be known that a team comprising Mr Bobby Clarke (attorney-at-law), Mr Trevor Prescod (Member of Parliament), Mr Mohammed Nasser (veteran black activist), and your humble servant –– David Comissiong –– has already been mobilized, and is already acting in solidarity with the jet ski and watersport operators of Browne’s Beach!
We therefore wish to assure all and sundry that this matter is going to be dealt with thoroughly and rigorously! There are aspects of this matter which we will need to deal with under the Defamation Act, Chapter 199 of the Laws Of Barbados, and other aspects that will require recourse to the Fair Trading Commission and the Fair Competition Act, Chapter 326C of the Laws Of Barbados.
How sad it is that in 2015 we are not much farther along the road of transforming Barbados into a truly socially inclusive society in which we treat each other as equal and precious fellow citizens!
(David A. Comissiong, an attorney-at-law, is president of the Clement Payne Movement.)