I am fortunate that living in St. Lucia has protected me from racism in many ways. However, it has not saved me from elitism. I grew up in a middle-class family where I had opportunities to travel, afford extracurricular activities, and attend a top secondary school, among other things. While I was fortunate to have a middle-class upbringing, I was not spared from elitism on the island.
But what exactly is elitism? According to the Cambridge dictionary, elitism is “the belief that some things are only for a few people who have special qualities or abilities.” It is common for people in St. Lucia to name-drop and treat you well because of this. It is not surprising that I attempt to avoid elitist behaviour; however, several months ago, I was faced with a situation at a commercial bank on the island, when a relative locally transferred money to my account. The transfer should have taken two days, but often the money arrives after a week. When I had not received the transfer, I decided to head to the bank, the bank teller told me that I had to come back the next day, but I was adamant that the transfer should have cleared that day. The bank teller tried to get rid of me until they realized who was transferring me the money. It was clear that my relative was someone who they considered important in society. From that moment forward, I was treated well, and the money was there when the bank closed. I was lucky, but I knew what would have happened had my relative been no one of importance in their mind.
Their behaviour reminds me that if you are treated with respect or secure an excellent job, you either know or are related to someone with influence, money, and power. This behaviour is rooted in our colonial and enslaved past.
Slavery ended in St. Lucia in 1834, and St. Lucia achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1979. Still, a racial and class hierarchy was left in their place. Usually, class and colourism went hand in hand. In her article Plantation Life published on the website Visions of St. Lucia, Margot Thomas conveyed that on the plantation, the enslaver was the most important person, and other whites were placed in positions of power, such as overseers. The coloureds, or the mulattoes, who were children of the enslaved and their enslavers, were often personal or house slaves and were considered the most prestigious. This racial hierarchy is still evident in St. Lucia, even though it has been reduced. If you had lighter skin and attended certain schools, you were assumed to have come from a well-to-do family, and you were treated better than others.
The racial hierarchy did not always come into play regarding classism because there were darker-skinned middle-class people. This middle class gained social mobility through education and the banana industry. Historically although there was an educated middle class, the Castries Fire of 1948 broke down those social hierarchies, and people began to move upward through bananas.
Thus, in 21st century St. Lucia, if you did not have money or come from a well-connected family or circle of friends, you were a nobody. This is the legacy that colonialism has left us. Some people in St. Lucia would not look at or speak to you until they found out who you knew. People with well-connected friends and family will purport to know someone of import or be a part of a family. These people know that if they name drop, they will impress the people around them and be treated with respect.
All this often leaves me wonder if we are all human beings, poor, middle class, rich, dark-skinned, or light skinned. Don’t we deserve respect? Why do I need to name-drop to receive money? Don’t the poor deserve to be respected? The colourism hierarchy is slowly disappearing but is being replaced completely by elitism. Who do you know will gain you upward social mobility. And even though we are an independent country, elitism is part of our culture, and it is time we started doing something about it.
Written by Princess O'Nika Nicky Auguste