It is now almost fourteen years from April 30th, 1986; when, I had the great honor to deliver the first Aubrey Phillips Memorial Lecture on the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies as a tribute to my late mentor and colleague, Professor Aubrey Phillips. The subject and the title of that lecture was the Marginalisation of the Black Male. What followed was a controversy that has persisted until the present time. On the one hand, there have been those who are of the view that I had introduced a new dimension of the study of gender. On the other hand, there were those who accused me of obscurantism – a male chauvinist parading under the guise of scientific research, and of diverting attention from women’s issues.

Personally, I have never attempted to defend myself against these accusations but rather tried to keep faith with those who have recognized the import of the issues that I have sought to address. Hence, my approach has been to continue to research the subject and apply that research, being convinced that the phenomenon highlighted is not going away, but rather becoming more evident and recognized with the passage of time. I think it fair to say that the passage of these fourteen years has vindicated the path taken.

I therefore welcome the opportunity afforded me by the History Department here at Cave Hill to deliver this lecture in the Gender in Society Series. Indeed, it was historians on the Mona Campus that first acknowledged that the documentation presented was sound. In addressing the topic Male Marginalisation Revisited: The Case of Barbados, I am not going to expand statistical evidence highlighting aspects related to the phenomenon of male marginalisation such as:

  • More male babies being abandoned than female babies.
  • More boys of lower socioeconomic groups suffering from stunted growth than girls.
  • The growing tendency for boys to start school later, attend more irregularly, dropout more often, repeat more grades, have lower rates of completion of schooling, lower levels of achievement and less access to tertiary education compared to girls.
  • Less males than females being enrolled in and graduating from tertiary institutions.
  • More boys and men being patients in psychiatric wards or psychiatric hospitals than girls and women.
  • More men are homeless.
  • More boys and men are committing violent crimes than girls and women.
  • Much larger numbers of boys and men are being incarcerated in correctional institutions and maximum-security prisons.

While, in 1986 these data were challenged on the basis that the methodology employed in their compilation and collation was faulty, they have been confirmed by so many other sources since then, and in so many other settings than Jamaica, that they are no longer in question. The focus therefore of this lecture will not be adding to the log of supporting empirical evidence, but rather on the explanation of these data. I will therefore not only repeat the thesis that was put forward in Marginalisation of the Black Male (Miller 1986 and 1994) Jamaican Society and High Schooling (Miller 1990) and Men at Risk (Miller 1991), but also attempt to extend and elaborate on that thesis by including what I have learned over these years.

It is my contention that male marginalisation is not restricted to Jamaica or the Caribbean or any other country or region and not to any one racial group or religion or any type of economy. Rather, it is a universal phenomenon with different degrees of manifestation and different forms of expression in diverse places and in all eras. That is to say that male marginalisation is not a recent phenomenon. What is new is its forms of expression in the contemporary circumstances of modern society. I will employ both the history of Barbados and theory to support these positions.

In attempting to explain and account for any phenomenon, it is necessary to employ some theory, whether implicitly or explicitly. Theory is at the heart of explanation. At the same time theoretical discussions are usually reserved for the halls of academia and are not usually the focus of public or popular debates. The risk of attempting to address theoretical matters in a popular forum is recognized, but this is the best way of advancing understanding of male marginalisation that is increasingly becoming the focus of popular concern and debate.

History is critical to any understanding of social phenomena for two reasons. History as a discipline contributes to the determination of the facts and more crucially to the establishment of the sequence by which those facts are related by reason of occurrence. However, historians are not by any means neutral in relation to determining facts and sequence in that they must employ theory, implicitly or explicitly, in seeking to interpret the facts and the sequence.

Although I am not trained as a historian, I have loved, respected and read history since school days. I am not a social scientist, if a first degree in one of the social sciences is the criterion for such a designation. My first degree is in natural sciences. I have come to social psychology at the post-graduate level and particularly in education. The interest in male marginalisation has not come about through intellectual speculation but in trying to make sense of observations and experiences as a college principal seeking to administer constructively and appropriately.

(Best 1968) contrasted the British Northern American colonies from the British West Indian colonies by the distinction that the former were colonies of settlement while the latter were colonies of exploitation. This was not to say that there were not British settlers in all colonies. The distinction was with respect to their modal intention. One the whole, British settlers in the North American colonies intended to make North America their home and therefore settled permanently. In the West Indian colonies, British settlers overall, intended to make it rich and then return to Britain to live permanently. Their main intention was to exploit available opportunities. Relatively speaking, of the West Indian colonies, Barbados had a higher proportion of settlers compared to exploiters. It if for this reason that male marginalisation may manifest itself differently in Barbados where more settlers intended to stay in contrast to Jamaica, which had far more settlers who intended to make it rich and return to Britain. As was the case with Jamaica, I will sketch the social history of Barbados and focus on the specific circumstances of gender in the social and school system, especially with respect to gender changes in the elementary school teaching occupation over the last 160 years. In the end, I will return to male marginalisation and the way forward in addressing this phenomenon from a theoretical perspective.

In following this approach, no doubt I am going to disappoint some people, including those who came expecting that I was going to:

  • Raise an alarm about male marginalisation and blame women and women’s liberation.
  • Recite a litany of empirical evidence to highlight and lament the present condition of many men in society.
  • Recant my previous position that marginalisation is not the exclusive experience of women and that gender issues include women and men.


From my perspective, patriarchy and gender are critical to the understanding of male marginalization. While definitions seldom capture the complexity of the phenomena they seek to describe, they are useful in setting the parameters of the discourse and of establishing common meaning between those engaged in dialogue. Given the widely different approaches that have been adopted towards the conceptualization of both patriarchy and gender, it is necessary to set out as precisely as possible the ways in which these are conceived in this Lecture.

Defining Patriarchy

The seminal theoretical contribution of feminist scholarship to social theory has been that of the radical feminist in firmly placing patriarchy as an important category in social theorizing and analysis. However, the problematic has become the definition of patriarchy. (Weber 1947) had defined patriarchy as women and younger men being ruled by older men, who were heads of household. While a few feminist theorists have followed the Weberian definition, the more common approach has been to discard the generation difference between men, in Weber’s formulation, and to define patriarchy as that system of social structures and practices in which men dominate, oppress and exploit women, (Dahlerup 1987) and (Walby 1990).

To define patriarchy solely in terms of men’s domination of women is to treat both men and women as two separate monolithic groups. This posture has attracted sharp criticism especially from Black feminists and post-structural and post-modernist theorists. (Hooks 1984), for example, argued that while White feminists have traditionally conceptualized the family and the home as major sources of women’s oppression, this is not the same among Blacks where the family is not a major source of women’s subordination. Indeed, as more and more Black women becomes heads of households the family and the home have become major loci of their liberation from traditional patriarchal roles.

(Collins 1990) extended the line of argument advanced by Hooks by observing that race, class and gender constitute three interlocking axes of oppression that are part of an overall matrix of domination. She further made the point that while most individuals have no difficulty identifying their own victimization, they routinely failed to see how they contributed to the suppression of others. White feminists typically point to their oppression, while resisting to see how much their white skin constitutes a social privilege. Likewise, African-Americans, eloquent in their analysis of racism, often persist in their perception of poor White women as symbols of White power. Failure to see gender within a matrix of domination leads to a reductionist conceptualization of patriarchy.

Taking a different line, post-modernist theorists have maintained that neither men nor women are unitary categories. They argue that the categories ‘men’ and ‘women’ are overlapping and crosscutting discourses of masculinities and femininities that are historically and culturally variable. In their view, the notion of women and men dissolve into shifting and variable social constructs which lack stability and coherence over time. Walby offered some rebuttal by her observation that the post-modern feminists draw heavily, theoretically, upon the deconstructionism of (Derrida 1976), the discourse analysis of (Foucault 1981) and the post-modernism of (Lyotard 1978) who are all guilty of not paying serious attention to gender. Indeed, post-structural and post-modernist theorists have been no different from modern or classical theorists in their benign neglect of gender in social analysis.  The weakness in the post-modernist conception of gender, is that, as Dahlerup aptly pointed out, men’s domination of society is highly uniform across cultures and throughout history.

In Men at Risk, (Miller, 1991) I approached the definition of patriarchy from the opposite direction of the radical feminists by taking a more inclusive approach. I argued that the main limitation of Weber’s definition of patriarchy was its omission of kinship relations, factual or fictive, that usually exist between older and younger men and women that constitute the household. In other words, patriarchy needs to be defined as that system of domination and reciprocal social obligations in which final authority rests with older men of the kinship collective, who exercise that authority over its individual male and female members in the overall interest of the collective who in return are obligated to the patriarch.

I argued that gender and generation relate to the internal relations of the collective while the genealogy element defines its external boundaries and relations. Genealogy extends kinship outside of the immediate circumstances of households or families by establishing links with other collectives through the assertion of common ancestry. At the same time, by default, it defines collectives that are ‘not kin’. This is of considerable importance conceptually, historically and empirically.

The essence of my argument was that conceptually and historically, patriarchy did not only involve asymmetry in power between men and women, but also shared identity, group solidarity, common bonds and mutual obligations. These differentiated patriarchal collectives from one another. Further, historically patriarchal collectives were in constant conflict with collectives that fell outside the covenant of kinship, particularly with the men of those collectives.

When patriarchal collectives interacted outside boundaries where kinship could be established, whether factual or fictive, then one group had to submit to the hegemony of the other. Failing such voluntary compromise, violent confrontation became the means of establishing dominance. I traced the practices of genocide, where one collective sought the physical elimination of another; the killing of male captives; the castration of male captives which allowed them their lives but disconnected their lineage; and the almost permanent enslavement of men, as historical outcomes of conflict between collectives which did not share the covenant of kinship or where that covenant had been breached. In these circumstances I showed that patriarchal collectives found it easier to incorporate women of non-kin groups than the men of such groups. I maintained that the external relations with men of hostile collectives are as much an element of patriarchy as the internal relations with women of the kinship collective.

I took the position that within the patriarchal collective, generation, age, in addition to genealogy moderate the relations between men; in that, because age is mutable, in time the younger males succeed the older men. Genealogy and generation combine to define the younger males as potential heirs of the older men. Succession dictates male solidarity manifested in older men grooming and apprenticing younger men who reciprocate by waiting their turn. While genealogy and generation contribute to male solidarity within the collective through the process of succession, gender excludes women, who are left marginalized within the kinship collective by virtue of such exclusion. Within patriarchy, therefore, women are marginalized in the internal relations of the kinship collective. However, the genealogical relations between men and women of the collective, ameliorate women’s marginalisation by virtue of the filial bonds and the obligation to protect and provide for them by fathers and sons.

Further, I argued that the genealogy element, defining the external relations of patriarchy, defined non-kin men as potential threats and possible enemies. In these circumstances of relations between unrelated collectives, where the covenant of kinship did not exist, the subordination of one collective relative to the other, voluntarily or by violence, becomes the only means of establishing the bases of interaction. Therefore, patriarchy includes the marginalisation of men of the unrelated collectives, in one way or another. Where the men of the subordinated groups accept the hegemony of dominant groups, they have been invariably allowed to maintain patriarchal dominance within their subordinated groups. Where the hegemony of the dominant group is challenged, the group that prevails takes severe action against their challengers resulting in the elimination or marginalisation of the males of the conquered group.

The essence of my contention therefore is that patriarchy does not only involve the marginalisation of women within the kinship collective but also of men of unrelated collectives. Put another way, two elemental features of patriarchy are

  • The marginalisation of women within their kinship collectives, and
  • The marginalisation of men of collectives, outside the covenant of kinship, over which dominance is established by voluntary or violent means.

The implication of this definition of patriarchy is that gender cannot be understood or interpreted solely in terms of men’s domination of women. Gender analysis is not simply about the asymmetry in power between men and women. A gender perspective is not only about women’s issues. To understand gender as being synonymous with women is to misconstrue or misinterpret the concept of patriarchy. The point is that gender analysis cannot assume solidarity between men and women belonging to different groups in society. This is because gender operates in conjunction with the other social criteria upon which societies are organized.


Defining Gender

In defining gender, it is necessary to differentiate it from sex, although the Essentialist position is that sex and gender are almost synonymous. This biological reduction implies that gender differences between men and women related to size, strength, speed and stamina. These differences all favour men and determine their leadership in society. It must be noted, however, that not only is there considerable overlap between men and women on these traits, but not even among men are these physical differences the defining features of leaders in society. Indeed, they more aptly describe the physiognomy of the bodyguards of leaders. The position taken here is that while sex is biologically determined, gender is socially constructed. The two often overlap. However, this overlap is by no means total, given the regular occurrences of masculine females and feminine men, irrespective of how masculinity and femininity are defined in any particular culture.

One argument employed to support the claims of the biological construction of gender is if gender were only a social construct, then one should expect to find such wide variations in masculinity in history and contemporary cultures that would defy unifying categorizations. However, there are common themes associated with masculinity and femininity across widely different cultures and throughout history. Such common themes, it is claimed, can only be accounted for by biological factors operating through genetics.

In Men at Risk, I argued that the common themes in masculinity and femininity are not inconsistent with their social construction when gender is defined as the sexual division of power related to life-giving and life-taking. It is the universality of the life giving and life taking powers, and not genetic determination, that accounts for the commonality observed throughout history and across cultures.

The Social Construction of Gender and Patriarchy in Antiquity

In the final analysis, the exact nature of the social construction of patriarchy and gender is a matter of speculation. My reconstruction of the social construction of patriarchy and gender in antiquity can be summarized as follows:

  • Early humans lived in small isolated groups in relatively hostile environments of which they had very limited knowledge. Their primitive technology and shelter made them particularly vulnerable to ecological calamities. Adaptive advantage rested in group living. Hence, early humans lived in descent groups essentially to ensure survival.
  • Long life constituted a scarce and treasured resource in pre-literate communities of antiquity as the aged members of the group represented the resident memory of the group and its reservoir of information and past experiences in dealing with the exigencies of living. Men lived longer than women, largely due to risks attendant on child bearing, (Lerner 1986).
  • Women were engaged in child bearing and child rearing from puberty to the grave, as the average life span of females at that time was less than 30 years. Fertility and large numbers of offspring was another treasured resource of survival. The veneration of the Mother Goddess is one of the early motifs found in cave drawings.
  • In addition to bringing life into existence and preserving it, this small autonomous isolated group also had to deal with the issues of life-taking, as it related to the physical and ritual defense of the group. Since biology determined that women gave birth, and they were perennially involved in this activity, and the preservation of the lives that were brought into bearing, life-taking fell by default to the males, particularly to the males of the group.
  • The separation of life-giving and life-taking powers was the original sexual division of power that separated masculinity from femininity. Women were socialized principally in relation to all the life-giving and preservation skills and knowledge, while men were socialized with respect to life-taking. Accordingly, the basic definition of femininity and its surviving common themes reside in the honing of such traits as caring, nurturing, gentleness, kindness, tenderness, co-operation, accommodation of differences, long-suffering, patience, acquiescence and passivity. Likewise, the basic definition of masculinity and its common themes resides in the development of such traits as assertiveness, decisiveness, ruthlessness, courage, valor, confrontation, toughness, conquest and the killer instinct. These latter traits are all related to the capacity to take life with impunity.
  • While there was equality, and even a feminine bias, in the initial separation of life-giving and life-taking powers in group dynamics over the long haul, life-taking proved more powerful than life-giving. While mothers were venerated for life-giving – a one-shot event, fathers were feared in that they held the power to take life on any given day. Fathers exercising the life-taking power became the final authority in all matters pertaining to the descent group. Men and women participated in the sexual separation and division of power without anticipating its long-term consequence for female marginalisation in the kinship commune.
  • While the sexual division of power occurred in antiquity, the father’s power to take the lives of the members of the kinship commune survived well into recorded history. The Druids, who were the priests in Britain before the Roman conquest had a saying which stated that all masters of families were kings in their own households: they had the power of life and death over their wives, children and slaves. Early Roman law codified this power.

Gender, defined as the sexual division of power, departs from the commonly accepted definition of gender as the sexual division of labour – women’s work being restricted to the private sphere of the household while men’s work extended to occupations in the public sphere, (Dex 1985) and (Reddock 1994). This is not to deny that in the course of history, sexual division of labour has occurred. However, this came subsequently to, and as a result of the prior sexual division of power. In other words, primacy is accorded to the power relations of gender and not to labour or work differences.

While the creation of patriarchy and the original construction of gender are shrouded in antiquity, with only circumstantial evidence to support contemporary speculation about the origination of these phenomena, including mine; the contention here is that the contemporary unravelling of gender and patriarchy is but a mirror image of the processes involved in their original construction. In this regard three observations are necessary with respect to the definition of gender as the sexual division of life-giving and life-taking powers.

First, war is the supreme expression of patriarchy and the warrior, the ultimate symbol of masculinity. Unmitigated rage, unbridled fury and unrestrained violence directed at life-taking are the quintessential and ultimate masculine modes of conflict resolution. Warriors, men most skilled and successful in taking life with impunity, are the final arbiters and authorities in deciding differences and in determining what will prevail in society. The universality of war in history and across cultures, and its virtual exclusivity as a male enterprise, testifies to the primacy and pervasive nature of life-taking in defining masculinity and of establishing final authority in societal affairs.

Second, at the root of the contemporary controversy on abortion is the question of whether women should have the right to take life with impunity. The right-to-life side of the controversy is basically that women’s commitment is to give life without reservation or caveat. It asserts the primary basis of the definition of femininity and the essence of the ancient social construction of womanhood. The right-to-choose side of the argument fundamentally changes the ancient foundation of the definition of femininity and womanhood in that it combines the life-giving and life-taking powers. In this regard, it not only changes the primary basis of the construction of femininity, but it encroaches upon and threatens the very essence of the definition of masculinity. By excluding fathers from the choice, women’s right to choose fundamentally changes the construction of gender. While the arguments concerning the rights of the unborn child should not be ignored, the gender definition implications of women’s right-to-choose ought to be recognized as being at the core of the controversy. The deep passions evoked testify to the centrality of the issues being disputed.

Third, in the course of the evolution of society, the father’s right to take life was transferred to the king or chief and eventually to the State. In contemporary times, the right of the State to take life has been challenged in the movement against capital punishment. In a way, this can be interpreted as a tendency toward the reform of masculinity. At the same time, there is increasing escalation of the wanton taking of life by gangsters, terrorists and enraged lone gunmen shooting numerous unsuspecting victims for reasons hard to identify or rationalize. In a manner of speaking, the move to reform the fundamental life-taking definition of masculinity, by men and groups who have been empowered, is counterpoised, counteracted and even compromised by marginalized men seemingly reclaiming their manhood through life-taking.  Mass murder, terrorism, gangs engaged in savage acts of violence, the escalation of murder, mass murder, the move to abolish capital punishment and the counter-move to re-institute it where it has been abolished, all stand in screaming contradiction. Reform and reaction to the life-taking in society is yet another example of the fundamental nature of the construction of masculinity and its continuing relevance in contemporary society.

Gender understood as the sexual division of power is key to understanding many of the great debates in contemporary society. It is also key to unravelling many knotty issues related to gender and relationships in society, including male marginalisation.


In the foregoing discussion of patriarchy and gender, I have pointed to fundamental changes in society such that at the current time, patriarchy is being unraveled, with all the consequential issues and confusion with respect to gender roles and relationships. Before proceeding to the Case of Barbados, it is necessary to locate Barbados and the Caribbean within the macro-factors that have been driving fundamental change in the form, nature and organisation of society and the history of human civilization. From my perspective there are three such sets of interacting factors that can easily be identified. These are:

  • Demographic changes related to the growth of human populations. Planet earth is about the same size today as it was when no more than about 1,000,000 people lived in groups of 50 to 100 persons with little or no contact between them. In these circumstances the adaptive advantage resided with group living. Today with approximately seven billion people, human populations are not only much larger but in much greater contact by virtue of sheer numbers.
  • Ecological imperatives when the land to person ratio and the resources for survival are the primary consideration. The living space for human groups has shrunk considerably. Conflict resolutions by groups putting physical distance between them by one of them moving to unoccupied and uncontested territory have been greatly reduced. Conflicts between groups are virtually required to be resolved with both groups remaining in place.
  • Knowledge and technological development that has transformed all aspects of human existence. This aspect is so well documented and accepted that it requires no further elaboration here.


The scope of this lecture only allows me to make the briefest of sketches of the form and nature of societal changes that have evolved as a result of these interacting macro-factors. The brevity of these sketches necessitates simplification of complex phenomena; however, these are almost unavoidable in the circumstances.  The change in forms and organisation can be listed briefly in sequence as follows:

  • Relatively small isolated hunter/gathering nomadic extended families or lineages or clans that were autonomous and virtually self-sufficient in the conduct of all human affairs.
  • Larger settled lineages and clans living in subsistence farming communities made possible by the agricultural revolution driven by the emerging technology of growing crops and domesticating animals. The temple emerged not only as the first monumental structure but also as the first public space in intercourse between lineages and clans. Priest, potters and metal workers are among the first non-agricultural occupations. The temple is the place in which agricultural surplus is stored, redistributed and traded. Economic exchanges between lineages and clans originate in the temple where it is conducted under divine scrutiny and sealed by sacred vows. These early villages were governed by clan democracy loosely linked to the temple in that the governor had priestly status. The structure of government consisted of a governor, a council of elders of the clans and a general assembly of all free adult males. Together they exercised political, judicial and executive power in the context of consent and consultation on various matters. Final authority rested with the general council in matters of war, with the council of elders in other matters and with the governor in terms of administrative routine, which was carried out in the name of the god. Temple-centered villagers worshipped a pantheon of gods. In each village, however, the task of maintaining community fell to the temple. Religious bonds were the means of binding blood-related autonomous clans together in corporate living. Ritual observances and worship were therefore the first activities transferred from the private sphere of kinship, to the public sphere of corporate existence of non-kin. The blood bonds of kinship were dissolved in the solvent of ritual observance. The common gods worshipped by the clans became the glue of non-kinship solidarity that made village community possible. In must also be noted that a dynamic symbiotic but also contentious relationship developed between settled villages and nomadic pastoral groups.
  • In time, some villages federated to form ancient cities in which one clan owned the government. Several important forces spurred this transformation:
  1. First, the revolution in agricultural production made possible by the invention of the metal plough, harnessing animals to draw the plough, the invention of the wheel and wheeled vehicles, and the invention of writing. This revolution in agricultural production, which occurred around 4000 BCE allowed more land to be brought under production at lower cost and therefore generated much greater surplus that could be redistributed over larger areas and accounted for in writing. It allowed for the expansion of non-manual occupations that could supply the food-producing sector with technology and could provide more efficient public administration. This formed the basis for urbanization.
  2. Second, as cities formed as walled entities surrounded by a necklace of villages and hamlets, they had to be defended militarily either against invaders or by pre-emptive strikes against other cities. The most important outcome of the military defense of cities was the transformation of governance from temple-based clan democracy to royal courts ruled by warrior kings and royal lineages that owned the government. In this development, the palace joined the temple as another instrument of binding clans, lineages, tribes and castes in corporate living.
  3. Third, warriors, priests and kings, often inter-changeable occupations, ruled societies through patriarchal succession.
  • The cooperation, competition and conflict that characterized the relationships between cities and their surrounding villages and nomadic groups can be described as follows:
  1. City-states ruled by kings and boasting temples, writing and schools classified themselves as civilized and the nomadic groups as barbarians.
  2. Imperial city-states established empires guaranteeing their client cities village protection from invasion from other cities and marauding barbarians.
  3. Religious empires replaced imperial cities as the foci of domination as barbarians successfully overthrew the oligarchy of cities that they conquered and imposed or were converted to universalistic religions.
  4. These religious empires were governed from an imperial city but exercised its hegemony, in the name of religion, over cities, dukedoms, earldoms, fiefdoms, sheikdoms, chiefdoms and tribes all structured along ethnic and patriarchal lines.
  5. The code of conquest that was practiced allowed the conquered city or village etc autonomy over its internal affairs provided that they accepted the hegemony of their conquerors.
  • Over the last 400 years nation-states have broken the yoke of religious empires and established themselves as sovereign entities governed by constitutional law.


Before proceeding to a somewhat more detailed look at developments during the era of the nation-state, it is important to pause and take note of patriarchy as it was originally constructed and how it was transformed in the era of city-state and religious empires. Both the ancient state and religion had the potential to alter patriarchy defined in terms of genealogy, generation and gender. Indeed, the high ethical vision of all universalistic religions declared men and women equal in the sight of god. The state and religion were premised on the notions that different kinship collectives owed primary loyalty to the state or religion and not to blood bonds. While both could be regarded as forward movements towards non-kinship forms of association, in fact they both made backward compromises to patriarchal organisation. Lineages, clans and tribes seized the leadership of the state and leadership of the religions and passed on these positions through patriarchal succession resulting in the emergence of royal and priestly lineages and clans. Far from transforming patriarchy, ancient states and religions became structured along patriarchal lines.

It must be noted that the competition and conflicts that arose were between ethnic groups, cities and religious cadres. Because the ancient code of conquest only allowed those groups that had accepted the hegemony of their conquerors to emerge with autonomy over their internal affairs, patriarchy was preserved among both victors and vanquished.

Groups that resisted the hegemony of their conquerors suffered one of the following fates:

  • The physical elimination of the group, in which all members were killed, that is, the group as a whole was killed: genocide.
  • The physical removal of the political and technical cadres of the conquered group and their dispersion within cities ruled by the conquerors thus leading to at least their partial incorporation into the empire of the conquerors.
  • The killing of all the male captives while integrating the women and children of the captives into the lineages of the conquerors.
  • Allowing the male captives to retain their lives while removing, through castration, their capacity to perpetuate their line. These eunuchs were invariably integrated into the bureaucracy of the conquerors as intermediaries and administrators between the ruling elites and commoners.
  • Enslavement of the conquered group in which manumission was much easier for female slaves but resulting in the males of the group remaining almost permanently enslaved.

In ancient city-states and in religious empires, male marginalisation manifested itself in loss of elite status, loss of life, loss of reproductive capacity and almost permanent enslavement. The point to note is that in the contest and conflict between kinship collectives, ethnic groups, cities and religions, among the groups that lost the contest it was the males of those groups that lost the most and whose masculinity was eliminated or seriously compromised.


Unlike the city-states of the ancient world, nation-states encompass both city and surrounding countryside. Invariably nation states are comprised of several cities, with none having political primacy over the others, hence the absence of any need for client relationships between cities. Also, the nation embodies cities, countryside, diverse ethnic groups and different religions while claiming autonomy and sovereignty in its relations with other nations. That is, nations claim pre-eminence in allegiance and loyalty, over and beyond every other social and political allegiance.

Invariably, nation-states are premised on the utopian values of equality, human rights, social justice, and consent as the foundation of government. Further, the fundamental unit of national organisation is the individual national, the citizen. Each national, by virtue of nationality is entitled to equal treatment; enjoys the same rights; guaranteed the same justice; and is empowered by being an elector in determining the government. These transcendental values are invariably enshrined in constitutional law. Further, the State has become the principal mechanism and chief executing agency of the values of nationhood.

By virtue of its construction the nation-state constitutes a frontal attack on society organized on the basis of patriarchy, that is, on the criteria of genealogy, gender and generation. The assault has focused mainly on genealogy as tribe, clan, caste, lineage, race and family are relegated officially to social categories devoid of constitutional or legal content. If the high ethical vision of universalistic religions rendered these categories immoral, then the nation-state has added unconstitutional and illegal to their meaning in the political, economic and social conduct of nationhood.

In the nation; tribe, clan, caste, lineage, race and family are conceded as having only sentimental, nostalgic and cultural meaning. The family itself is reduced to a nurturing unit stripped of its political and economic relationships that surrounded kinship collectives in previous civilizations. On the other hand, non-kin forms of societal organisation are given positive political, economic and social meaning. These include the State, replete with parliament, courts, military establishment, police force, and civil service bureaucracy; and outside of these; political party, corporation, trade union, school and church, mosque or temple.  All of these are constitutionally and legally required to practice the utopian values on which the nation-state is premised and predicated.

At the same time, civil society within each nation carries the legacy of tribal, clan and lineage society. Kinship allegiance, clan honor, perpetuation of the lineage and patriarchal obligations continue to be the supreme values to a greater or lesser degree. In several societies the notion of kinship has been transposed to race, with the same assumptions of blood bonds, group solidarity and mutual obligations as in lineage society. In all versions of this type of society, the family, organized on patriarchal traditions, remains the fundamental unit of social organisation. Within the social reality of nation-states, therefore, is on the one hand, civil society organized on the basis of kinship, clan honor, perpetuation of families, patriarchal authority and filial obligations; and on the other hand, the State predicated on the utopian values of equality, human rights, social justice and representative democracy in which sovereignty rests with the people. Further, civil society presumes the family to be the basic unit of organisation while the State is organized on the individual as the fundamental unit of its constitutional structure.

The national project, by definition, consists of transforming civil society from its ethnic roots, kinship structure and patriarchal traditions into nations in harmony with their constitutions, mandating utopian values, espousing equality, justice, rights and consent. Indeed, the mobilization of nations resides in the implementation of the transcendental values of nationhood along with the promise of material progress. It must be noted that the promise of material progress implied in nationhood, particularly to the mass of the dispossessed groups, has added yet another element of meaning to the values on which nationhood is premised.

The point that must not be overlooked is that the formation of nation-states has neither been the inevitable result of social evolution nor the wholehearted embrace of the high ethical vision of nationhood. Nation-states have all been constructed through the processes of dynamic interaction among groups within nations, where one or two groups become the chief nationalists. While leading the construction of the nation on the utopian values of equality, individual rights and social justice enshrined in constitutional law, the ‘chief nationalists’ invariably skew the construction of the nation in their image and garner substantial advantages to the groups to which they belong. In this context the state, controlled by the ‘chief nationalists’, becomes the major instrument of constructing the nation in their image and to their advantage. The greatest promise for the success of the national project, and threat to its realization, resides in the moral conduct, or lack of it, from those groups claiming and exercising leadership in the implementation of the mandate of nationhood.

The practical reality is that the legacy of asymmetry of power and inequalities of civil society organized based on kinship and ethnicity, are not automatically swept away by applying the national creed. Some of the factors fueling resistance to the full implementation of the national project can be listed as follows:

  • The efforts to retain at least some of their former positions within the nation. of those groups that:
  • previously held power,
  • commanded considerable resources,
  • were accorded high esteem and
  • whose culture dominated the society.


  • The attempts of the newly empowered groups, not only to lead the construction of the nation, but to consolidate their position in the society and nation. Indeed, the democratization of political power has invariably brought about more upward social mobility of those controlling and administering the machinery of the State than of the mass of the people themselves.
  • The formation of alliances between the old and the new guard, to their mutual benefit, which are at variance with the utopian values of nationhood.

It must also be noted that nations and societies are almost always organized based on additional criteria to genealogy, gender and generation. These other criteria include class or status group, religion or ideology, region and residence, income and education. The patriarchal criteria are nested within these other criteria that overlay them so to speak. The interactions between these several criteria create the complexities because they create relationships that are not only vertical or horizontal or diagonal but are also tangential, triangular, circular and semi-circular.

Three additional points need to be noted. First, gender is by no means primary or pre-eminent as a criterion in the organisation of societies or nations. Gender is embedded within other societal criteria. Second, gender operates in interaction with the other criteria upon which societies and nations are organized. In other words, the actions of men and women need to be interpreted within the context of its interactions of criteria such as political allegiance, social class, race, religious affiliation, region, residence and generation. Third, gender solidarity is invariably compromised and diluted by its interaction with other social criteria.

The Transformation of Patriarchy in The Nation-State

In the course of constructing the nation-state from civil society structured on the basis of kinship and ethnicity, patriarchy is transformed mainly as a result of the operations of two processes. The first process relates to partnership and cooperation between men and women of the groups holding previous advantage in the civil society as well as within those newly empowered in the nation, in defending and preserving or enhancing and consolidating their groups’ interests in the nation. The second process relates to the efforts of dominant groups to exclude men of the subordinate groups from most of the opportunities of upward social mobility offered in the nation. Each of these processes will be discussed in turn.

The main elements of the partnership process between men and women are as follows:

  • Group solidarity impels groups to seek the most powerful, strategic, prestigious and lucrative opportunities available in the nation. This is facilitated by the degree of control of the mechanisms of private and public bureaucracies.
  • Patriarchal rank in group determines that greatest access and first preference to opportunities go to older men while last choice and least preference is accorded to younger women.
  • The magnitude of opportunities available in the nation relative to the capacity of groups to the supply of men of those groups to meet the demand.
  • Women of the groups being recruited where the supply of older and younger men of the groups is inadequate in relation to the demand. In this circumstance, patriarchal closure is relaxed in order to retain advantage.

The exclusionary process involves minimizing access to most of the opportunities of upward social mobility from men of the subordinate groups in society. This results in most of the opportunities for upward social mobility going to the women of the subordinate groups. This process has been described by (Miller, 1994). The core elements involved in this second process can be listed as follows:

  1. Conflict between the dominant and subordinate groups in society with respect to the criteria on which the society is organized and challenges with respect to existing inequalities.
  2. The imperative to respond to these challenges by conceding access to opportunities to the subordinate groups in the society. Concessions to such challenges are mandated by legal challenge or the prerogatives of elective politics.
  3. Expansion in opportunities open to the subordinate groups because of the lack of the capacity of the dominant groups to meet the demand.
  4. Control by the dominant groups of the mechanisms and gateways through which members of the subordinate groups gain access to opportunities for upward social mobility.
  5. The willingness of some segments of the subordinate groups to accept the structure of opportunity for upward social mobility as fashioned by the dominant groups.

Implications of Both Processes for the Transformation of Patriarchy

The partnership process redefines, extends and expands patriarchy from within dominant groups to encompass the public as well as the private sphere. This is because their scope of authority and influence is expanded to encompass the subordinate groups. The rule of fathers in the family, lineage, or clan is extended to non-kin groups: political parties, trade unions, colleges, schools, corporations, the civil service etc. Accordingly, men of the dominant groups become the leaders of political parties, executives of corporations, heads of trade unions, heads of the civil service, top officers in the police force. etc.

The essence of this transformation is that non-kin associations and organisations within the public sphere of the nation come to have the same structure of kinship collectives in the civil society. Patriarchy is transformed from being a feature of tribal groups and kinship collectives, into new forms within non-kin associations and organisations as fathers within the groups leading the nationalist charge or holding great economic resources seize or consolidate their places in the new nation. The result is the patriarchal state inclusive of the judiciary, civil service, police force and public education system as well as political patriarchy, corporate patriarchy, trade union patriarchy etc. as men of the dominant groups seize places in these areas within the public sphere in the nation.

The movement away from the rule of fathers in blood-bonded collectives to that of men in political parties, corporations, trade unions, colleges, schools, and other such non-kin organisations transform patriarchy from being the rule of fathers to that of being the rule of men. In other words, in the absence of filial relationship, the rule of fathers is transformed into the rule of men. (Dahlerup 1987) noted the emergence of the patriarchal state and observed that its defining feature was that it functions in the interest of men. The position taken here is that, in the patriarchal state, the men and women of the groups controlling its mechanisms commandeer the dominant positions to serve their interests and prerogatives.

While the partnership process extends the patriarchy of the dominant groups from the private to the public sphere and advances or consolidates the hegemony of those groups over the subordinate groups in the society, by according some women of the dominant group the role of junior partner in advancing group interests in the public sphere, gender as an organizing principle in society is compromised. These junior partners of the dominant group now exercise power over men of the subordinate group. At the same time, the junior position in the partnership raises the question of its justice, particularly in the context of the national creed professing equal rights and justice.

The second process, involving male marginalisation in the subordinate group, is even more radical in its undermining of patriarchy in that genealogy, gender and generation are all compromised as organizing principles in the society. By sponsoring the mobility of members of the subordinate group to positions previously reserved for the dominant group, genealogy is compromised. By advancing young people over older folk, generation is called into question. By skipping young women over their fathers and brothers, and prospective spouses, gender is compromised.

The net result of such sponsored mobility is that some women of the subordinate groups become even more liberated from traditional patriarchal and feminine roles than their peers in the dominant group. Not only are they accorded roles in the public sphere, but they also become heads of households and not simply substitutes in one generation until male succession is restored. Patriarchy in the private sphere is reversed in a large proportion of the subordinate group as, through the process of male marginalisation, many men are without the means and symbols through which they can sustain their traditional masculine and father roles as prescribed by patriarchy.

The exclusionary process undermines patriarchy in the subordinate group. This is accomplished by the following:

  • Breaching patriarchal rank by promoting women over their fathers, brothers and spouses.
  • Undermining the material symbols by which the males of the subordinate group reinforce their authority within the group.
  • Fostering matrifocal forms of socialization in homes and schools, consistent with the structure of opportunity in which girls are most likely to succeed in accessing the socio-economic opportunities for advancement open to the group.
  • Fracturing solidarity in the subordinate group by the differential rates of incorporation of males and females into the mainstream of the society which, in the long-term results in the men being blamed for their lack of socio-economic progress, and men resenting the advancement of females of the group ahead of themselves.

These two processes are by no means mutually exclusive. Indeed, they are highly compatible. The first process operates mainly, but not exclusively, within the dominant group, and those other groups in the society with which they establish alliances. The second process operates largely within subordinate groups especially in circumstances of conflict with the dominant group.

Patriarchy Expanded and Extended but Compromised and Weakened

Ironically, while patriarchy is transformed, expanded and extended by both the partnership and exclusionary processes to encompass the private as well as the public spheres in a nation, it is also compromised and weakened. The factors related to this paradox are as follows:

As the authority and power of the men of the dominant groups are expanded, there is the corresponding marginalisation of large numbers of men of the subordinate groups resulting in increased polarization between men in that nation. While some men become increasingly powerful, many more men become part of a highly marginalized underclass. At the same time, the position of women becomes more equalized as many women of both the dominant and the subordinate groups come to occupy middle positions in the public and private bureaucracies in the nation. While these women are subject to the glass ceiling imposed by the men of the dominant groups, the former are in a much more advantageous position materially than men of the underclass.

The continuing masculine bias in the dominant groups and the underclass and the feminization of the middle strata result in a state of flux in numerous relationships previously constructed based on patriarchal norms as patriarchal patterns are compromised in numerous instances. For example, many young women exercise authority over their fathers and brothers. Several wives become the chief providers of their families. Many mothers become heads of households. Numerous women are unable to find husbands of comparable social and economic status and therefore decide to become single parents. On average girls out-perform boys in schools and colleges.

The polarized position of men in the nation is consistent with the criteria upon which the civil society is organized; be they ethnicity, social class, religion, or area of residence. These bases of inequality stand condemned in the national creed and constitution. Hence the moral authority of the dominant group is undermined and diminished by charges of corruption, patronage, clientelism, nepotism, discrimination and victimization which they cannot successfully defend given the marked disparities.

Political, corporate, trade union, school and other non-kin association bonds are relatively weak compared to blood bonds, assumed in kinship relations. Given this weakness, the tendency is for non-kin associations and organisations to fracture and disintegrate in the face of sustained resistance or gross failure to comply with necessity to change.

Confusion of roles and relationships result as traditional roles are undermined and subverted with the new roles and new relationships appearing as deficits, deviations and defaults of traditions. Accordingly, there is little celebration of the changing roles and relationships but instead condemnation and lament concerning departure from patriarchal traditions.

Changes in the Nature of Power

In Men at Risk, I showed that over the long haul of history, and with the fundamental changes that have taken place in the form, nature and organisation of society, there have been important shifts that have taken place in relation to the exercise of power. Three broad shifts have occurred.

Shift in the distribution of power such that power in society has become increasingly centralized. In ancient society, many men through patriarchal authority, exercised absolute power over the small autonomous groups to which they belonged. In modern society fewer and fewer men exercise great power over more and more people including other men.

Shift in the location of power from the private to the public sphere. In ancient society life and death, occupation, discipline of family members, sexual behavior, education and all other matters related to group survival were the prerogative of the private sphere of autonomous clans or tribes or castes or lineages or families. Over the course of history, and increasingly in the nation-state, authority in these matters has increasingly been transferred to the public sphere of parliaments, courts, law enforcement, public bureaucrats, hospitals and schools. Protection and provision have become the responsibility of states, especially in the states with highly developed welfare systems. The traditional role of men to protect and provide has been severely eroded.

Shift in modal idiom of power from the personalistic to the materialistic. The personalistic idiom of power is characterized by transparency, open brutality, unapologetic honesty, leadership from in-front and codes of chivalry and honor. Its essence is the male macho image civilized by codes of self-restraint. Power in the materialistic idiom is covert, disguised, impersonal, often deceitful, concealed by plausible deniability and equivocal in accepting responsibility. It allows decision-makers to sympathize with intended victims by claims of ignorance and the misdeeds of intermediaries.

Power as it has been transformed in its distribution, location and idiom has had far more negative implication for men carrying the legacy of tradition and socialization to believe that centralized positions at all levels of society is theirs by birthright. The opposite has been true about women. Having been marginalized within patriarchal structures for thousands of years the fundamental changes and consequential shifts in the three facets of power has indeed liberated many women from their historic marginalisation. While many men may be confronted by changes that have negatively impacted their expectations and socialization, many women are inspired by the new opportunities and energy of rising from marginalization.

In the confusion that has surrounded many of these changes, ironically some women have not celebrated their liberation from marginalisation within patriarchy but interpreted their circumstances in terms of male failure to perform their traditional patriarchal roles. Likewise, many men have not afforded themselves the opportunity to understand these changes and instead embarked on courses of self-destruction and the destruction of others in a manner that is consistent with the traditional definition of masculinity in patriarchy which directs violence at anything that it does not understand or cannot control.

It is against this sketch of Male Marginalization Revisited that we now proceed to examine the Case of Barbados particularly as it relates to public elementary school teaching and the Barbadian society. While male marginalization is a universal phenomenon in ancient and modern societies, its manifestation is context specific within every era of human civilization. It is therefore necessary to trace its history and identify its manifestation in the circumstances of Barbados.


At first glance, the Barbadian social structure appears simple and easily understood.  Throughout most of its modern history, Barbados had the same White, Coloured and Black segments that had existed during slavery. Lewis’s concept of a “pigmentocracy” should explain most social phenomena in such a relatively small and stable country.  But Barbadian society is the epitome of Caribbean complexity in the face of apparent simplicity.

Ethnic and Social Composition

To begin with, at emancipation, its relatively large White settler segment was neither a homogenous nor a harmonious group.  There were the planters and merchants popularly called the pumpkins; yeoman farmers; land-owning middle class called the Salmagundi; and the landless poor Whites called the red-legs. [1] While Whites differed sharply in social status and material substance they were united in sentiments of racial superiority.  The red-legs did not have the material substance to sustain such prejudices. They occupied a socio-economic niche that was said to have been at or below the level of the slaves. [2] Such objective evaluations were substantiated with anecdotes of slaves extending charity to them. However, red-legs could not be regarded as an inconsequential element of the White population in that they were the majority.  The total White population just after emancipation was 12,797, and red-legs were estimated at about 8,000. [3]

The Coloured population at emancipation was as stratified as the White segment though holding different positions. A small minority either owned plantations or were large merchants.  More were comparable to yeoman farmers.  Many more were artisans, tavern keepers and shopkeepers. A substantial number were in a similar situation to the slaves.  But they were probably more united than the whites.  The movement of the slaves to emancipation facilitated the struggle of Coloured segments for civil rights. Some significant results were achieved in 1831, when they were granted full legal status although the qualifications imposed on them for voting rights were higher than similar requirements for Whites. [4]

The Barbadian Blacks at emancipation were also a stratified group. Free Blacks held a position in the Barbadian society at emancipation similar to that of Free Coloureds. In the 1820s Free Blacks were about 47 per cent of the free non-white population, (Beckles 1990). While most were hucksters, tradesmen and tavern attendants some had achieved prominence in the business community, especially in towns. Among the ex-slaves a significant portion of them were literate, in addition to being skilled, (Beckles 1984). In addition to those who had taught themselves to read, in the 1820s the Methodists had pioneered the practice of teaching slaves and their children to read and write, (Beckles 1990). The majority, however, were illiterate and unskilled, and engaged in agricultural labour.

At emancipation what the Barbadian society lacked in terms of racial diversity is fully compensated by greater stratification among all groups.  In addition, each segment of each group had some sense of its own identity but took collective action on occasion. [5] Yet, the social position of Blacks came to occupy in Barbadian society after emancipation, and the general social structure of Barbados, remained virtually unchanged and basically stable up to the end of the 19th century.

Economic, Social and Political Accommodation

[Lobdell, 1972] showed that while Barbados faced the three crises of the sugar industry of the nineteenth century – emancipation, free trade after 1846 and sugar bounties after 1884 – it survived almost unchanged. Lobdell maintained that the Barbadian planters used slave compensation money to pay off indebtedness to British merchants and that this eased the credit problems that followed the Free Trade Act. Also, up to 1874, the British Government protected its home sugar refineries that used the muscado sugar produced in Barbados.  After 1874, much of Barbadian sugar was sold in the United States that was also promoting their own sugar industry and used muscado sugar.

(Reviere 1972) and (Marshall 1968) were of the view that the amount of available arable land was the fundamental factor which led to an early and enduring understanding between former slaves and planters.  There was virtually no land not already allocated almost entirely to the sugar plantations.  The newly freed slaves at emancipation were landless and were to remain so for a long time except for house sites.  The land was also owned locally, almost entirely. These residents had strong Barbadian commitments and did not sell readily and, as Marshall pointed out, when they did, the price was high. The former slaves virtually had no immediate alternatives but to become willing workers where they had previously been slaves.

This problem of landlessness was not relieved by the fact that Barbados was already overpopulated at emancipation and continued to increase in population until the end of the century.  While the population did decline in the early decades of the twentieth century there was no time that over-population was not a factor in the Barbadian economic calculus.  This essentially meant that Barbados did not have the labour problems of some other Caribbean countries. The Barbadian planters never seriously faced a labour shortage.  While blacks became workers without the possibility of obtaining land to farm, they also had to face the prospect of strong competition among themselves for such jobs as were available.

The problem faced by the ex-slaves at emancipation is amply illustrated by the fate of a curious category of whites called military-tenants. [6] During slavery, plantations were required by law to supply a certain number of men for the militia.  The planters had used this as a device to both ensure their security as well as provide employment for some red-legs. These red legs then became military-tenants on the plantations. An allotment of a house and a small portion of land were granted in return for service in the militia. Abolition rendered this system redundant.  The law was abolished.  By 1840, the military-tenants had to leave the plantations. Faced with the same situations as the ex-slaves many became agricultural laborer’s, a job they despised because of its association with blacks and slavery. [7]

The Barbadian planter was in the driver’s seat.  The accommodation reached with the ex-slaves, and the former military tenants, was that of worker-tenants.  The ex-slaves and military tenants were allowed to remain on the estates, keep their houses and provision ground and customary privileges on the basis of being a tenant of the planter. However, in return the tenant and his household had to work on the plantation.  This relationship was enshrined in law.  The ex-slave could be imprisoned for breach of contract.[8] As (Richardson 1985) pointed out, while by 1897 the Master and Servant and Landlord and Tenants Acts had been modified and fine-tuned to remove imprisonment of the tenant and were replaced by clauses that required written agreements and mutual obligations, they still tied the worker-tenant to the estate and left him vulnerable to legal harassment.[9] The plight of the landless Barbadians was not relieved by failure of the sugar industry as was the case in Grenada.

Lobdell showed that while crises experienced by the sugar industry in the British West Indies after emancipation collectively ruined the sugar industry in Grenada, Dominica, Montserrat and St. Vincent and forced estate consolidation from individual owners to corporations in Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana and St. Lucia, Barbados remained the exception. In 1897, only 14 of the 440 sugar estates in Barbados were owned by corporations. He attributed Barbados’ survival to excellent quality muscado and low production costs. Barbadian labour paid part of the price of that low cost.

Modest Changes at the Turn of the 20th Century

But even when in the twentieth century Barbadian planters were forced to change technology to the vacuum-pan method and adopted central factories, they did everything to maximize retention of the ownership of the factories and lands. While they were not 100 per cent successful, they retained more local ownership than in any other Caribbean colony.  While the tenacity of the Barbadian plantocracy to retain local ownership must be admired by those who believe in Caribbean ownership of land and the means of production, the stark reality is that the price of such ownership was a static social structure which gave little social room for upward social mobility to Black Barbadians.

But it was not only Barbados’s linkage into the world sugar market and therefore, economic system that ensured stability.  There were other factors as well. For example, migration was always a factor in Barbadian history.  Barbados has perhaps exported more of its people at all stages of regional history than most other countries. Migration was officially encouraged at several periods, and only successfully legally barred immediately after emancipation when the planter-controlled Assembly, renowned for its abundance of caution, unnecessarily imposed restrictions.  In the period under review, (Sheppard 1977) has shown that the ruling class sponsored the migration of red-legs and coloureds, particularly to women of these groups.

(Newton 1984) and (Richardson 1985) analyzed the emigration of blacks to Panama, and later to Cuba and the United States, concluded that migration contributed to both maintenance of the status quo as well as to change. It did the former by relieving the pressures that would inevitably be caused by unemployment in an overcrowded island. Emigration of blacks to Guyana, Trinidad, Leeward and Windward Islands, and probably most important Panama and later Cuba and the United States, certainly relieved such pressure.  Significantly only when this door was closed in the 1920s and 1930s did the social cauldron boil to overflow in the riots of 1937.  The colonial officials recognized the safety valve effect of migration hence when the planters got unnerved by the exodus to Panama and sought to restrict such movement by Registration in 1917, the colonial office disallowed the law. [10]

Richardson’s analysis of the impact of Panama remittances in contributing to social and economic changes in Barbados is particularly insightful.  Richardson noted three areas in which emigration to Panama, and the money flowing back to Barbados, contributed to change.

  • It prodded the planter to modernize technologically because he was no longer sure of an overabundance of labour on which his antiquated factory depended. Without cheap abundant labour, he could not compete in the modernized world system.
  • The remittances provided some of the local capital needed for that modernization thus relieving some of the pressure of external corporate ownership. Nevertheless, it did not provide the capital, hence the planters had to loosen some of their grip on the land. The grip so loosened, the remittances allowed some blacks to acquire land if even in small quantities.
  • These circumstances which led to the creation of central factories, the separation of the growing of cane from its manufacture into sugar and rum, and the greater purchasing power of blacks through emigration money. This undermined the paternalism of the planter-tenant relationship which had strong connecting cords to the social relationships of slavery. [11]

As Richardson himself pointed out, these were not overnight events.  They started with the turn of the century and stretched into the 1930’s.  It is also necessary to take some account of their magnitude. Take for example the crucial issue of the ownership of land by blacks:  Richardson produced evidence to show that in 1897, there were 8,500 small proprietors controlling 10,000 acres. However by 1929, this number had increased to 17,731.  Although he was not able to ascertain the increase in acreage, he quoted a survey of small-scale holdings in 1929, which concluded that while there were many small proprietors, there were few who were cultivating the land as peasant farmers. [12]   This seems to suggest that a Barbadian peasantry was slow to emerge even after it had acquired additional acreage.

Richardson showed that between 1906 and 1920, 718,000 pounds were remitted by emigrants in Panama to Barbados through official sources.  He conservatively estimated that probably over 1,000,000 Pounds was remitted from that source, if unofficial transfers are taken into account.  This did not include the value of goods sent and brought back. Barbadians continued similar patterns of remittances from United States, Cuba and Canada. Richardson argued and provided evidence to show that the amount of these remittances of emigrants was sufficient to help finance modernization of the sugar industry.

The point that must not be overlooked is accommodation between ethnic groups in Barbados and nascent Barbadian nationalism. Some Blacks who migrated to Central America, Cuba and the United States acquired capital through labor, returned to Barbados and purchased land from White planters apparently not for reasons of farming but for domicile. White planters in need of capital to modernize their businesses opted to sell land to Black Barbadians to raise needed capital instead of seeking capital from foreigners.

Lobdell noted that there were 440 plantations in 1897. Following the pattern of the time each would have its own factory. Richardson reported the existence of 329 factories in 1911 and 263 in 1921.  By 1911, there were 14 factories in eight of the eleven parishes operating on the new and central milling strategies. By 1921, the number had to be further reduced to19.

The trend towards central milling decreased the requirements for skilled labour as it depended less on, boilers, blacksmiths, caterers, wheelwrights and required fewer mechanics, since fewer factories were needed. It increased the practice of seasonal employment since it brought about a stricter definition between factory and field. Equally important, it brought about a less personalized relationship between worker and planter. Customary rights and privileges were eroded.  The location of labour on the estate was no longer of critical importance.  These changes had implications far outside of the sugar industry.

The second factor that needs to be noticed is that Barbados always had representative government, Crown Colony restrictions notwithstanding. [13] The Barbados Assembly was never dissolved. The Assembly always had two representatives for each of 11 parishes plus two from Bridgetown. While the Colonial Office pressured, and Governor Hennessy helped to instigate a case of black rebellion, the Barbadian Assembly never surrendered the principle of representative government although it compromised on the extent of its powers. [14]

What this meant was that although Barbados maintained an electoral process which excluded the poor, which meant most Blacks, because of the stratification of the society the Assembly always included Blacks and Browns who could and did defend the interests of their groups. While this could be said to be more symbolic than substantial, at least the planter class could not monopolize the decision-making machinery.  When this is combined with the fact that Barbados always had a vigorous press and a population with high literacy levels, the planters’ powers had to contend with constraints of an elected political machinery, vigorous press and literate marginal majority.  The plantocracy’s almost unlimited power in the economic sphere, through the control of land, was contained to some extent by political representation, the press and its numerical minority in the population.

The third factor was the Black Barbadians themselves. Probably the best commentary on the Black Barbadian of the nineteenth century was Des Voeux’s statements about the Black Barbadians he had observed as agricultural laborer’s in St. Lucia.

“The Barbadian bears somewhat the same relationship to the Negro of other West Indian colonies as the workman of large towns to the agricultural labourer. The struggle for livelihood in a dense population has sharpened his wits and given an edge to his tongue. He has a fuller knowledge of his rights and is not only not slow and sometimes inconsiderate in asserting them but is apt to return with interest any real or fancied attempt to encroach upon them. It is therefore not surprising that he should prove a disagreeable substitute for the submissive and docile Coolie. There are instances, however, where gangs of Barbadians have, under judicious management, proved valuable plantation labourers”;(HCPP 1872 Vol. XLII, page 120).

Des Voeux’s Dispatch of 1872 to the Colonial Office on the results of importing Barbadian labourers into St Lucia was probably not telling them anything they did not already know.  All accounts of Barbadian labourers in other islands seemed to have said the same thing.  Barbadians knew their rights and were not slow to insist on them.  One can only conclude that they must have learned those rights in Barbados.  If they required judicious management in St. Lucia, the same must have been true in Barbados.


Although Barbados, prior to emancipation, had more schools than any other Caribbean colony, the schools were all private operations.  Emancipation and its educational associate, the Negro Education Grant of the Imperial Parliament, forced the development of a public elementary school system.  The Imperial Government did not partner with the Assemblies to form public school systems because of their opposition to the abolition of slavery. Instead the Imperial Government partnered with Protestant denominations across the region. At emancipation Barbados was almost totally Protestant. The major proportion of the allocation of the Negro Education Grant allocated to Barbados went to the Anglican Church.  The other denominations establishing public elementary schools for Blacks were the Wesleyans and the Moravians. (Schomburgk 1848) reviewing the system that had been established said that it was founded “upon the national system, in the principles of the Established Church”. [14] In the contemporary terms of those times, it meant that the system was established on the concept of infant and juvenile education. Infants were children up to eight (8) years old. Juveniles were children between 9 and 15 years old. [15] Schomburgk reported that of the 3,932 children attending public schools in 1844, 372 were infants. [16] For the year 1844, Schomburgk reported the following number of schools and their enrolment as shown in Table 1.









Schools and their Enrolments in Barbados: 1844.

Type of School                                                          Number        Enrolment

  1. Parochial schools                           58              3,932
  2. Harrison’s Free School                           1                   24
  3. Private Schools in St. Michael                        30                 600
  4. Private schools other Parishes                          119              2,145
  5. Moravian schools                        4                  359
  6. Wesleyan Schools                          4                 416
  7. Jewish school                       1                   15
  8. Lodge school                     1                     6
  9. Total                                                                  218              7,497

Source: Adopted and Adapted from Schomburgk (1848) page 107.

Schomburgk seems to have taken it for granted that all the children in school were between the ages of 5 and 15 years. He then went on to use data from the 1844 census to calculate that 33.6 per cent of the children of school age in Barbados were enrolled in school in 1844.  He then concluded: “The subject of education is of the greatest importance. A more liberal system has spread over the colonies; it is no longer the wish of the great proprietors of the land to keep the labouring classes in the darkness of ignorance; that enlightened system which distinguishes our age will not be restrained by unnatural barriers, and its influence so manifest in civilised Europe, has likewise extended to the distant colonies”.   (Schomburgk, 1844 page 108).

While the great magnanimity of the “great proprietors of the land” is in question, Schomburgk’s statement about the spread of education from “civilised Europe to the distant colonies” can be better understood when it is realized that 33.6 percent of school age children enrolled in school in 1844 was close to comparable to the highest levels of enrolment in “civilised” Europe at that time. [17] Barbados could therefore be said to have made an impressive start with respect to the establishment of mass education immediately following emancipation.

Schomburgk’s figures are interesting from other perspectives.  They showed that Barbados in 1844 had 218 schools and the majority of those schools were private – 150, when the Jewish school is included in the calculation.  An interesting feature of official nineteenth century documents in the Caribbean is the paucity of information given about these schools.  Much more information is given about schools for the “poor” which were public schools. Schomburgk is one of the few sources giving any details about private schools, their number and enrolment.  What makes the perennial omission glaring is that these were the schools that the children of the officials were most likely to attend.

Table 1 shows that while an impressive start had been made, educational provision for elementary education of blacks was still far below their proportion in the population. This is deduced from the fact that Schomburgk grouped under the heading “Parochial schools” the Anglican schools for blacks plus vestry and other parochial schools from which they were excluded. This highlights both a glaring defect of Schomburgk’s useful and informative description of education in 1844, as well as a key factor in education in Barbados in 1844.  Education operated on segregated lines. [18]

The segregation was threefold.  First, there were seven schools exclusively for children of poor whites. Second, the schools of the denominational system, which numbered about 56 in 1844, catered almost exclusively for children of ex-slaves – Blacks and Browns. [19] Third, the private schools, Harrison, the Jewish and the Lodge schools catered for children of the more affluent Whites and Browns. Interestingly, the only schools that were free were those catering to poor whites, red legs. To complete the social complexity of the educational provision, there were several schools in St. Thomas and St. James which were ostensibly open to all classes, but which in reality served poor whites. [20]

Shephard (1977) produced substantial evidence from observers of the period to support the conclusion that the schools catering to poor whites were of an inferior standard to those of the denominational system catering to Blacks.  She also maintained that the children were less healthy, probably suffering from the effects of hookworm and from more deprived economic circumstances than the Blacks.  On that basis she justified the practice of the time of providing the segregated schools for poor whites with subsidies of school meals and clothing and sometimes boarding, which were not provided for Blacks. [21] Without detracting from the humanitarian basis for such assistance of these deprived children, it would be naive to rule out the real possibility that such a need for humanitarian assistance was not as readily perceived or responded to when needed by Black Barbadians.

A significant point to observe is that the level of education offered to all children of all colours and economic circumstances in 1844 in Barbados, was of the elementary standard or just a little above as was the case with the Harrison and Lodge schools. The Barbados Assembly did not contribute any financial support to the establishment of the denomination system between 1835 and 1845. Its only support was 512 Pounds to the central schools which catered to poor whites. [22] Following the cessation of the Imperial Grant in 1846, the Assembly voted an annual grant of 1,000 Pounds for public elementary schools. Interestingly the planter-controlled Legislative Council, while approving the Bill, reduced the amount to 500 Pounds but being a money bill, this reduction had to be accepted by the Assembly which unanimously rejected it. [23]

The Denominational system therefore, began to receive public revenue in the sum of 1,000 Pounds from 1846 but this could not compensate for the loss of the Imperial Grant.  In 1850 a joint committee of the Council and the Assembly reviewed the public educational system and made recommendations for the “Act to provide for a more extensive and general education of the people of the Island”.  This Act provided for the establishment of an Education Committee, the appointment of an Inspector of Schools and a grant of 3,000 Pounds over two years. [24] The grant was to be allotted to all public schools with enrolments of over fifty children which related to any Christian church, and to dame and infant schools set up for the education of the middle classes. [25]

While the financial provisions of the Act were manifestly inconsistent with its grand design, its significance lay in the fact that it signaled the development of state involvement in the educational system in Barbados. The denominational system established after emancipation survived the loss of the Imperial Grant even though the Government’s assistance given was extremely modest.  The churches financed the system mainly through fees and their own resources. They also controlled their own affairs. Churchmen were the reformers. For example, in 1858 the Education Act was amended on the recommendation of another Joint Committee advised by Bishop Rawle, head of the Anglican church.

The innovations were:

  1. a) free infant schools
  2. b) introduction of a pupil-teacher system
  3. c) professional training for teachers
  4. d) expansion of the curriculum from the three R’s and scripture to include grammar geography, history and music. [26]

Thereafter, the elementary system became more formally organized into infant and juvenile schools.  The central schools which had been exclusively for poor whites were modified to accept children of all races.  By 1860 the number of denominational schools, juvenile and infant’ had expanded to 89.

The most far-reaching changes in Barbadian education came in the aftermath of the Morant Bay rebellion in Jamaica in 1865. As (Hoyos 1978) showed the Colonial Office was intent on introducing Crown Colony Government in the entire Caribbean and the Barbadian Assembly was equally intent on retaining representative government.  A running battle ensued because Imperial policy was not easily defied, and Barbadians in Barbados were not easily moved.  While the planter class was not unmindful of the Jamaican events and their implications, they did not panic concerning similar developments in Barbados.  The colonial administrators and the Colonial Office were not as sanguine.

Several of the colonial administrators in Barbados and the Anglican Bishop of the time, Bishop Mitchinson, were openly critical of the planter elite.  Some of their comments were scathing.  Acting Governor Feeling in 1875 said “The well-known characteristic of Barbadians, is to consider that they and their institutions are perfect, and to be indignant at criticisms from strangers”. [27]   Mitchinson went further and observed “the lack among the upper classes in the community of that higher culture which develops breadth of thought and largeness of view”. [28] Governor John Pope Hennessy went beyond rhetoric. He exposed the brutality of the penal system especially in the treatment of children. [29] It is accurate to say that in the 1870s, the planter elite in the West Indies was under fire from the Colonial Office in London, the colonial and the administrators. In Barbados the planter elite, in addition, had to endure the orchestrated righteous anger from the hierarchy of the Anglican Church.

It is not surprising therefore, that the planter-controlled Assembly conceded one of the major regional amelioration policies of the Colonial Office, educational reform.  The Assembly mandated the Mitchinson Commission in 1874, received its recommendations in 1875 and enacted a new education law in 1878. The reforms that were implemented were:

  1. The abolition of segregated schooling based on colour.
  2. Continued separation of infant and juvenile schools.
  3. Increased teachers’ salaries and reduced school fees.
  4. Increased Government support for education.
  5. The employment of children under 12 was made illegal.
  6. Government provision for training teachers.
  7. The reorganization of endowments to provide high school education.
  8. Provision of high school education for girls.
  9. The establishment of exhibitions to enable promising students to go to the best schools.
  10. Improved control of educational standards by Government by more adequate inspection.
  11. Establishment of a Barbados Scholarship to University abroad. [30]

The Education Act of 1878 had important implications for public elementary schooling and teaching.  These could be summarized as follows: increased number of schools resulting in higher enrolments and therefore increased demand for teachers; better training and remuneration for public elementary school teachers; racial integration of schooling resulting in Black and poor White children attending integrated public schools; the creation of an educational ladder as public elementary schooling was to be linked with high schooling through exhibitions.

Unlike some legislation that was passed but not implemented, the Education Act of 1878 was implemented.  The Dispatch on the Blue Book for 1881 commenting also on the census of that year noted “the large increase under the head of scholars and the decrease in the number of persons under 15 unemployed, are doubtless due to the impetus which has been recently given to education”. [31] By 1882, the Governor could report that the provisions of the Act had been implemented. [32].  The secondary system, complete with exhibitions and the Barbados scholarship came into place. These educational reforms in Barbados pre-dated similar developments in the rest of the West Indian colonies. One major difference between similar reforms that were enacted in Jamaica in 1879 was that Barbados had created an integrated system of elementary and secondary education while Jamaica sponsored a virtual apartheid system where selected public elementary school students were selected, through the pupil teacher system, to be trained in teachers’ colleges while private elementary school students had free passage into public secondary schools. Private elementary school and public secondary schools catered almost exclusively to children of affluent white and coloured parents.

Table 2 shows the number of public elementary schools between 1844 and1891. [33]


The Number of Elementary Schools in Barbados: 1844-1891

Year                                Infant          Primary         Combined             Total

1844                                   –                    –                      56                    56

1860                                                  not     available                             89

1871                                   68                   79                    –                  147

1881                                   81                 106                    –                  187

1885                                   88                   62                   45                 195

1891                                 111                  62                   28                  201

Source: Blue Books of Barbados.

While enrolment in 1844 stood at about 4,000, by 1881 it had reached 16,040 and climbed to 23,140 by 1889. [34]

Gender and Ethnicity of Elementary School Students: 1872 to 1930s

Before completing the description of the development of the elementary system, there are two observed tendencies that are of relevance that must be pointed out. First, by the time of the Mitchinson Commission, it was noticed that Black parents were retaining their children, mainly their girls, in infant schools even after they had reached the age of transfer to the juvenile school. On the other hand, the juvenile schools enrolled mainly boys. One possible explanation is that parents were reluctant to send their girls over age 10 to schools taught by men.  The records show, however, that infant schools employed mostly male teachers.  As late as 1899 almost half of the infant school teachers were males.

The more likely explanation appears to be that faced with free infant schools and fee-paying juvenile schools, parents kept their girls in the free schools and sent their boys to the fee-paying schools. Paying fees for boys was an investment from which they hoped to receive a return. (Cole 1982) also noted this pattern and was of the view that parents, including mothers, were influenced by and acting according to prevailing patriarchal traditions of those times. [35] The available evidence supports this second explanation and does not suggest that Black parents were reluctant to send their girls to juvenile schools because of the gender of the teachers. Lower or no fees at infant schools compared to juvenile schools and the tendency of parents to invest in their sons rather their daughters resulted in the gender differences observed in public infant and juvenile schools serving mainly the Black population.

Second, poor whites were reluctant to send their girls to public elementary schools: infant or juvenile. [36] The Education Act of 1878 had virtually forced the integration of poor whites who for more than two centuries had separated themselves from Blacks though they probably lived in worse circumstances, if all the reports are to be believed. When this integration could no longer be avoided in education, they sent their boys to the public schools but not their girls. Sheppard (1977) quoted a visitor to Barbados in 1921, who was of the opinion that the reason for this practice was that it was “not safe” to send them to public elementary schools.[37] However, Sheppard pointed to the fact that despite the denial of public funds to segregated schools a number of such schools continued to exist with private support. These racially segregated schools catered mainly to poor white girls. In a nutshell, poor Whites sent their boys to racially integrated public schools but sent their girls to racially segregated private schools.

These two tendencies, or patterns, point to a common practice among blacks and poor whites in the latter quarter of the nineteenth century: that of perceiving and using public elementary education as a means of upward social mobility, especially for boys. Both Blacks and poor Whites sent their boys to public infant and juvenile schools. While Blacks sent their girls mainly to the public infant schools, poor Whites kept their girls out of the public system altogether. With financial help from the affluent White segment, poor Whites sent their girls to racially segregated private schools. Financial support for such a practice would indicate that withholding poor White girls from integrated schools was a matter of some social significance to the White segment as a whole.

Sheppard concluded that the integration of the public school system, and the attendance of poor white boys in them, was the critical factor in the rehabilitation of red-legs and their subsequent disappearance as a group in the Barbadian society by the mid1950s. [38]  She showed that by that time the descendants of those who had not left the country were either in the middle or upper classes.  Sheppard stated that the importance of the public elementary school to their success was considerable. Sheppard’s insightful analysis and conclusions need to be extended.  Poor whites were the chief and most immediate beneficiaries of a public system ostensibly established to create equality of opportunity for Blacks.  Blacks experienced far less mobility through these same channels.

Barbados, at the beginning of the 20th century, began to experience a decline in the school population. [39]   This was attributed to the effects of emigration, declining birth rate and high infant mortality.  The Bree Commission had recommended one school per square mile, 166 schools.  After 1912, the Department of Education began a policy of reducing the number of schools by closing small out-of-the way schools and erecting new schools in more central areas. [40] By 1918, the number of schools had declined from 201 in 1891 to 139.  There were 57 boys’ schools, 58 girls’ schools and 4 combined schools and 20 infant schools. The enrolment was 20,327.

The elementary school system so formed remained basically unchanged until the 1960s. In 1951, constitutional changes brought about adult suffrage and responsible government.  These were mainly the outcome of the social unrest of the 1930s.  The democratization of political power in 1951 brought about corresponding changes in the educational system in the late 1950s.  These changes merged with the movement of Barbados to political independence in 1966. The changes included expansion of the school system, the reintroduction of co-education, improved training for teachers and lowering of the pupil teacher ratio.



By the time of the abolition of slavery in 1838, the colony had a well-established private school system which served Whites and Freed Blacks and Coloureds. Latrobe in 1838, found 112 private schools which employed 114 teachers and enrolled 3,986 pupils. Single teacher schools were the norm. Of the 114 private school teachers, there were 59 women and 55 men. Most of the male teachers were Coloured, while most of the women teachers were White. The interaction between race and gender was exactly consistent with what would be expected in a context in which Whites had greater access to the higher position in society, while Coloureds and women had less access to those same opportunities. Few local White men were engaged in teaching since as a group they had access to a greater range of occupations than any other groups. Coloured were more restricted in their choices. That most of the female teachers were White, while most of the male teachers were Coloured was entirely consistent with the social stratification of the Barbadian society and its implication for access to opportunities at that time.


The Gender of Private School Teachers: 1838 -1921

Table 3 shows the gender of private school teachers in Barbados between 1838 and 1921.

Table 3

Gender of Private School Teachers in Barbados: 1838-1921

Male                                     Female                               Total

Year                   No.           Per Cent                No.       Per Cent                No.        Per Cent

1838                   55                48.2                   59           51.8                    114           100.0

1871                   88                41.3                 125           59.7                    213           100.0

1891                   65                21.7                 235           78.3                    300           100.0

1911                   36                12.8                 245           87.2                    281           100.0

1921                   21                16.7                 105           83.3                    126           100.0

Source: Compiled from Latrobe Report, Censuses and Blue Books.

From Table 3 shows that by 1838 private elementary school teaching in Barbados was already a female occupation. The Table also shows that private elementary schools, and the number of teachers they employed, increased substantially between 1838 and 1891. From 1838 to 1871, private elementary school teaching was female biased. By 1891, private elementary school teaching had become predominantly female even in the circumstances where the absolute number teachers employed declined substantially. These data have to be understood in light of the laws in 1871 which mandated the development of an integrated public elementary and secondary school system resulting in the partial integration of red-legs into the public elementary school system as previously described.

The Gender of Public Elementary School Teachers in Barbados: 1838 -1995

In 1838, Latrobe found over 50 public elementary schools that had been established by the Negro Education Grant and the churches. These schools employed 71 teachers. As such, the private elementary school system in 1838 was slightly larger and employed more teachers than the public schools. However, there were racial and gender differences between the two systems. Most of the public elementary school teachers were Coloured, some were White and only four were Black. Most of the White teachers were recruited from abroad for the special circumstances of the inauguration of the public system. Most of the public-school teachers, 43, were male while 28 were female. Public elementary school teaching in Barbados commenced as a predominantly male occupation.

Table 4 shows the gender of public elementary school teachers in Barbados between 1838 and 1995.

Table 4

The Gender of Public Elementary School Teachers in Barbados: 1838-1995

Male                                  Female                          Total

Year                    No.          Per Cent                No.         Per Cent         No.          Per Cent

1838                     43              60.6                    28              39.4             71             100.0

1871                   263              69.6                  115              30.4           378             100.0

1891                   245              57.1                  184              42.9           429             100.0

1904                   208              50.9                  201              49.1           409             100.0

1911                   235              49.0                  245              51.0           480             100.0

1921                   231              41.4                  327              58.6           558             100.0

1951                   337              43.3                  442              56.7           779             100.0

1963                   351              36.6                  607              63.4           958             100.0

1985                   355              24.6                1090              75.4         1445             100.0

1995                   337              22.9                1136              77.1         1473             100.0

Source: Compiled from Latrobe Report, Censuses, Blue Books, Ministry of Education Statistics.

The gender composition of public elementary school teaching as shown in Table 4 manifests a substantially different pattern from that of private elementary school teaching.  First, in 1838, while private school teaching was already female biased, public school teaching was inaugurated as a predominantly male occupation. Second, between 1871 and 1911 while the private school system became increasingly female, the public elementary school system remained male biased until 1904 and shifted to being female biased in 1911. Third, public elementary school teaching became female biased in 1911 and remained so up to 1951 when adult suffrage and responsible government was implemented in Barbados. Fourth, in the era of Ministerial government and political independence public elementary school teaching has become predominantly female. While the absolute numbers of male teachers in 1951 and 1995 are the same, 337, the number of female teachers increased from 442 to 1136, that is an increase of 257 per cent.

Private elementary schools in Barbados catered to a different social segment of the Barbadian society than public schools. Teachers in these two types of schools were drawn predominantly from their separate social segments hence the different directions in their gender composition between 1838 and 1871 had different implications for both segments.

The increase in the number of male teachers and the male bias in the public elementary school system meant that Black males benefitted substantially by the growth of the public elementary school system from 1838 to 1891. Given the fact that elementary school teaching was a core occupation of the middle class, public elementary school teaching became a key to the modest expansion of the Black middle class, especially in the context of the limited opportunities available in the economy. While this pattern was like Jamaica the proportion of male teachers in public elementary schools never reached 70 per cent, compared to 90 per cent or better in Jamaica.

At the same time public elementary schools from their inception had female teachers in significant proportions: 30 odd percent between 1838 and 1871, 40 up to 1904 and 50 odd percent from 1911 to 1951. In other words, gender was more equitable in Barbados public elementary school system from emancipation to the mid-twentieth century than in Jamaica where the male bias reached 90 percent by the last decade of the 19th century and female bias reached to 60 odd percent by the mid-twentieth century.

On the other hand, in the private elementary school system a female bias was evident from 1838, became increasing so over the rest of the 19th century and continued over the course of the 20th century. During this period, poor whites, red legs, had been the overwhelming major of Whites in the Barbados gained access to the integrated public elementary and secondary school system and enjoyed considerable upward mobility to the extent that they disappeared as a distinct socioeconomic category of Barbadian society.



The data presented in Table 4 showed that in broad outline the gender composition of elementary school teachers in Barbados mirrored the social structure of Barbadian society both in areas of conservation and change. The period 1891 to 1911 marked the decades in which the gender of public elementary school teachers changes from being male biased to being female biased.

It is therefore prudent to examine this period more closely than previously described in order to better elaborate and expand on the factors involved. This period coincided with modest but significant changes in the structure of the Barbadian economy. The social factors related to the economic structures precipitating reforms in the educational system enacted during this period included:

  • the reduction in the number of elementary schools, the restructuring of elementary schools as single-sex institutions;
  • the introduction of agricultural instruction for boys and domestic economy for girls as part of elementary schooling;
  • the placement of restrictions of public expenditure on elementary education; and
  • the introduction of different levels of pay for male and female teachers.

In attempting to unravel these inter-relationships, a critical question becomes, why did the Barbadian Assembly reorganize elementary schools in 1897 along single-sex lines and also introduce lower levels of pay for women teachers?  No official document, found by the writer, gives any rationale for these changes. Also, they appear to have been implemented without much public discussion or fanfare.  Why were these changes made and what connection existed between single-sex elementary schools and salary differentials between male and female teachers?

Concerns About Unemployment of White and Coloured Females

It is necessary to take note of certain demographic characteristics of Barbadian society in the closing decades of the nineteenth century and the opening decades of the twentieth century. Table 5 shows that between 1871 and 1921 the White population declined steeply, the Coloured declined modestly, while the black population grew very slowly between 1871 and 1891 and declined modestly to 1921.  The steepest decline was among Whites.

Table 5

Barbadian Population: 1871 to 1921.

Year      White     Coloured      Black

1871      16,560     39,578      105,904

1881      15,780     42,660      113,216

1891      15,613     43,976      122,717

1911      12,063     41,533      118,387

1921      10,429     34,218      111,667.

Source: Census of Barbados 1871 to 1921

The 1891 census went to great lengths to establish that one of the effects of emigration was to alter the gender composition of the adult population. More men were migrating than women.  The result was a disproportionate number of adult women compared to men in the population. Unlike the adult population, gender composition of school children remained unaffected by emigration. Table 6 shows the ratio of females to males in the different racial groups within Barbados in 1891.


Gender Composition of Barbados Population: 1891.  Number of Females per 100 Males

AGE GROUP    White             Black          Coloured     Average

Under 15              91.5             100.7           102.2           100.4

15 to 19               96.0              110.9           124.9           113.0

20 to 39             101.3              148.8           173.8           148.5

40 plus             168.8              150.7           190.0            160.9

Overall              112.7              122.5           136.2            124.8

Source: Barbados Census 1891

Table 6 shows that in 1891 overall there was gender balance among the population under 15 years of age, although among Whites there were more males than females. Among the 15 to 19 age cohort there were more White males than females but among the Blacks and Coloured the reverse was the case, particularly among the latter. In the 20 to 29 age cohort there was almost gender parity among the Whites but a disproportionate numbers of Black and Coloured females compared to males. In the 40 years plus cohort, there were decidedly more females than males in all groups, but particularly so among the Coloureds.

The point of noting the impact of emigration on the population is not to suggest that it contributed directly to the introduction of single-sex elementary schools or on lower pay for women teachers, but rather that the gender changes must be understood in the context of these demographic shifts.

As early as 1871, Governor Rawson in commenting on the Census noted the disproportion of females to males in the society and was concerned that many women were flocking into towns.  He asked rhetorically “what do they become?”  and answered, “domestic servants, seamstresses and washer women”. [41] Commenting on the 1881 census the Colonial Secretary also noted and commented on unemployment among women.  He observed, “whilst the number of those who have no visible means of support (and in that category probably 50 per cent of the so-called seamstresses may be included) should have increased, is a matter of serious consideration”. [42]

It is interesting that female unemployment should have attracted such attention and concern from high colonial officials in Barbados in the latter decades of the nineteenth century. Top Colonial officials did not have a reputation of being overly concerned about conditions that produced an abundance of cheap domestic servants.  The focus of this concern appeared to be that many of these women were White and Coloured. Put bluntly, the colonial officials were concerned about significant numbers of White and Coloured women who had no visible means of financial support.

Evidence of this concern comes not only in their comments on demographic data from censuses but also from practical steps they took to address their concerns. Using the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Anniversary in 1897, the colonial officials and the Assembly established the Victoria Emigration Society.[43] The object of the society was “Assisting the emigration of poor women who are compelled to earn their living but who are unable to do so in Barbados”.[44] The act establishing the Society was initially opposed in the Assembly on the grounds that it was too narrow in scope. The Act initially described the women who were to be assisted as “women in reduced circumstances”.  The opposition was withdrawn when the words “poor women” were substituted for the phrase ‘women in reduced circumstances’.[45]  This rather cumbersome definition of the beneficiaries of the Society was a thin disguise for the fact that the Society was established to assist White and Coloured women, the change of phrase notwithstanding.

The Trustees of the Victoria Emigration Society were the top rank of the Barbadian society: the Governor, the Anglican Bishop, the Attorney General, the Colonial Secretary, one member of the Legislative Council and three members of the Assembly.  The Society was established with an initial grant from the Treasury of 500 Pounds and the assurance of an annual grant of 150 Pounds, and 194 Pounds from the Jubilee Fund with the prospect of further contributions from this source.[46]  The colonial government not only marshalled public and private support in Barbados for this venture but also secured the assistance of the Imperial Government through the Colonial and Foreign Offices in London.  In the confidential dispatches to the Colonial Office there was no need to disguise the racial and social background of the beneficiaries. They were described as White and Coloured women and girls from respectable circumstances.  Some of the early applicants for assistance were described as “ladylike, well brought up white girls and women….whose earnings in regular employment by dressmaking and needlework are no more than six pence a day”.[47]

The reactions of the Colonial Office officials in London were revealing.  Mr. Ellis articulated the observations that won wide acceptance.  His minutes stated:

  1. There was good demand for White women as domestic servants both in Canada and the United States.
  2. Blacks were not wanted in the United States and Canada was too cold for them. They would die from tuberculosis.
  3. The Colonial Office should seek the assistance of the Canadian government in this scheme.
  4. The Foreign Office should enlist the assistance of the United Kingdom Ambassador in Washington and the Consul General in New York.
  5. The women should not be sent without somebody in the United States and Canada to receive and assist them initially. [48]

The efforts of the Barbadian ruling class and the Colonial Office to assist White and Coloured women to emigrate with the assistance of the Victorian Emigration Society, were successful.  Sheppard (1977) reported that by 1900, 179 white women and 50 coloured women had been assisted to emigrate by the Society.

The official records in Barbados clearly show that during the last three decades of the nineteenth century there was concern among the colonial officials about growing unemployment and underemployment of women, particularly White and Coloured women who came from the middle strata of Barbadian society but had fallen on hard times. One solution that emerged was to assist such women to emigrate. But these were not the only groups about which the colonial officials and the ruling elite harboured such concerns.

They were equally concerned about unemployed black men. This concern grew as sugar declined in the 1880s and 1890s.  Agricultural labourers and artisans – black males – were also assisted to emigrate.  Among this group particular attention was paid to young black males who had committed offences and had been placed in the Reform schools.  Special efforts were made to find employment for such men and a scheme was also developed to assist them to emigrate.  This scheme, however, did not get the same level of support from the Colonial Office.

The position of black women with respect to concerns about unemployment and emigration assistance in the late nineteenth century is worth noting. Where concerns existed about black unemployment, such concern was focused on young males. They were assisted to emigrate. Black women were left out of any assistance. When women were assisted, it was White and Coloured women between the ages of 20 and 40 years old. Black women were left out as blacks and as women.  They were doubly ignored.

One concern about Black male unemployment was centred on fears of “a Negro rising”: rebellion by black men. Such fears were a perennial aspect of Caribbean society. When the British Garrison in Barbados was closed in 1896 fears were expressed about such a “rising” after the troops had been withdrawn. The scheme to assist young Black men to emigrate, especially those that had committed offences as youths, is readily explained in relation to this fear.

The question arises as to what was the cause of the concern for the unemployment or under-employment of White and Coloured women?  Put another way, what could have caused colonial officials to question socio-economic conditions that produce cheap female labour; census-takers to do in-depth analysis to show that the disproportionate number of women in Barbadian society was concentrated among White and Coloured women between 20 and 40 years old?  What could cause legal draftsmen to reach such heights of ambiguity as to coin the phrase “women of reduced circumstances”; and a Bishop to recommend the introduction of single-sex elementary schools without giving an explanation? Bishops do not have a reputation for silence when recommending educational reforms.  To top it all, what could inspire the parsimonious Barbadian Legislature to vote money for the emigration of women?

One possibility is that ruling class concern was related to the engagement of white and coloured women in prostitution.  However, both Hoyos (1978) and Sheppard (1977) reported evidence to show that white and coloured women had been engaged in prostitution from earlier in the nineteenth century.[49] While this practice may have increased in the latter part of the century and may have been part of the concern, no specific mention is made of it nor measures taken that could be related to prostitution as the major component of the concern.

A more probable explanation appeared to be related to the increased financial status and purchasing power of black males returning from stints in Central America.  White and coloured women with little or no means of financial support could be tempted to form permanent liaisons with Black men with cash.  Such liaisons would undermine the social structure and ideology of Barbadian society as surely as a “Negro rising”. The solutions to this problem were to expand and increase employment opportunities in Barbados for these women or failing that to assist them to emigrate.

The increased employment of women teachers between 1891and 1911, which resulted in the shift in the proportion of women from the minority to the majority of elementary school teachers, seemed to have been related to the creation of employment for White and Coloured women during this period. The introduction of single-sex elementary schooling and the restriction of teaching in infant and girls’ schools to women teachers only seemed to have been principal strategies used to increase employment opportunities in teaching for these women. Both of these employment policies, recommended by the Bree Commission, were implemented from 1896.

(Cole 1982) was of the view that the segregation of the sexes introduced in 1897 was consistent with the morality of the times.  Girls were not allowed to be alone with boys without a chaperone. But there were other options by which the chaperoning problem could have been solved.  In addition, these Victorian views had existed for a long time, why should they have suddenly resulted in educational reform.  While the existence of these Victorian views facilitated the reform since they conformed to the conventions of the times, the contention here is that the introduction of the Catholic type single-sex organisation of schooling by Anglicans in Barbados was not occasioned mainly by moral considerations.

(Karch 1981), in her analysis of the rise of the corporate economy in Barbados between 1890 and 1937 and its impact on social formation, noted that two of its consequences were the growth of the commercial sector and with-it urbanization, particularly in Bridgetown. While Whites were seven percent of the total population in 1911, they were 16.2 per cent of the population in the environs of Bridgetown. She further noted that the main beneficiaries of this development were working class Whites. This was because most of the white-collar jobs opened by these developments were reserved for these Whites of lesser means. She noted that while these clerical jobs were low-paying they carried high social status in circumstances in which agricultural and manual labour constituted the major source of employment.

Karch observed that clerical occupations and store assistants became the main sources of employment for poor White women and were reserved almost exclusively for them. This would suggest that as these sources of employment emerged and expanded, bearing in mind their requirement for literacy and numeracy, there was strong incentive to secure a good education for poor White girls.

The Integration of Poor White Girls into the Public System

While there is clear evidence in official records about the concern for the unemployment of White and Coloured women, and that reforms of the education system to promote female employment in public elementary schools were related to these concerns, other factors appeared to be operative. It was noted previously that the 1878 reforms created racially integrated schools to which poor Whites sent their boys but withheld their girls. It is possible that the reform of the public system of the late 1890s, and the employment of White and Coloured females as teachers, could have been related to the desire of public officials to induce the poor White segment of the population to send their girls to public schools.

Some evidence to support this hypothesis is that between 1891 and 1921, there was a substantial decline of the number of private elementary schools in Barbados with a resulting decline in the absolute number of teachers employed in that sector. The number of private school teachers declined from 300 in 1891 to 126 in 1921. The number of female private school teachers declined from 235 to 105. Over the same period, the number of female teachers in public elementary schools increased from 184 to 327. The coincidence of these two opposite movements in the private and public sectors of elementary school teaching, at least, suggest that that White and Coloured female teachers from the private schools moved into some of the newly created positions for female teachers in the public school system.

It could be argued that the single-sex reform was merely a rationalized practice. It has been pointed out previously that parents had long retained their girls in infant schools, while boys were invariably sent to juvenile schools.  Most women teachers were employed in infant schools.  Men were the teachers in juvenile schools. In a sense the single-sex reform rationalized this practice. Infant schools were the nucleus of girls’ schools and juvenile schools the nucleus of boys’ schools.

The position taken here is that reform of elementary schooling in the last decade of the nineteenth century, which introduced the single-sex school as the basic unit of the Barbadian elementary school system, and which created the opportunity for expanded employment of female teachers, was most likely the outcome of two initiatives undertaken by the colonial officials and their allies. These were the efforts of the ruling elite to promote the employment of White and Coloured women for social reasons and the facilitation of the integration of poor White girls into the public elementary school system.

This reform of public education attracted little attention because it was consistent with the moral conventions of the times. It rationalized the practice where infant schools had a preponderance of girls and juvenile schools a preponderance of boys.  The manner of its implementation had all the tell-tale signs of planter class craftiness and British colonial administrative sophistication and subtlety. No rationale was given for the reform. Also, because the reforms were crafted within the moral convention of the times, and were consistent with existing practice, the changes made inspired little or no resistance.

Support for this inference comes from the fact that salary differentials were introduced between male and female teachers at the same time as the single-sex reform. The reversal of the principle of parity of pay for teachers of different genders was not accompanied by any explanation.  Like the single-sex reform it was simply implemented. But this was an extension of practice in that infant school teachers, who were mainly female, were paid less than juvenile teachers who were mainly male.  The pay conventions of the times adhered to the principle of paying women and men differently for the same job. Hence to have boys’ and girls’ schools and to pay the teachers in the former more than the latter was totally consistent with practice that had evolved.

It needs to be underscored that women were being paid less and not that salaries for men were being raised.  Both male and female teachers were being paid the same salaries as before, only that this took place in the same institution. Even in promoting employment for White and Coloured women or inducing private school teachers to take up employment in the public system, the Barbadian Government was keeping faith with its parsimonious traditions. The State budget remained unchanged. Governor Rawson in 1873 was very candid about teachers’ salaries when he stated, “one of the reasons why respectable results may be obtained here at comparatively low cost is that, the country being over-populated, labour of all kind is cheap, and many of the teachers live on small salaries, there being no more remunerative market for their labour”.[50] White and coloured women were in oversupply related to the jobs available in teaching. Seventy- five per cent of the salary of a male teacher was much more than the six pence per week earned from being a seamstress or from needlework. In addition, 75 per cent of a male teacher’s salary constituted an increase in salary for infant school teachers.  The differential between infant school and juvenile school salaries was wider than 25 per cent. In solving White and Coloured women unemployment problems, the state was demonstrating responsible concern, it was not being generous. It was not going to pay more than it had to, even to White women.

Two critical points must not be missed. First, the reorganization and reform of the public elementary school system by creating single-sex schools; restricting men from teaching in infant schools and in girl schools; and paying male teachers in juvenile teachers more than female teachers had no immediate impact on Black male teachers employed mainly in juvenile schools. Their position in the reform remained virtually unchanged. The long-term impact was restricted impact on employment opportunities for black males desiring to become elementary school teachers in the future. They were not present to critique, resist or oppose these reforms which took place without a murmur. After 1904, males became the minority of teachers in public elementary schools in Barbados.

Following political independence in 1966, coeducation was introduced as the main school type in the Barbadian educational system. This change is associated with the period in which elementary school system teachers became overwhelmingly female. In other words, the change to single-sex schooling after 1904 and the change back to coeducation in the after 1966 coincided with increased employment of female teachers. This suggests that factors other than school-type have been responsible for the shifts in the gender composition of public elementary teachers in Barbados.

What is highlighted is that public elementary school teaching was one of the few middle class occupations open to blacks in Barbados in the nineteenth century. Blacks had membership in the various denominations that ran the schools and therefore influenced in the operation of the school system. In addition, the schools depended on the payment of fees. Throughout operation of the denomination school system in the latter half of the nineteenth century, Black boys predominated as students and Black men predominated as teachers in public elementary schools. As such, the public elementary school system contributed significantly to the emergence of a Black male led middle class in Barbados during in the nineteenth century.

State control of the public education system at the end of the nineteenth century instituted reforms that reduced future opportunities to black males by restructuring the school system along single sex lines and legally restricting men from teaching at the infant level and in girls’ schools. This reduced the opportunities open to Black men through elementary school teaching and increased the opportunities to female teachers, the vast majority of whom were White and Brown in the first instance. These reforms at the end of the nineteenth century are an example of the exclusionary processes at work. Specifically, it is an example of the exclusionary process in circumstances of accommodation between dominant and subordinate groups in Barbados at that time. While the action taken by the Assembly in conjunction of the Imperial Government decreased the opportunities of Black Barbadian males in gaining employment public school teaching than was previously the case, this reform was not as drastic as that taken in Jamaica around the same time. By mid-20th century, while most of the head-teachers were men, over 70 per cent of public elementary school teachers in Jamaica were females compared to over 50 per cent in Barbados as shown in Table 4. In 1995 females were 77 per cent of public elementary school teachers while in Jamaica females were 91 per cent of public elementary school teachers.

In this regard, it is important to note that adult suffrage and representative government were introduced in Barbados in 1951 through constitutional reform. Ministerial government came into being in 1954.

The first Black Barbadian was elected to the Assembly in 1940 following civil disturbance in 1937 riots and the formation of the Barbados Progressive League in 1938 out of the Trade Union Movement. The democratization of political power resulted the change to multiracial representation in the Parliament that replaced the Assembly and multiracial politics with respect to the political parties that were formed. White Barbadians were no longer in the majority in Parliament or at the pinnacle of political leadership of the colony and later country. They continued, however, to be the main holders of economic power. The newly elected Black and Brown representatives had as their mandate the removal of the racial barriers that existed with respect to access to job and educational opportunities. In this period, class was elevated to being the primary criterion upon which the Barbadian society was organized. Most of the elected representatives could be classified as members of this class, or soon attained such status by virtue of the appurtenances of political office.

Barbados obtained independence in 1966. By then the society was fully mobilized around the themes of nationalism, including allegiance to symbols of flag, anthem and pledge and expressions extolling the ideals of equality of opportunity, social justice, racial integration and the rights of nationals. The leaders of the nationalist movement, including the political directorate and the civil service bureaucracy, were drawn almost entirely from the Black and Brown middle classes particularly through stints of service in the trade union movement or the professions.

These circumstances dictated that avenues of upward social mobility be opened to the mass of the population, the vast majority of whom were Black and of the lower social strata. In this regard the social stratification difference between the leadership of the nationalist movement and the mass of the electorate must not go unnoticed. Those charged with freely opening the gates of upward social mobility were the newly empowered middle strata Blacks and Browns. The major beneficiaries of the ideals of the nationalist policies would be the large marginal lower strata Blacks. It is in this context that the female bias in public elementary school teaching increased significantly.

The Stages of Gender Composition of Elementary School Teachers in Barbados          

When the changes in the gender composition of public elementary school teachers in Barbados is examined in the context of educational developments between 1838 and 1995 and alongside the societal factors which shaped these developments, the following observations and inferences appear warranted:

  • Public elementary schooling was established in the post-emancipation period as a segregated institution in a society segregated according to race. In the first decade the teachers were predominantly Coloured and White and male.
  • The denominational education system operated between 1846 and 1878 with minimal government assistance and control. The system remained segregated and employed an increasing proportion of Black males as teachers.  Females were employed mainly as teachers in infant schools
  • Reforms in 1878 brought about the racial integration of public schools as poor whites were coerced into participating in the public elementary system. Poor Whites responded by sending their boys to the public elementary schools but kept their girls in private schools, subsidized by that segment of the society. These reforms also brought about greater state assistance and control. The expanded public elementary school system after 1878 resulted in increased employment of males as teachers in juvenile schools and female as teachers in infant schools.
  • The employment of women teachers continued to increase in the 1890s and the first decades of the twentieth century as the state promoted the employment of White and Coloured women as teachers and encouraged the enrolment of poor White girls in the public system. The means used to promote the employment of women as teachers were restricting infant school teaching to women only and by creating single-sex schools and mandating that students and teachers had to be of the same gender. These measures legally excluded men from teaching infants and girls. The men involved were mainly Black and Brown. At the same time the pay policy introduced mandated that women would continue to be paid infant school salaries, which was 75 per cent of the salary of teachers in juvenile schools, that is, of male teachers. Even in rescuing poor White women from unemployment the Assembly was miserly
  • 1911 to 1951, women constituted just over 50 per cent of elementary school teachers as the structure of public elementary schooling remained basically the same for the first half of the twentieth century.
  • Public elementary school teaching became an overwhelmingly female occupation after 1960, in the post-independence period, following the expansion of public elementary schooling, increased demand for teachers, and the democratization of educational and employment opportunities consequent upon prior democratization of political power in 1951. This change in the gender composition coincided with the re-introduction of coeducation.
  • The increasing female bias in the gender composition of elementary school teaching took place in the context of expansion in the demand for teachers and the employment of women to meet much of this demand. It is only after 1985 that there has been a small marginal decline in the absolute numbers of male teachers employed in elementary schools in Barbados.

When these relationships are taken in sequence it seems valid to infer that public elementary school teaching was predominantly male during the period of denominational control of public schooling.  Male dominance in public schooling also coincided with the period when the elementary system mirrored the racial segregation in the Barbadian society.  The coincidence of denominational control and segregation meant that males predominated in education when Blacks who were the main patrons of public education had effective control of that system. Just as Black parents sent their boys to the more advanced juvenile school but retained their girls in infant schools, in making use of the upward social mobility offered by elementary school teaching they sponsored and supported their sons and not daughters for such employment. Poor whites sent their sons to the public schools but retained their girls in private schools.

Female predominance in public elementary school teaching coincided with the process of racial integration of the school system and state control of that system.  State control translated into a loss of effective control by Blacks of the public elementary school system. In these changed circumstances, the access of the Black male to the public elementary teaching occupation was restricted by their legal exclusion from teaching infants and girls. Also, the shift from majority male to majority female public elementary teachers took place precisely during the period when significant socio-economic changes were taking place in Barbadian society at the turn of the twentieth century. Included among these was the State’s efforts to reduce the unemployment of Poor White and Brown females through emigration and job creation, including through the public elementary school system.

It must also be noted that public elementary school teaching in Barbados has become overwhelmingly feminine during the post-independence period when Black and Brown middle class nationalists assumed political power through support from the large marginal Black majority. While upward social mobility has been significantly expanded in this period, the opportunities through elementary school teaching have gone mainly to the women and not the men of the marginal majority. In other words, far from reversing the gender bias that was created at the turn of the century when White administrators and planting interests controlled political power, middle class Black and Brown nationalists, and the bureaucracy that they control, have taken actions which have deepened rather than reversed the female bias in the gender composition of public elementary school teaching.

Private elementary schools in Barbados always catered to children from the upper strata of Barbadian society.  The teachers were also drawn from those strata and were mainly White and Brown.  Throughout the 150 years between 1838 and 1988, private elementary school teachers in Barbados have remained predominantly female. The shifts noted among public school teachers were not matched by similar shifts among private school teachers.  While after the 1960s, both types of teachers were predominantly female. However, they arrived at this destination by two different routes.


Much of what is written about marginality makes the implicit assumption that marginality is a negative or hopeless or even pathological condition. From the perspective of the Theory of Place, marginality in any form is neither  disease, social pathology nor terminal condition;  neither  lamentable state nor permanent situation. Rather marginality is a social fact, that is, a part of social reality of human beings. Therefore, in drawing attention to male marginality, one is not sounding an alarm or highlighting a crisis. Rather one is attempting to describe and understand this social phenomenon with the view of assisting all concerned to deal with this situation creatively and constructively.

From the perspective of the Theory of Place, neither centrality in society, nor its converse – marginality, are by themselves either good or bad. Like everything else in human experience, they are dependent on other factors, particularly on what the holders of those places make of them. Generally, over time those holding central places in society tend to drift toward decadence. They attempt to promote relatives, friends and clients into positions they do not merit. This breeds both corruption and incompetence. They tend to hold on to outmoded ideas, practices and technologies, that is, they become conservative in the sense of being hide-bound to the past. Then they tend to become comfortable as a result of the higher quality of life they enjoy. The drive to achieve, to sacrifice and to suspend pleasure for future gain disappears. Pleasure, comfort and pampering become the hallmark of their lifestyle. Corruption, incompetence, conservatism and comfort combine to produce decay and decline.

On the other hand, over time those at the margin of society develop competence as people of ability are excluded by unjust practices. People at the margin develop moral force because they are discriminated against. Marginalized groups become creative and take risks because they have little or nothing to lose. Moreover, they become highly motivated because of the hunger to achieve. Competence, moral force, creativity, risk-taking and the drive to achieve combine to allow the marginalized to displace and replace those who formerly held central positions in society. This is the brought about by marginal energy.

Human civilization is built on marginal energy and the rise of marginalized. All the great civilizations of the world starting with the Sumerian in Mesopotamia, the Egyptian in North Africa and that of the Indus valley in South Asia; continuing with the Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman in the Mediterranean; Bantu and Benin in Africa; Incas in Peru, Aztec in Mexico and Mayan in Central American can trace their origins from marginal beginnings to central pinnacles and then return to further sojourn in the margin. Neither marginality nor centrality is fixed and final. Neither is a terminus but rather a stage in the cycle of human experience. They are stages in the experience of a society, a civilization, a people, a nation and individuals. The critical issue is how those who are centralized or marginalized understand the places they occupy in society and how they construct their lives and future.

It is critical to locate the Caribbean in this maze of human experience. For all its modern history the Caribbean has been part of Western European civilization. That civilization had its origin in marginality and began to take its own form about the end of the sixth century. Up to the end of the sixteenth century Western European civilization was still regarded as inferior to Eastern European civilization with its Greek heritage, Ancient civilization and Islamic civilization. It is over the last four hundred years that Western civilization came to its centrality in human history. Indeed, the achievement of sovereignty of Caribbean countries in the post-war period is one of the marks of the onset of decline in Western civilization. Another is the shift of the leadership of the Western World from Europe to the United States.

Raising Consciousness of the Challenges Ahead

To any perceptive observer, the signs of decadence and decay in Western civilization are clear. But this is not external to us, because we are and have been part of it, albeit on the margin. A critical issue facing the Caribbean in the twenty first century is whether we will cling to the worst aspects of the decaying culture of the West or seek our own destiny in creating our own civilization within the Americas. That is, to be among the pioneers in creating a truly new civilization based on the imperatives of the Americas.

While it must be acknowledged that Western civilization has made tremendous contribution to human society through science and technology it has also to be recognized that race as a basis of organizing society, racism and White supremacy, on the one hand and class as a criterion for organizing society and class discrimination on the other are also products of the West. The Caribbean has so uncritically embraced Western civilization that in many instances the White supremacists are Black or Indian and many guilty of class prejudice were themselves recent members of the strata they now despise.

These are not philosophical considerations unrelated to everyday life. They are intimately related to the fact that young poor Black men are almost immediately suspected to be criminals when they appear in suburbia, and that police and soldiers from the same background are sometimes the worst perpetrators of abuse against such youths. They are also intimately related to institutionalized racism and class discrimination that are manifest in the health services, primary schools, police stations and magistrate courts that exist to serve the mass of the population.

It must be immediately acknowledged that Barbados has made great strides in establishing a public health service, a public school system, a public transportation system and general community infrastructure of good quality to service the mass of the Barbadian population. In this regard, there is much to learn from the Barbados experience. At the same time, Barbados still has challenges to be met.

There is a real sense in which the Caribbean has lost its way in the post-independent period. By so completely adopting the conceptualization of economic development financed largely by foreign capital and loans from the so-called developed world, as a region we have largely neglected to address issues related to the core of the values and structural relationships endemic within the Caribbean for centuries. In large measure we have continued the colonial policies by expanding them rather than changing them. At the end of the century, many of the endemic problems of colonial origin are bigger than they ever were. One of them is the marginalisation of increasing numbers of Black and Indian men in the society and the continuing marginalisation of women of all groups.

Without a consciousness of these issues and challenges they pose, it is not possible to adequately prepare anybody for the next century. The resolve to address them is the starting point of fundamental change in the region.

Enhancing Spiritual Resistance and Renewal

Faced with the structure of opportunity that is biased against boys of the subordinate groups in Caribbean society many homes and schools have adjusted their socialization patterns to bring them in congruence with the available opportunities. Scarce resources are invested in those girls that are most likely to succeed. There is every indication as well that many youngsters have internalized the bias in their socialization and have adjusted their own expectations to be consistent with these realities. Trapped in the seeming desperation of these circumstances many have turned to self-destruction and violence, domestic and criminal. In other words, they have adopted a conflict and confrontational approach without an overarching nobility; hence the violence is directed against anybody and everybody including family, friends, neighbors and self.

The psychology of intervention strategies adopted to address the circumstances of these young males must be premised on resistance. To seek to use consensual approaches is to render them unfit to address the realities that face them. The critical task is to shift the basis of resistance from the sphere of physical violence to spiritual resistance and renewal.

The approach suggested here is advocated on two grounds. First, while there can be no doubt that the dilemma faced by these young males is rooted in societal injustice, the use of violence by them, especially in a wanton way, deprives them of the moral authority critical to the prosecution of their position. Violence, mostly undirected, clouds and confuses the issues and justifies the use of legal violence against them. Indiscriminate violence makes it easy for marginalized men to be blamed for their situation.

Second, spiritual resistance, on the other hand, seizes the moral high ground, magnifies the injustice directed against them and makes it visible for all to see including those with ultimate responsibility. Adopting spiritual resistance against the injustices faced highlights these injustices and places the marginal group in a position of moral superiority compared to those holding the reins of power and possessing wealth and status. By seizing moral authority in society, marginal men can fatally compromise the position of the powerful.

It is important to note that this is in fact the essence of the approach adopted by Rastafarians and Black Muslims. However, the effectiveness of their spiritual resistance has been repeatedly compromised by resort to violence by some or by criminal elements concealed among them or using them for cover. In addition, in reaching back to reconnect with the past, the ideology adopted, or resistance practiced, tend to recover the past as their future. It is still to be determined if a mainstream religious group were to wholeheartedly embrace the cause of marginalized men and prosecute and promote an affirmative form of spiritual resistance that this could create an uplifting future as the destiny. There is historical precedence for this kind of involvement in Caribbean history in the work of the Moravians, Baptists and Methodists during slavery and in the post-emancipation period.

Education to Meet the Most Demanding Standards

Marginalized men, and their allies, must come face to face with the reality that the society and world is not set up for their survival and success. Their advancement will of necessity come against opposition and obstacles. Among the biggest obstacles to be faced are educational standards. In many circumstances, it is standards that provide the so-called objective justification for the under-representation of males of the subordinate groups. At the same time, standards can be their greatest ally in that adherence to them can pry open doors that were previously closed.

Education and training to prepare males of the marginalized groups in society for the twenty first century must enable them to meet the highest standards related to the objectives for which the education or training is provided. Nothing less will be good enough. One is not referring here to any type of education, whether it is academic, technical or vocational, or particular level of education whether primary, secondary or tertiary. One is referring to the quality of the education provided relative to the measure of understanding to be attained, or the level of skill to be acquired or the appropriateness of the habits to be inculcated. Poor quality education, leading to low standards, is the enemy of the marginalized and the agent of the status quo.

In providing good quality education to meet the highest standards, the human component is more important than physical provision. The critical factor is how demanding teachers are of their students, parents are of their children and students are of themselves. This has been one of the strengths of Caribbean education in that with far less resources and provisions, international standards have been achieved in many areas. At the same time, there is a minimum level of physical provision that constitutes a threshold below which it is not possible to maintain the required standards. Over the last two decades, misguided policies related to structural adjustment has undermined the physical provision and reduced it below the threshold in several countries within the region.


Stewardship and Responsibility

In contemplating the task of addressing the issues confronting marginalized males in the twenty first century, it is not only necessary to maintain solidarity with and give support to marginalized males, but it is also necessary to challenge males holding power and central positions to be responsible stewards of the power and positions entrusted to them. The tendency in the region is for power, wealth and status to become the hostage of privilege and not the instruments of service. Accordingly, elected representatives exercise the sovereign power of the people as if it were their personal prerogative. Likewise, in many financial institutions, depositors’ money is treated as the personal property of those in control. In these circumstances, systems become so personalized that they lose connection with justice to citizens, depositors, shareholders and the community in general, as those in controlling positions extract privilege and advantage for themselves through the exercise of their office. The end products are corruption in the deployment and distribution of resources and the abuse of office.

It is critically important for men, and women, holding central positions to see themselves as stewards entrusted with community resources which must be deployed in the interest of collective wellbeing and not personal advantage. Ethics and moral education need to become an integral part of the preparation of those likely to exercise power, command significant resources or offer leadership of any kind in the society. Needed also is a sense of mission and destiny of Caribbean people, alongside an understanding of the judgement of history on the performance of office holders. In other words, men and women occupying central positions need to be challenged to act outside of narrow boundaries of selfish and personal interest, and instead to accept the stewardship of justice, service in the interest of the common good and sacrifice in advancement of community wellbeing.

In an era dominated by market forces, individual material progress, the pre-eminence of the bottom-line and the ultimate question, ‘what is in it for me?’; the above is utopian, idealistic and unattainable. However, the current situation is that of recurring cycles of structural violence on the part of central men being responded to by physical violence on the part of the marginal men. For those who would espouse realism, the logical conclusion is civil war between these two groups of men. Indeed, this has been the age-old method of resolving such matters. The alternative to war is the injection of a massive dose of idealism where people are challenged to look beyond self, to see more than personal gain and mobilize personal enterprise in service of the good of community.



Rethinking Roles and Status Issues

Many of the perceived problems associated with male marginalisation revolve around how men and women hold fast to traditional patriarchal definitions of roles and relationships. As I have shown in the foregoing discussions the factors driving change in society are not easily reversed. Going back to the past is very unlikely to be the future. The ideal society that we hope to construct in the future is hardly likely to occur in a single generation even with the greatest cooperation and effort.

The critical question is how do we deal with the here and the now? In my view, it is playing the hand that you are dealt that constitutes the real stuff of life. It is in playing that hand that negative trends and tendencies will be reversed and the ideal and just that we seek will be constructed. In this regard, there are important questions to ask and answer.

  • What is wrong about institutions and organisations being led by capable women?
  • What is wrong with relating to people based on personal qualities instead of social status?
  • What is insurmountable about women marrying down and men marrying up, where social status is the standard for determining direction?
  • Why should men always earn more than women?

It is in answering these questions not in words, but in actions, and in relationships that individuals will cope with the present flux and confusion of the new emerging in the context of the old.

First, anyone who views Caribbean societies with a keen eye will see that the region is alive. Everything is happening at once: the good, the bad, and the indifferent. All around us we can find beauty and ugliness, righteousness and evil, excellence, mediocrity and low standards. The matter at hand revolves around the choices we make. The question is what will we support and in what ways will we assert and exert ourselves? The future we seek will not come by default but by deliberate and intentional actions. The twenty first century will be the future we bring about in the exercise of our individual and collective wills in terms of the choices that are acted upon.

Second, one of the myths of the twentieth century is that perfect conditions are the midwife of progress. To be the best you must have the best situation. Sufficiency is prized, and deficiency despised. Yet one of the mysteries of history is that it is often war not peace, poverty not prosperity, marginality not centrality, colonial dependence not imperial power, adversity not sufficiency, pain not pleasure, suffering not wellbeing, sacrifice and not self-indulgence that were the midwives at the birth of great advances in human civilization. This is not to suggest that there is any sadistic element in progress. Rather, it is to observe that it is circumstances of manifest mortality, weakness and tragedy that are the settings in which humans tend to see beyond self and listen to other than reason. In these situations, people are more likely to embrace the common good, envision a better society and in faith work to achieve it.

Third, the Caribbean at the end of the twentieth century cries out for affirmation not retreat, hope and not despair, boldness not timidity, belief and not doubt and above all faith and confidence in ourselves. In the end, it is service, sacrifice and solidarity that will allow men and women of the region to fashion a civilization premised on personhood and not gender, the common humanity of all people and not race and class, justice and not injustice, and love and not hate.

Fourth, fundamental change begins in the margin. Marginalized people, men and women, have a glorious opportunity to embark on radical and fundamental change directed at the very core of society and heart of civilization. To understand the mission in lesser terms is not to take ourselves seriously and to miss the opportunity of the new millennium. Fundamental changes come about when ordinary people tackle the extraordinary issues of their times creatively and constructively.


  1. Hoyos (1978). Pp. 97-98.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Sheppard (1977). P. 55
  4. Hoyos Ibid. pp. 100-104.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Sheppard Ibid. 57-66.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Richardson (1985). Pp. 53-100.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid. pp. 133-136.
  11. Ibid. Chapter 6
  12. Ibid.
  13. (Hamilton 1956). Barbados and the Confederation Question: 1877-1885
  14. Hoyos Ibid. pp. 164 and 167
  15. Schomburgk (1848) p. 104
  16. The exact ages varied with the different denominations.
  17. Schomburgk Ibid p.108
  18. In 1870-75 enrolments in Britain were as follows: England 48.7 per cent; Scotland 25.5 per cent; Ireland 38.4 per cent. Benavot and Riddle (1988).
  19. Sheppard Ibid. p. 86
  20. The four Wesleyan, four Moravian schools and the 48 Anglican Schools see Sheppard Ibid. p.88
  21. Sheppard Ibid. Pp. 85-93
  22. Ibid.
  23. Schomburgk Ibid. p. 108.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Sheppard Ibid.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Hamilton (1956) p. 1
  29. Hoyos Ibid. p. 155
  30. Ibid.
  31. Gordon (1968), Hoyos (1978) and Sheppard (1977).
  32. House of Commons Parliamentary Papers 1882 Vol. XLIV p.110
  33. House of Commons Parliamentary Papers 1883 Vol. XLV p.37
  34. Taken from the Parliamentary Report of the period.
  35. House of Commons Parliamentary Papers 1882 Ibid. and 1889 Vol. VIV p. 8
  36. Cole (1982) Women in Education p. 9
  37. Sheppard Ibid. p. 106
  38. Ibid.
  39. Ibid.
  40. Report of the Department of Education, Barbados. 1915 p.13
  41. Report of the Department of Education Barbados. 1914 p. A.









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