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The Authentic Caribbean: Sexual Tourism in Barbados

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Barbados lies in the southeastern Caribbean next to Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago. The legacy of colonialism in Barbados is still rampant in the culture, architecture, and sexual politics. The island nation became independent in 1966; at least a generation after many African nations and other islands began decolonizing (CIA). The conservative sexual mores in the United Kingdom are ever-present in Bajan culture. White colonizers under the British system of slavery owned the black bodies that they had and treated the enslaved peoples as nothing more than mere property. Many authors promulgated stereotypes surrounding the brute and lascivious nature of blacks while admonishing the morality and restraint of whites. The othering of Afro-Bajans in Barbados represents the continuation of the white racist and sexist imaginary.
While reading Phillips’s chapter on Barbados in Sun, Sex, and Gold I was at once reminded of a Rolling Stone interview that I read about Barack Obama prior to his becoming the President-Elect of the United States. The article reveals quite a bit about the ways in which North American women tend to perceive black men:

Power Couple: Black Love

Revenge of the Nerds

There is an amazingly candid moment in Obama's autobiography when he writes of his childhood discomfort at the way his mother would sexualize African-American men. "More than once," he recalls, "my mother would point out: 'Harry Belafonte is the best-looking man on the planet.' "What the focus groups his advisers conducted revealed was that Obama's political career now depends, in some measure, upon a tamer version of this same feeling, on the complicated dynamics of how white women respond to a charismatic black man."I remember when we realized something magical was happening," says Obama's pollster on the campaign, an earnest Iowan named Paul Harstad. "We were doing a focus group in suburban Chicago, and this woman, seventy years old, looks seventy-five, hears Obama's life story, and she clasps her hand to her chest and says, 'Be still, my heart.' Be still, my heart!
April 24th, 2008---The day I met Senator Barack Hussein Obama.





And I will do everything that I can as long as I am President of the United States to remind the American people that we are one nation under God, and we may call that God different names but we remain one nation.

The sexual politics between white women and black men is complicated to say the least. A complex history began between the two groups during colonialism and in most of the former British colonies miscegenation laws were established in order to prevent the birthing of mulattoes with black fathers because under the British slave system the child took the condition of his (usually white) mother. If the child were bi-racial born of a white mother, then the child was automatically a free individual. White women have been the treasured jewel of white men for centuries. Thus the proliferation of male prostitution in Barbados comes as no surprise to many in the States who are familiar with the ever-looming stigmatization that white women face for being intimately involved with black men. Barbados like many settings in the Caribbean becomes the dark room for the white woman to engage in the sort of taboo behavior that many would ostracize her for in her home country. Behind the metaphorical closed doors that these women seek are young black men ready and willing to profit from the encounter.

Not much research exists regarding the effects of some of the prevailing stereotypes of black male hyper-sexuality. A large part of these stereotypes include an exaggerated hyper-masculinity that many black men in Barbados undoubtedly try to fulfill. This caricature of the hyper-masculine black male serves as a dubious honor. However, in the case of Barbados, many anthropologists contend that the dynamic of the relationship between white female tourists and these black beach boys is not one of simple exploitation. “These liaisons are constructed through a discourse of romance and long-term relationship, an emotional involvement usually not present in sex tourism” (Press 423). Therefore, these beach hustlers do not garner the same sort of stigma as female prostitutes or hustlers because of the stereotypes which depict black men as players. “The beach hustler, beach boy, or beach bum, as he is sometimes referred to in Barbados, is usually between eighteen and thirty-five years old and from a low socioeconomic background” (Phillips 186). These men may not have a decent formal education, but as most people know, participating in an informal economy requires mostly street smarts. To the outside observer, lounging around hoping to become a woman’s gigolo seems rather deplorable, however, as anthropologists suggest, the lack of employment for many undereducated black men impels them to seek income in this way.


"And even though it seems heaven sent, we ain't ready to see a black president."
-Tupac Shakur (c. 1996)
We made some changes.


Dissecting the phrase beach bum in this particular case is very necessary to discover exactly what drives the phrasing at all. Indeed these men do hang around the beach in the hopes of attracting the white female tourist’s gaze. The term bum seems a misnomer because a bum does not work. These men work odd jobs often in addition to being gigolos or whores. Being underemployed is not the same as being unemployed, so referring to these black men as bums really makes little sense. A more appropriate term for their actions is “hustling.” The use of the phrase beach hustler is not only more accurate in describing these black men, but also much less pejorative than bum.

White female tourists exhibit power through their financial resources. These black bodies willingly play on the fantasies of the women in order to partake in some of the riches that the white women offer. “The beach hustler tends to emphasize his masculinity, a point that reinforces the racial stereotypes of blacks, one of the exotic Other…the exotic Other has been constructed as more passionate, more emotional, more natural, and more tempting than his white counterpart” (Phillips 187). These attributes about black men are deemed to be their natural inclination; however, clearly for these black men a great deal of performance goes into perpetuating this seemingly innate sensuality. Unfortunately these men are not portrayed as multi-dimensional beings, but as objects, which hearkens eerily back to the days of slavery. Perhaps because of the strict prostitution laws that exist in Barbados, the interviewee in Phillips chapter is not at all keen on the idea of classifying his ways of seducing these women as “hustling” instead he and many other gigolos claim that their liaisons are mere by-products of work or pure happenstance.


In the official promotional video of Barbados, the shots range from natural landscape scenes to scenes of tourists enjoying the accommodations at high-priced hotels. The natives in the video seem overly enthusiastic about catering to these tourists, one scene stood out in particular: a white couple at one of the many Barbadian restaurants facing the ocean has a black male waiter serving them with an uncharacteristically giddy smile plastered across the server’s face. The scene reinforces the stereotype that black people are just eager to please whites. Further, the blacks are obviously sexualized in the video with the black men in top-notch, physical form near the beach and the black women in bikini-ready bodies. Every one of the natties or native Barbadians is in perfect shape. Oddly enough the video showcases some other ethnic women as well. The non-black ethnic women look biracial or Indian and all of them are attractive.

Of course, any good advertisement convinces the person watching that they absolutely must get the product, but in the case of tourism the Barbados government is selling an entire experience. The beach hustler is not explicitly part of the tourism package; nonetheless, many white Western women consider the potential for romance part of the appeal of traveling to Barbados. Not surprisingly on the website for the Barbados Tourism Authority a line reads “The Authentic Caribbean is calling” (BTA).

The interviewee remarks, “a lot of girls is land bums, go bum a man. See men with heavy with big gold, and see him and say boy I have to get to know him” [sic] (Phillips 189). As far as sex tourism goes Afro-Bajan women are objectified often. One ad to get people going to Barbados features an under-age female singer romping around on the beach singing the words “If it’s lovin’ that you want/ You should make me your girl/ If it’s lovin’ that you need/ Baby come and share my world." The message is clear; men should come to Barbados to get some of the loving that they seem to be lacking in their own countries.

Stereotypes abound detailing the licentious nature of Afro-Bajan women. In the minds of many Western men these promiscuous female bodies are ripe for the conquest. As the words of the beach hustler suggests, some women give in to these stereotypes if the price is right. The prevalence of female sex work seems quite understated in comparison to male sex work. 


Western notions of chastity influence the way that white women interact with black men even while in Barbados. The women try to strike a delicate balance between traditional roles of femininity and seductress. Western women claim to have romances and not simple hook-ups with these black men. The romantic argument acts as a shield against negative typecasting. “Women tourists interviewed in the course of the project in Barbados likewise tended to define their relationships with Black Caribbean men as ‘romances’, rarely identifying themselves as prostitute-clients or sex tourists” (Kempadoo 48). The prevailing Western notions shape the coyness of these hustlers also. Afro-Bajan men succumb to the same attitudes that these women do.

The men share in this pretense when talking about the specific relationships that they foster with the tourists. The term gigolo, or male whore, does not sit well with these men. Further, the men may not consider the acts that they engage in as prostitution. Perhaps the same masculinity that makes these black men desirable to white women may also blind them. Sex tourism in Barbados clearly funds the livelihood of these Bajan men. Many of these Bajan men harbor stereotypes about the white females that they screw. The Bajan men assume that the women are very easy. Afro-Bajan men often compare white tourists to Afro-Bajan women, according to the beach hustlers, the black women in Barbados are not as susceptible to their smooth talk or hustle. Also the Bajan women seem to have too much “pride” according to the beach hustlers.


White women visiting Barbados seek a relationship that will last the duration of their stay on the island. This type of relationship is termed an “arrangement.” The Bajan beach hustler becomes the intimate tour guide and guardian of these tourists. Susan, a resident of Barbados argues that these women are victimized by these artificial relationships. According to her, the tourists think that these men actually want to be with them and pay for a few cab rides, articles of clothing, and meals at fancy restaurants and then find out when it is too late that these men are not your typical Bajan men, but slick beach hustlers. Black men may claim that their feelings and demeanor are not staged, but the decision to hustle these tourists from the United States and Europe is clearly incentivized.
On rare occasions, white female tourists and beach hustlers may actually tie the knot, which marks the beginning of the end in most cases. The ceremony marks the end for these romances because love alone cannot make these marriages last. Hustlers wind up moving to the home countries of the women. “Hustlers usually complain about the weather or the fact that they feel constrained” (Phillips 195). The hustlers grow accustomed to living a life with very little rules and domestic life in a foreign country simply does not interest them. The newlywed wives find it disturbing that these men would still want to be promiscuous after they commit. In addition, social pressures presented by the woman’s friends and relatives abound. Usually family members find the marriage between these reformed hustlers an unpleasant farce. Therefore, “the relationships that develop between the hustler and the female tend to foster along the periphery of the tourist culture” (Phillips 196). Often the level of precautions that the female tourists take in the beginning of the romance in order to ensure that the relationship does not receive unwarranted attention from outsiders probably plays a role in undermining the sanctity of the union down the road. Afro-Bajan men may not want to seem as though they are their wife’s dirty little secret. The initial transgression of being with authentic black men greatly influences the desirability of these beach hustlers to white women and once the flame dissipates the likelihood of recapturing it becomes increasingly difficult.

Romance certainly can result from a vacation. The fantasies underlying the initial attraction are the problematic ways in which white female tourists engage in subjugating marginalized black Barbadian men. Othering occurs because Western women through stereotypes engender the fetishized other. Whether the climate in Barbados will improve so that at-risk male youth do not have to utilize the objectification of their bodies to make a living is yet unknown, but one must keep in mind that sexual relations involve two people, both of which are complicit in the reinforcement of degrading representations of the other. Sexual tourism need not be the status quo in Barbados. The dissolution of mysticism surrounding the island culture may lead to the end of harmful reaffirmations of colonial power in the nation.

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