COLUMN – Let’s be rid of this badge of shame!
There is precious little that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has said or done in recent times which I would wish to applaud or publicly commend, but I must acknowledge that I was cheered to hear our Prime Minister declare that he is determined to lead Barbados into republican status within the next two years.
If there is one thing about Barbados that causes me to feel a profound sense of shame, it is that Queen Elizabeth II of England remains the Head of State of our supposedly Independent nation! I particularly feel this sense of shame when I travel abroad and speak to foreign audiences and am forced to reveal that the Head of State of this robust little predominantly black nation is a white Englishwoman who lives thousands of miles away from the Caribbean.
I feel a sense of both “national shame” and “racial shame”.
For the vast majority of the history of Barbados –– from the initial settlement in 1627 to the 1950s –– black Barbadians were systematically told they were inferior to “Whites”, and to white English people in particular, and that they were incapable of managing their own affairs. And this, without a doubt, was a sentiment that was systematically promoted by the British establishment over the centuries.
Indeed, confidential British government documents, which were declassified and made public in 2003, revealed that as recently as November, 1964, Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Philip actually wrote a private letter to then British prime minister Harold Wilson urging him to deny “Independence” to Barbados!
Anyone who has researched the history of Barbados is aware that the relationship between Barbadians –– both black and white –– and the British Crown has been a most troubled and unhappy one.
To begin with, the British royal family were architects of the horrific transatlantic slave trade that caused so much grief to generations of black Barbadians. Indeed, Britain’s participation in the slave trade began with Queen Elizabeth I providing John Hawkins with a 700-ton slave ship, and commissioning him to attack towns and villages on the west coast of Africa, and to kidnap and enslave Africans.
It is also well known that the British monarchy plundered the colony of Barbados for a period of 175 years, through the imposition of a punitive tax of four and a half per cent on every single product grown, manufactured and shipped from Barbados. This infamous tax, which lasted from 1663 to 1838, siphoned millions of pounds sterling in capital off Barbados –– money that was used to provide annuities and pensions for a variety of members of the British aristocracy, as well as salaries for the governors of several other British colonies and dependencies.
What is wrong with us Barbadians that we refuse to let go of the skirt-tails of the British monarchy? Don’t we have any pride and confidence in ourselves as a nation and a people?
Are we not aware that as long ago as 1639 we established a Parliament here in Barbados –– albeit a racially exclusive one? Are we not aware that our black Barbadian foreparents heroically resisted the notion that they were an inferior people in a series of seven slave conspiracies and rebellions between 1649 and 1816, and two major rebellions of the post-Emancipation period, in 1876 and 1937?
Barbados is not some immature, johnny-come-lately country! We must remember that in the year 1650 the white inhabitants of Barbados issued a Declaration Of Independence from Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth of Britain, and that this 17th century Barbadian expression of “colonial nationalism” provided the model for the United States when it came to declare its independence from Britain in 1776.
Barbadians also played key roles in a variety of nationalist and nation-building projects throughout Africa and the Afrcian Diaspora, including providing Liberia with two presidents in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, making key contributions to the Marcus Garvey movement, and helping to develop the educational system in countries such as Guinea and Ethiopia.
On the Barbadian home front, we have survived and overcome every conceivable calamity, ranging from cholera epidemics to massive hurricanes and all-consuming Bridgetown fires, and have gone on to distinguish ourselves by achieving a stellar reputation for freedom and political stability, and by rising as high as No. 19 on the United Nations’ Human Development Index.
And the critical point that needs to be made and to be digested by all Barbadians is that none of these achievements had anything to do with our sordid connection to the British monarchy.
Surely, it is time for us to take off this badge of shame, and to complete our journey to full nationhood by insisting that the Head of State of Barbados must be a Barbadian!
(David Comissiong, an attorney-at-law, is president of the Clement Payne Movement.)