The black conundrum that it is
“Black people in this country are in trouble,” internationally acclaimed recording artist Eddy Grant told mourners at the funeral service last Friday for Trevor “Job” Clarke, the late manufacturing pioneer and black empowerment crusader.
On its own, it is a profoundly stirring observation. Coming, however, from a “conscious” high-profile personality with a close association with black struggle, it takes on a special significance. Grant’s home –– Bayley’s Plantation Great House which was the scene of the 1816 Bussa slave rebellion –– is the symbolic cradle of black freedom in Barbados.
As a result of the hit song Gimme Hope, Jo’anna, which peaked at No.1 on various international music charts in the late 1980s, Grant is also identified, along with other leading entertainment figures, with the historic struggle against apartheid, the racist South African system of black oppression that eventually crumbled in the early 1990s following the release of Nelson Mandela from prison.
Grant’s assessment of the black Barbadian condition, almost 50 years after Independence, therefore carries weight. It also provides reason for timely reflection as his words speak to a much deeper issue. If black people in Barbados are in trouble, as he is saying, then it means that the country itself is also in trouble as black Barbadians account for more than 90 per cent of the population.
When one mulls over the issue, what Grant is saying is really nothing new. What he has provided is a powerful reinforcement.
For years now, we have been hearing, based on a number of worrying trends, that black Barbadian and Caribbean men are in crisis. If the negative behaviour being exhibited by a seemingly increasing number of black Barbadian women is anything to go by, our women too are slipping in crisis. Little wonder that so many families are also in crisis.
The crisis facing black men and women across the Caribbean is complex and deep-rooted. Some commentators are quick to blame economic marginalization, but the crisis, which stems from a convergence of circumstances and choices, also has political, moral, cultural and spiritual dimensions.
The genesis of the crisis lies in the psychological damage of slavery which, with colonialism, represents the defining influences that have shaped Caribbean history after our foreparents were transplanted from the African continent.
Collectively as a people, black Barbadians have never really had an opportunity to engage in serious introspection to come to terms at a subconscious level with our slavery past. Undertaking this deeply spiritual exercise is necessary for healing
to begin at a psychological level.
Slavery was abolished almost 200 years ago, but its pervasive effect on the black Barbadian personality lingers. Research also suggests there were never any targeted interventions, especially from Government, to help black Barbadians make the critical post-slavery psychological adjustment.
The issue was simply swept under the carpet, which continues to this day and is reflected in the fact that Barbadian history is still not taught in our schools, as historian Trevor Marshall reminded us last week.
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, roots and culture,” as Marcus Garvey told us, “is like a tree without roots.”
The value of history is that it is key to understanding the present in order to effectively plan for the future.
As a result, the legacy of slavery generally continues to define the black Barbadian. We are haunted by this brutal past and have difficulty accepting who we are. Our education system has failed us. What we have been historically taught has been largely irrelevant to our needs as a people searching for a New Jerusalem.
While education did open the door for Black Barbadians to move up the social ladder from working to middle class, even though the latter is now under serious threat, it has never supported a relevant socialization that promotes acceptance, appreciation and pride in who we are. No wonder many of our young women embrace an alien definition of beauty reflected in the bleaching away of their blackness and the exchange of their natural hair for imported blonde weave in some instances.
Christianity, which has always been influential in Barbadian society, has also failed the black population. The church, in its preaching and teaching, has never really emphasized a theology of upliftment and empowerment. Not surprisingly, going to church, for many, is about putting on their Sunday finest and the superficial ritual of screaming for “Alleluia” at the top of their lungs. It is not about seriously delving into Holy Scripture to discover and apply meaning to our experience.
Black Caribbean people are not the only people with a slavery past. The Old Testament narrative of the exodus of the ancient Jews from slavery in Egypt offers an inspiring story. A powerful lesson is that the Jews, after leaving Egypt, refused to continue seeing themselves as victims of slavery as many Barbadian Blacks have chosen to do.
The Jewish story demonstrates a steely determination to conquer the odds, represented by the 40 hard years in the wilderness, in order to reach the symbolic Promised Land.
The story also emphasizes the critical importance of effective leadership as seen particularly in Moses.
Errol Barrow stands out as our inspiring Moses of the Independence era, but the Joshuas, to whom the baton of leadership was subsequently passed, have mostly disappointed by failing to articulate a meaningful and clearly thought out black development agenda, building on the foundation left by Barrow.
Change can begin at a personal level if everyone accepts the responsibility. We can choose either to be a victim of historical circumstances or recognize that through the effective exercise of the power of choice, we can to a reasonable extent shape our destiny. The tenacity and resilience of the Jewish people in rising above adversity, provides much food for thought. In their experience, we see what is possible from the effective exercise of the power of choice.
Choosing to be victors, instead of victims, would require black Barbadians to adopt a positive new mindset and abandon the negativity that clutters so many lives. Within each of us resides the power to change our circumstances, instead of complaining and blaming others.
We also need to begin to show more love, instead of hatred, for each other. We can also make a difference by recognizing the importance of coming together and supporting each other in pursuit of common objectives. Division is a major source of our weakness. We need, most importantly, to choose leaders who genuinely care and are committed to advancing our interests. Why is changing Barbados from a constitutional monarchy to a republic a priority when there are so many other pressing issues? Will it bring about any fundamental change in the circumstances of black Barbadians?
The answer, frankly speaking, is no because it involves superficial change. Meaningful change can only happen by realizing Errol Barrow’s grand vision for black Barbadian empowerment through ownership that started with free education.
Such empowerment was not to be achieved by taking away from others, but through the creation of new opportunities. These issues need to be placed again on the front burner and Barbadians must pressure the so-called “political class” to improve the enabling environment for black success.
Otherwise, democracy will continue to degenerate into a meaningless exercise where voting every five years will not be about genuine change, but getting more of the same.
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and journalist.