On putting ideas above people . . .
Many people opine their surprise that Republican candidate Donald Trump has gone so far, and done so well in the American nomination for a presidential candidate. Any woman who has visited America, however, moreover any black woman, and any black man who has had the experience, know of the large and ugly underbelly of the country that could support a candidate like Trump.
American society, with its capitalist economic and social leanings, supports racism and prejudice. Trump appeals to a wide cross section of Americans who still support the right to bear weapons and see women solely as sexual possessions.
The segment is unhappy with immigrants being given access to health care and education, although they like the low wages they can pay to immigrants which act assists the capitalist model.
Some Americans hang their head in disbelief at Trump’s utterances, but they are also Americans with whom his message resonates resoundingly. In the same way that the American underbelly is responsible for the success of Trump, there is also a large underbelly in Barbados that is responsible for keeping unsavoury elements of Barbadian politics alive.
We have always been victim blamers in Barbados, and some of the current debates reveal just how deep-seated this practice is in our society. Barbadians do not argue and come to positions based on logic or principle; rather, we are continuously caught up with personalities and “who we like”, and not the message but the messenger.
If a worker is to be transferred from one locale to another, there is a precedent which ensures that the transfer happens on a lateral basis. Consideration is given to ensure that there is no disadvantage to the worker. The worker could be transferred after a fight, or other altercation, but nothing in the transfer can be seen
to be punitive.
However, when discussing the transfer of a student, we allow peripheral issues to overshadow the principle of the discussion. This practice is one that plays out in Barbados over and over.
It is detrimental to our national development, and it creates the kind of politician we have; and then we behave as if we are alarmed when they speak.
We know that there have been issues with the management of water and transportation in Barbados. There now seems to be a new spate of water outages affecting residents of St Joseph and St Thomas. Barbadians are being encouraged to “grin and bear” the outages because they are being caused by global warming.
There is also the explanation that the outages are due to the upgrades which are being made in the mains-laying programme.
Were Barbadians a more analytic people, the authorities would not be able to use these two explanations and roll them into one nonsensical non-answer. If the water outages being faced in the eastern and central parishes of the island are global warming, we need a long-term strategy to ensure residents can find relief. If the problem is global warming-related, then there should be, by now, a clear position of the Government on if we will have to buy water for the island.
If the problem is being caused by the mains-laying programme, we should be able to get an update on how many of the old mains have been replaced. We should also be told whether the major mains causing problems in St Thomas and St Joseph have been replaced as yet, and when the project will be completed.
Since we are not good at distilling messages and looking for principles in our national issues, our politicians have made it a pastime of being as obscure as they can be when addressing the public.
Additionally, because they know how much we play into victim shaming, politicians have been able to get away with personal snipes and generally unacceptable behaviour when national issues are to be the focus. For instance, in a country that professes to have an educational system where each child matters, we can have a legislator shouting across the floor to another about his speech impediment.
I do not blame the legislator alone for his behaviour. If he was going to face negative fallout from his constituency, the legislator would have thought twice about his bullying. If he knew there would be widespread censure, he would not have been as comfortable; but just like how America supports Trump, we support the raucous behaviour displayed by some of our public officials.
It is not only legislators we allow to saddle us with these incomplete arguments and personal slights that pass as public debate. A call-in moderator, every now and again, will ease in a comment such as we must have a discussion on female leadership because women seem less likely to solve conflicts and are more willing to fight to the death. This is past the stage of intellectual dishonesty. This is a plain attempt to rewrite history; to conceal outward misogyny.
If the comment is made in relation to the current school impasse, gender of the administrators involved have absolutely nothing to do with the outcomes. When The Alexandra School impasse was at its peak, the administrators of the Ministry of Education and the school were all male. The issue was equally protracted and bungled. The weak management framework and accountability mechanism for principals are the underlying common factor in both cases, as I outlined last week.
These baseless statements also emanate from the church on various issues from time to time. The level of public debate in Barbados generally saddens me, and I long for the day when we provide real spaces and mechanisms for our legislators, public officials and other discussion generators to put forward their views, and be challenged not about how well they speak, or what type of physical features the messenger happens to carry.
I long for the activity that played out in The Herald and Bim when people would discuss issues based on the laws of logic and reasoning. With the state of our country being what it is, these opportunities are crucial to our forward movement.
Is it true that small minds discuss people and big minds discuss ideas? If this is true, what does it mean that we seem to discuss personalities more than principles and ideas in Barbados?
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies.