A Bajan paradox

EVERSLEY FilesHave you ever wondered why so many talented Barbadians choose to live abroad, contributing their skills to help develop other countries when Barbados in some cases could benefit greatly from their presence and expertise?

Some will say this is nothing new, that Barbadians have always migrated in search of better, more financially rewarding opportunities, which are more readily available abroad, especially in more developed countries, than at home.

Yes, that’s true! But there’s another reason, just as significant though not as obvious, which is generally overlooked since most people prefer not to speak about it –– at least openly. It’s that there exists in Barbados an anti-intellectual climate that can frustrate any bright, ambitious person and stifle his or her development.

For a country that up to recently boasted of having a 99 per cent literacy rate and the most educated population in the English-speaking Caribbean, some persons will find this hard to believe. For me, personally, it is a baffling contradiction about Barbados that raises some searching questions.

How, for example, can a country that prides itself on a rich tradition of education be so inherently anti-intellectual at the same time? Isn’t education supposed to nurture the intellect, liberate the mind, broaden a person’s perspective, fire the imagination, promote critical thinking, and yield new ideas beneficial to the country?

The paradox can be easily explained. While emphasizing the importance of education, Barbados simultaneously seeks to control the behaviour of its citizens by placing them in a straightjacket from birth until death. This action, along with a deep-rooted sense of fear which is a defining characteristic of the Barbadian personality, restrains a person’s thoughts, words, and deeds.

As a result, personal freedom is abridged, with the tacit consent of the individual, to ensure conformity with an inherently conservative status quo. Our much revered education system plays an important role in the socialization of the Barbadian individual. This process includes fitting him or her into society’s ready-made straightjacket.

Drawing on Ralph Miliband’s thesis in his 1969 classic The State In Capitalist Society, it can be argued that the purpose of education in Barbados is not to challenge but give legitimacy to and reinforce the status quo. It is not surprising, against this backdrop, that so many of our citizens lack critical thinking skills, despite passing through the school system and earning top marks in some cases.

They can easily regurgitate what is taught in the classroom to pass examinations but are somehow unable to apply the same learning to solve real-world, day-to-day problems, which is what a meaningful education is supposed to do. The Barbadian workplace witnesses this deficiency every day.

Critical thinking is indispensable for the advancement of a society. Critical thinking yields new ideas which, throughout history, have always been the catalyst of change that has produced great leaps of progress to the benefit of humanity. A society, therefore, must nurture a conducive environment for new ideas to emerge in order to move ahead.

It is unfortunate in Barbados that when persons put forward new ideas or express an opinion outside the mainstream, they are often met with derision. Critics contemptuously ask: “Who he is?”

“Where he now come from?”

Sometimes, the pettiness takes the form of vicious, personal attacks as if the person has committed a grave sin.

“He is just another educated idiot,” you hear.

The person, rather than the idea or opinion, becomes the subject of discussion. Interestingly, the hostility is more often displayed by ordinary folk who stand to benefit most instead of the so-called “big-ups”. Little wonder public debate in this country has become so sterile compared, let’s say, with 25 years ago. Given prevailing attitudes, it is sometimes better to keep your ideas to yourself.

Barbadians who have had exposure to life abroad, especially the intellectual environment, find it difficult to readjust to the stifling Barbadian climate after their liberating experience. Still, many return home with the noble intention of making a difference, only to have their enthusiasm killed. Many then leave in frustration, vowing never to return.

I am convinced, given the quality of Barbadian talent abroad, that we possess the intellectual wherewithal to come up with effective solutions to lift Barbados out of the current quagmire thst is putting the future increasingly at risk. The question is: how can we convince the best Barbadian brains, overseas and here, to contribute in an environment known for hostility
to new ideas, resistance to change, and tearing people down?

There’s considerable official talk these days about promoting entrepreneurship, especially among young people. However, entrepreneurship will largely remain a pipedream if it is not accompanied by a simultaneous effort to promote attitudinal change that encourages outside-the-box thinking and new ideas. New ideas constitute the stuff of which entrepreneurship and also innovation are made. Both are necessary to create a new and dynamic economy relevant to the needs of a 21st century Barbados.

Rather than stay here, many of our young people are more inclined to try their luck overseas. How many adults take time to talk with our young people? If they do, they will realize that our young people are becoming increasingly pessimistic about the future and will migrate once the right opportunity comes along. Many young people feel Barbados has nothing to offer them.

They have my empathy. To be honest, sometimes I myself feel that I made a mistake returning to Barbados after graduation when I could have easily stayed in Canada and most likely done much better, considering the attractive offers I turned down. But I am a child of Independence with a love for country that includes making a personal sacrifice sometimes for the greater good.

Barbados is facing a looming brain drain. It will accelerate over the coming years unless there is a fundamental change in national direction that causes a restoration of hope among our young people. With an aging population, the consequences of any large-scale migration involving our young people will be devastating. It will take years, perhaps decades, for Barbados to recover.

The writing is on the wall. It is time our policymakers wake up and smell the coffee.

(Reudon Eversley is a Canadian-trained political strategist, strategic communication specialist and journalist. Email reudon@gmx.com)

21 Responses to A Bajan paradox

  1. Steve Jemmott
    Steve Jemmott November 21, 2014 at 9:13 am

    A learned and celebrated politician once said…”if you pay peanuts you will attract monkeys”. furthermore if you continue to scantly respect professionals and choose mediocre talent, how can you expect the qualified, proven and willing to feel in this land.? Brain drain is not a current trend; it’s an encouraged ultimatum by the very system!

  2. Wendy Plant
    Wendy Plant November 21, 2014 at 9:46 am

    Best article I’ve read in a long time, been saying this for years now. So true.

  3. NAKED DEPARTURE - The Trilogy Series
    NAKED DEPARTURE - The Trilogy Series November 21, 2014 at 10:06 am

    Beautiful and timely article. Most people are aware of this, especially watching Bajan interaction on social media (all pretense but no substance). The bright ones do migrate because staying in Barbados is like being in a nice, tropical jail.

  4. Black Fingers
    Black Fingers November 21, 2014 at 10:20 am

    As a Barbadian by descent, I have recently relocated here with my 13 year old daughter from the UK.
    Every point put forward in this article is exactly how I feel.
    My daughter gets ridiculed at her school by her piers because she speaks well and is “too civilised” and eats like a “white Person”
    I commute to work and never see people reading here. Alternatively, they are on what’s app or playing a game on their phones.

    I really thought I could come here and bring my skills and experiences, but am constantly told “this is barbados” what does that mean ?
    Best article I’ve read since I’ve been here, makes me realise I’m not crazy for thinking the same way.

    • The Tourist Trap
      The Tourist Trap November 21, 2014 at 10:34 am

      Good luck, watch the thieves, and try not to go insane.

    • Black Fingers
      Black Fingers November 21, 2014 at 10:37 am

      I will leave before that happens. Nothing like that red passport

    • Jason Hynds November 25, 2014 at 12:18 am

      Black Fingers said: “I commute to work and never see people reading here. Alternatively, they are on what’s app or playing a game on their phones.”

      Great observation Black Fingers! Motion sickness epidemic during commute?

      Great article Mr Eversley!

  5. The Tourist Trap
    The Tourist Trap November 21, 2014 at 10:29 am

    Something that was not addressed here and we think is very important relative to young people is finding a significant other. It’s a tough, revolving landscape you have there.

  6. Santini More
    Santini More November 21, 2014 at 10:47 am

    A great article. I just wish it was not true, but I sadly recognise the absolute reality that it speaks to.

  7. Charles Alleyne
    Charles Alleyne November 21, 2014 at 11:41 am

    Reudon Eversley ….One critical area that you fail to highlight in your article ……it is the Political influence that you refused to emphasised.A very important part to this equation where the political elite is destroying our country and controlling every single thing that move in our country.Our country always had people who migrated to other parts of the world for a better living despite Barbados has a very good standard of living.Although many of our young people is being stiffle in their creativity and unable to implement their ideas after all the talk about entrepeneurship.We fail to put necessary things in place to assist and facilitate those persons, but a bigger problem there it is not much venture capitalist in our society who are willing to take a risk on our ideas.Its time for Barbados to remove this Political abotros around their necks.There are destroying what we hold so dear and unless their is a break away from the political class we would not see our country grow and developed the way it should.

  8. June Parris
    June Parris November 21, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    Well done, great article, and so true, if you think different, you become an outcast

  9. David Hall December 10, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    Very Interesting reading.

  10. Kathleen Alexander November 22, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    Such an interesting article. I identify with this author. Could not have written it any better.

  11. John Hunte November 22, 2015 at 8:45 pm

    Unfortunately the article offered little balance and no evidence of the reason offered as contributing to brain drain. It is natural for people to migrate to other countries. People from several other countries come to live in Barbados. Sometimes intellectuals feel their academic qualification is a guarantee that they should be taken seriously or respected for something. I know a number of Bajans that have come back home and made solid contributions to the economy and peoples upliftment. Some have opened sensible suitable business’, some have influenced government policy and added meaningful alternatives to school curriculum.
    We must be realistic and recognise that Barbados does not have the same facilities, resources and investment climate to expand ideas as readily as developed countries and even so the model of development that intellectuals are trained to replicate or believe in is not necessarily the best model to adopt.

  12. Michael Clarke November 23, 2015 at 10:17 am

    Good article. I live in the USA, nuff said.

  13. Imogen November 23, 2015 at 10:38 am

    Very very true.

  14. James Lynch November 24, 2015 at 8:11 am

    I agree with some of the comments, but with a wider perspective my observations suggest the drawbacks are wider than Barbados alone.

    For Barbados in politics we have just two active parties (a new one just started), almost indistinguishable from each other, who pass the baton to each other at regular intervals and neither one – neither one – takes the country forward.

    In fact one could easily argue that we are moving forever backwards, selling our heritage and property to the highest bidders. We now have a Parliament of smirking idiot baboons whose daily behaviour seems to seek new lows every month. Decorum there is little, integrity and credibility none. They want respect, but never want to earn it.

    We have had a succession of luke-warm Prime Ministers – to be fair, the wider Caribbean stage has had but one single statesman-like figure in decades – but our current “Leader” is the quintessential ventriloquists dummy, saying nothing unless his strings are pulled, and brings his state of full-blown incompetence from both his legal practice and stint as Attorney General. If not for politics, the man would be homeless and penniless.

    The CARICOM scene – the regional institutions – is where you find the “educated idiots” from all of the islands, people with multiple post-secondary degrees who could write you a 200-page thesis on anything under the sun (if they were not so lazy), but innovating, actually getting things done and making sense is as foreign to them as becoming a Russian ballerina in St. Petersburg.

    Barbados, with over a quarter of a million people, should not be such a “small town”, but it is. Government is not run to the convenience or service of its people but solely to the convenience and service of its civil service. For instance, go to find where to renew your driver’s licence, and it will be a challenge to get there, to park, to wait, and then to get through the “attitude”. God forbid you are a visitor and need a Visitor’s Permit – all that has been moved from the Police Stations to some busy, baking location in Bridgetown during business hours (and not on weekends, naturally).

    Too many anomalies to list here, but what is wrong with Barbados is fostered and encouraged by the politicians. The brainless political “yard fowl” mentality is carefully nursed for votes in exchange for favours, instead of our supposedly educated and intelligent people being encouraged to think critically for themselves, compare promises with performance and “throw the bums out” when necessary. Indeed, power at any price, even if that price is the politician’s soul.

    It has become worse over the last 30 years since I left, and I have less and less desire and reason to return.

    But they say in love and politics you get what you deserve… and it truly does not look like Bajans deserve very much any more.

    • Bernard Codrington November 24, 2015 at 10:05 am

      Very well put, Reuden. But we expect that level of erudition from the Tudor Clan. We must not give up but make our contribution by holding up our end of the Tent. We must all take responsibility for where we are at this point in time. I have faith that we will all rise to the occasion and resume our pride and quests for industry. We will not fail. We must not lose heart.

  15. BAJANFISHERMEN November 24, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    Well stated by the writer. The problem with coming back and or trying to contribute to Barbados, is that you are stymied every step of the way, by petty corrupt political hacks that have been placed in various sections of the bureaucracy.

    Simple organizations trying to donate to a particular group in Barbados, are at times high jacked by these political yard fowls, who first must take a portion of the aid that is being sent, or it must be sent to their political Rabbi, so he or she can direct it, so they get the credit in their districts.

    Now with for the case of the intellectuals and other talented Bajans, not wanting to come home. there are those who make all types of statements, to make these individuals uncomfortable.
    Bright now in Barbados, are a host of well trained talented Retirees, that no one in the various industries, have reached out to for any help.



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