Cheers to Barbados with concern

Todays WomanOur little island is still basking in the glory of its attainment of 50 years of Independence. There are people like me, who, although we limed and relished the opportunity to have a rum or two and some good political conversation, are still not fully satisfied with where our island is at this juncture in its development. It is not that the more pensive citizens love Barbados any less than any other Barbadian, it is just an admission of being realist.

Who wants to see a warning from leading regional investment brokers in the newspapers about now being the time to move investments out of Barbados before an imminent devaluation on the eve of 50 years of Independence? Who wants to have to replace two tyres in the space of two weeks on your car because of the bad and continually depleting road surfaces in our island as a 50th anniversary gift? 

There are many things which I worry about constantly. I will continue to complain about the thought process of Barbadians and how we approach certain issues in our country. During the go-slow called over the last few weeks by the National Union of Public Workers, many Barbadians were expressing negative sentiments about the action taken by the unions. As usual, many of the comments were emanating from superficial analysis.

How can we be upset with the unions for standing on a point of principle, on the one hand, when we realize, on the other, that our country had slipped as far into the morass it has because there are simply not enough people of principle in this little space? We keep lamenting that we have politicians who just want office for the power and opportunity it affords them to get rich easily. We recognize that weak social structures in institutions such as sports clubs and families have left our children and teenagers without mooring.

Yet, when one of our last surviving lobby institutions raises it head to ensure its very survival, we get ceremonious. In order to have an effective democratic government, people must be engaged in the process of democracy. The process of democracy must be much more than just a one vote every five or so years.

People have to structure themselves into various organizations which fight for various things and, in so doing, ensure that the government in legislature and the judiciary remain grounded in the issues concerning the people being governed. We do not need the unions in Barbados to be less quiet; indeed, we need more lobby organizations to structure themselves and learn solid negotiation and engagement methodologies. We have antagonized for a lot of years in this country about how we can make good governance a reality.

I have been convinced for a long time now that the answer lies in exposing Barbadians themselves to the power of their voices, their actions and especially their monetary decisions. Barbadians are one of the most fascinated people I know with the notions of ‘peace’ and ‘order’. This is a direct relic of the way that our society was structured in the post-Emancipation years and particularly in the period from about 1914 to 1940.

When Black Barbadians started to agitate through organs like the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and the Working Men’s Association, these remonstrations were viewed as negative and curbed by the white planter class using various means including the law, intimidation and victimization.

History shows that the more things change, the more they also remain the same. Out of the methods used by the white money class, Barbadians started to become and in all ways remain a self-censoring people.  In order to avoid victimization, we became ‘good, civil people’. Although nobody can deny that there are great benefits to a stable social and political environment, there are also significant disadvantages of it. Extremes of no state are ever good.

Social and political upheaval affects production but they also act as impetus for change and development. The squeaky wheel gets the grease and I think because not much ever squeaks in Barbados, is a part of the reason we are stuck with archaic and dysfunctional modes of operation in several of our sectors.

Perpetual peace fosters a false sense of security and well-being. As I wish my country a happy birthday, I cannot help be cognizant of how much more could have been done. In closely related developments, my only girl child, the one that the educational system of Barbados gave up on because she is special, has won a bronze medal in junior photography at this year’s National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA). This is my baby’s third NIFCA medal.

The take away from this development is that my daughter would end up as one of the devious and rebellious girls on the block if her family did not have a few cents to invest in private education and the knowledge that dyslexia does not mean idiocy. If 50 year old Barbados could help more mothers to have the financial resources and time to work with their special children, we would be writing off less children to deviancy and prison on a yearly basis.

Perhaps I would be more heartened in this our 50th year of existence as a sovereign state if children, like my daughter, had a greater stake in becoming success stories and productive citizens in the country of their birth. Her school is offering the Caribbean school leaving certificate as a part of her five plan. She goes to private school and educational mapping and planning are actually a part of her lived experience, and not just an expedient phrase used around Rastafarians and court steps!

What her school cannot ascertain from the Ministry of Education is if the school leaving certificate being offered is accepted internationally. If the Minister of Education could provide the necessary feedback about that to the schools across Barbados, I would be heartened. I would be heartened because my trepidation about my Island does not come from any shame or uncertainty about the beauty and value of my heritage. My discomfort is simply because we have to keep striving to continue to keep our country’s place at the table. It is as simple as that.

Nevertheless, rum glasses up – cheers to Barbados on 50 years and here is to many more.

(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies.

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