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WORD VIEW – Reflections

Esther Phillips

WORD VIEW – Reflections

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No matter how well we construct our guard or how skilfully we practise our pretences, there is a moment when a slip occurs and our innermost thoughts and feelings are exposed for all to see.
I was recently struck by the photograph of pop star Rihanna that appeared in the MIDWEEK NATION of Wednesday, September 28, Page 5A. Among the thousand words that a picture tells are some of our own, admittedly: we bring to everything we see something of our individual experiences, perceptions, world view and so on. For me, this picture evoked strong symbolism.
What first caught my attention was the sadness on the young woman’s face. Was this part of the act? I discovered subsequent to seeing the photograph that the title of the video being filmed was We Found Love. Possibly, this expression related to a period of time prior to that “love” being found.
Nonetheless, artistic licence allows me the “privilege” of interpretation:
I see a new auction block with a young woman stripped to show off her goods to the best advantage. Her breasts are obviously part of the commercialization of her body. The male photographer, presumably, (fully-dressed in windbreaker and all), moves in for the best vantage point. The complete sexualization of the woman is obvious. 
What makes the objectification of this young female particularly evident is the apparent disconnect between her body and her facial expression. Such a disconnect is inevitable, I think, when the greater value of a human being is placed exclusively on the external at the expense of the inner self.
A shadow falls across Rihanna’s face that is partly turned aside; her expression one of profound sadness. Moreover, it is noteworthy that with all the activity in which she is the central figure, her gaze seems turned inward. What is she seeing? Some might argue dollar signs but I think only the undiscerning would.
The setting for the shoot is significant: a grain field. A scene for the planting and cultivation of life-giving sustenance, the natural unfolding of the seasons: spring, summer, autumn, winter. Has the season for this young woman been perhaps too quick? Who has been doing the tending of this “good girl gone bad”? Will money and fame be enough to sustain her?
I couldn’t help but notice what looks like a threshing machine in the background, a powerful symbol in itself; one that speaks of process and one to which we should all pay heed. I think of the threshing that is necessary to separate the grain from the chaff and the cycles of life that require the dying of one season before another begins. 
And I wish for Rihanna a new season, one in which she will indeed find love; a Greater Love.
Since I’m in a reflection mode, I’m wondering if we Bajans are recolonizing ourselves, especially in the area of language. If we understand the link between language and power, we may be seriously undermining ourselves in the global arena.
Let us look at some realities. There was a time in Barbados when we could compete with the best in speaking and writing the English language (now known as Internationally Accepted English).
That didn’t mean that we couldn’t speak the dialect just as fluently. We simply knew how and when to switch registers.
Along came a school of thought that would have us focus on our African origins and the horrors of colonial exploitation. It was impressed upon us that the English language was not our natural legacy and was all part of the imperial agenda to keep us in a state of subjugation.
I think, however, that we have to recognize when some arguments have outlived their usefulness. We must not reject our African heritage, but for several generations now, our consciousness is that we are Caribbean people. Internationally Accepted English belongs to us as it does to everybody else, including the same African nations.
We should also recognize that some who would question the use of Internationally Accepted English do so philosophically, but are themselves proficient in the use of the language.
We Barbadians must decide if we’re satisfied with far too many in our population being unable to string two sentences together correctly. Caliban all over again by our own design?
Esther Phillips is head of the Division of Liberal Arts of the Barbados Community College. She is also a poet and editor of BIM: Arts For The 21st Century. Email [email protected]