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OFF CENTRE: All this talk ’bout culture

Sherwyn Walters

OFF CENTRE: All this talk ’bout culture

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CULTURE – so much of a buzz word in these parts nowadays that local bees must be in on the act too.
And recently a lot has been said about a culture bill to be laid in Parliament. But I get the impression that we are going forward with an ill-advised and dangerous interpretation of culture.
That interpretation, unfortunately, puts culture exclusively in the domain of the arts and entertainment and folkways, especially the first two. That philosophy is so wrong. Your culture is critically more than these things.  
I remember the time quite a few years back when other people in the Caribbean used to say that Barbados had no culture (obviously using the nonsensical concept). Now, Barbados’ culture was helping us to go along more productively, more stably, more educationally, building up significant institutions and ways of doing “business” (not just commerce and trade), and the countries that had “culture” were not doing as well.
But perhaps because, as Lowdown would say, Barbadians wanted friends, or because a devilish self-doubt overcame us, or because we had a bone and perversely saw some deceiving reflection in somebody else’s mirror and went after that, Barbadians decided they wanted the kind of “culture” the others had – and now we are worse as a society. Values receded and a narrow view of culture took root.
We had better get our interpretation of culture right. If we mean the arts, entertainment and folkways, let’s say so.
If we mean creativity or the creative industries, as director of the Sir Shridath Ramphal Centre for International Trade Law at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (lordie, what a mouthful – actually a keyboardful), Dr Keith Nurse, seems to prefer, let us say so.
But don’t walk nuh way with an interpretation of culture that does not foreground values. That is small island mentality.
If you leave out values, which are certainly the bedrock of your civilization, your ability to prudently, productively, and powerfully sustain yourself as a nation, as the central facet of culture, you are heading down a path of destruction in a vehicle that has no brakes – and, some will argue, should have none. (You know how we always say that artists must be free to express themselves – and any society worth its salt must generously allow for artistic expression. But to put that, untrammelled, in the vanguard of your efforts to be is to run a society without a clear-cut plan.)
Culture of values
At any rate, we really don’t believe in unharnessed artistic expression. Leh a white artist boy in Barbados sing “Black people are sh** / Let’s shoot them like monkeys / And be done with it” – and see if we don’t find ways, some of which will be creative (but not necessarily artistic), to, let’s say, restrain his backside, and his family’s and his kind’s. So much for freedom of artistic expression. And that is because we tacitly know that we must have an overarching culture of values.
I fear, however, that while we would more than bridle the white boy and his kin(d) for such an egregious assault on our sensibilities – nay, our values – we are willing to give other poisonous expressions free rein.
How is it that the three major musics of Blacks in the “New World” have been allowed to prosper with a horrendous and unstinting objectification of women? These days the bulk of calypso, dub/dancehall and rap/hip hop purvey a dastardly damaging view of women as “bumpers” or to-be-bedded and such.
Women as objects
The objectification of women is, along with the emotional neutering of our people by our preferred song methodology, a tremendous disservice done by our songs, the most prominent and pervasive of our “cultural” products.   And to think that we are the descendants of the most objectified set of people in the world.
The descendants of slaves now seek to enslave their women! And this is facilitated by means that create a culture of distance and lack of fellow feeling.
And, I believe, the corollary of distance and low place of emotion is a weak law enforcement response to things like domestic abuse, sexual abuse, human trafficking of girls and women, sexual harassment and wage exploitation of women.
We must judge (and I don’t mean for competition) our culture, and our creative products must be made to live in a values context in which they are viewed not just as money spinners (what, are we going to throw money at the problems they cause?) but are examples of excellence – in sensibility development, in emotional knowing, in character values and better connection.
    Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor.