ALL AH WE IS ONE: 375 years of what?
The decision by the Government of Barbados to elevate the 375th year of so-called “unbroken parliamentary democracy” as a moment of national significance provides clear evidence of rejection of Errol Barrow’s warning against loitering on colonial premises after closing time. Sadly, the heavy investment in a celebration of planter autocracy as “parliamentary democracy” suggests a neurotic need for continual association with British colonialism.
One challenge of new states like Barbados is the contested nature of the symbols and myths around which the nation is imagined. The less complete the process of colonial disengagement, the more the national imagination is dominated by the cultural symbols of the former colonial power. Often, this is done at great psychological expense to the majority population.
It is the duty of a truly progressive government to lead the process of psychological decolonisation. Thus before popping the champagne, and engaging in “public sensitisation” campaigns to foster public “buy-in” for the celebration, it was first necessary to ask, 375 years of what?
An honest answer to this question would reveal that there was nothing democratic about the 300-plus years of planter rule, which came to an end only with the onset of universal adult suffrage in the 1950s.
To use the term “parliamentary democracy” to describe what existed before is to glory in a false understanding of the meaning of democracy. Last week, therefore, “independent” Barbados saw it fit to celebrate over 300 years of government of the planter class, by the planter class, for the planter class. This planter rule came to an end once the property and other barriers to government by the consent of the governed were removed. It was only at this point that a genuine parliamentary democracy was established. Indeed, it is the end of planter rule which should be nationally celebrated.
If, on the other hand, what was being celebrated was the “unbroken” nature of a particular method of decision-making despite its limited, racist and unrepresentative nature, then what we witnessed last week was the sad spectacle of a black majority, independent country paying homage to white supremacy.
To make claims about the value of the celebration for tourism is to add insult to injury by suggesting that self-image should be sacrificed for fleeting material gain.
The time has come to reflect deeply on the symbols used to determine the country’s national image. This is however a contentious political issue, but one that is necessary for the psychic healing of the majority. Indeed, as a colleague, Marcia Burrowes, noted in a different context, “if you are creating a story of identity you choose the stories and perhaps we in Barbados have been encouraged to choose . . . our Anglo story” (Sunday Sun, March 9).
As the 50th year of Independence approaches, it is imperative to select the stories which will brighten, and not distort, our mirror image.
Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs. Email [email protected]