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OFF CENTRE: No real bigging up ’bout here


Sherwyn Walters

OFF CENTRE: No real bigging  up ’bout here

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“BIG UP A MAN like ‘Big ^&#(*@+’ from Proute.” They told me that was the “shout out” on local radio from a woman to a male friend some years ago.
To clarify: the ^&#*@+ was the two-syllable childish word for the “in the window” canine, whose price the singer wanted to know. Got it?
“Big up”, then, rather than being a profound lifting up, seems to be a lightweight streetside expression more in line with a greeting (which, as you probably worked out, may have sexual overtones!).
Anyway, this thing is bigger than that kind of “bigging up”: I mean this disinclination to truly elevate – and its sidekick, the tendency to lower.
And you think I am on again about what happened to Desmond Haynes and what not a few Barbadians claim happens to Rihanna.
No, this thing is bigger than the “low-rating” of legends, icons and the like.
I think it is a terrible thing that when Mary draws the best picture in class, we can’t dignify her rather than make snide remarks about her and her effort. When we can’t refrain from suggesting that Tim, who lives “out by us”, isn’t “special” enough to be going to Harrison College. When we suggest that because somebody speaks something that is close to the “Queen’s English”,  they “poor-great” or “trying to be better than other people”. And so on.
I can’t be happy when Barbadians seem unconcerned about gratuitous and snarky comments made in classrooms, workplaces and all over while they look out for a star.
A non-sidebar: we even seem to have a double standard in regard to some acclaimed people.
Rihanna, who is the greatest in the world based on popularity and taste, is the beneficiary of more snarling umbrage taking than Sir Garfield Sobers and Suki King, who are the greatest based on skill. Is it that if the world “likes” you we will kill for you but if by superb attritional skill, nerve, mental alertness you beat the world’s best, you en really nuhbody to us?
And there is this other thing: outsiders in the millions and millions created Rihanna’s popularity (in one way or another they have said, “We like her”/ “We like her songs”) and Barbadians prize her by the extent of that liking. Tennyson Joseph said, on the marijuana legalisation issue, we in the Caribbean are merely following the “outside” world, as we often do – he found that troubling.
It is undeniable that many times we get on board with something because the outside world “likes” it.
The likes of Sir Garry and Suki succeed with no help from the choosing or the tastes of outsiders – they beat down the world by actual skill in the heat of battle. And yet we don’t drool over them or want to pick a fight wid anybody who looks at them too hard. I think that says a whole lot about us.
While we should never be found short-changing or minimising the accomplishments of Rihanna or any others who have risen on popularity, we have to stop this habit of placing others who demonstrate non-popularity transcendence lower than them. It makes it look like we think that popularity (especially popularity with outsiders) is a greater greatness than clear-cut, more definitely measurable excelling skill.
I believe this double standard nurtures an unhindered taking down a peg of anybody else. But we allow that poisonous tree to grow wild. Then we want to kill and cure when it makes our anointed one “sick”.
Some people say that because in Barbados, more so than our Caribbean neighbours, there was almost wholesale dependence on the plantation after slavery, former slaves here could not have any weighty accomplishments. Perhaps, therefore, those who rose by favour – how else? – grabbed onto the idea that they were better than (all those) others.
And then, as things changed, more and more held on to similar fake compensations for their (enforced, circumstantial) lack of accomplishment. Thinking themselves better than others – by any means necessary – apparently became an obsession.
Where else does such a high concentration – proportion, not raw numbers – of individuals puff themselves up on which school they went to, what kind of house they live in, which prominent people they know (and hobnob with), what kind of car they drive, what kind of (flat-screen) TV they have?
I en done: the level of their educational credentials (not the outstanding product of their exam passing), what profession they are in/what kind of job they have, what professions their children are in, what position they have, how much money they make and/or have, all the places they have travelled to (and how often).
So much focus on these things, while at the same time not being known for implementing anything, creating anything, innovating anything, solving anything, having transcendent impact on anything, producing at a level of excellence, having noteworthy character, doing charitable things and having charitable spirit (two different things), or the specialness of their engagement of others.
Is it, then, that because the things that Barbadians prop themselves on are not signal accomplishments, but are held to be so in their intense yearning to feel they are better than others – or at least not in any way inferior – they find it hard to dignify others, except . . .?
We have to shine a spotlight on this thing – and certainly not just for the sake of Rihanna or Desmond Haynes.
 
• Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor.

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