GET REAL: Crossing that imaginary line
Doan gimme dat talk ’bout you don’t get involved in politics. You’s pay taxes, drink Government water, buy government current, drive pun government paved roads?” Well whether you like it or not, you are involved in politics.
Even if you ain vote for the Government, or you don’t like how it working, it is still your government. The opposition is still your opposition.
So I agreed to give the feature address at the Barbados Labour Party awards ceremony. As a non-member of the party, friends advised me not to accept the invitation, and risk being branded a partisan commentator. Given Barbados’ sometimes childish political culture it was a risk. But I hard ears. I crossed the imaginary party line.
Waiting for my time to speak, I had no idea what I was going to say. No one else did either. Ms Mia Mottley, who asked me to make the address, never once asked or advised what I was going to say. Given the fact that we had never spoken before the invitation, nor since, she too took a risk inviting me across that line.
There was applause when I said that it was time for change. It eroded into faint murmurs when I continued by saying that that does not necessarily mean a change in government; that there needs to be a change in political culture across the board. Whether the change is led by the DLP, the BLP, NDP or PPP matters little to most Bajans.
If I were speaking to a Democratic Labour Party audience I would have made the same point. The changes in political culture that must come, must be demanded by the people in the rank and file. If leadership is going in the wrong direction it is because those they lead are willing to be pulled along.
Speaking the truth
Hopefully there are young people in both parties who are brave enough to speak truth to the powers in their party and veterans honest enough about their failings to listen. Toeing the line and going with the flow usually seems like the smart, safe thing to do. Sometimes it is necessary to cross the line.
A few years ago, sitting backstage at a national event, staged by the Government of Barbados, waiting for my turn to go on stage, I nervously asked myself, “Green, you’s uh eeeediot or what? Wuh you really gine out dey and do?”
All the performances prior to mine had the warm, cozy feel of “Bim I Love You,” and “Beautiful Barbados,” with the playful, light and summery energy of a Mother Sally or a Green Monkey. They all went down a certain line which I was about to cross.
There I was, set to descend like a big Borg Spacescraft, a cloud of dark energy, with a poem totally alien to the vibe of the event so far. The piece is called Hard Ears. It challenges religion, with lines like, “How come pastors, prophets and preachers could prophesy of natural disasters that doan evuh happen and doan get charge fuh fraud?” It questions the Barbadian attitude to race, asking how come we would accept the children of Chinese immigrants as Chinese-Bajan yet scoff at the concept of black Barbadians also being African. And it criticises politicians on both side of the political divide saying, “When dese politicians talk I does turn from Adrian Green to Adrian Vex-Til-He-Blue.”
It is said that you should avoid discussing sex, religion, race or politics.
I was getting ready to address the Prime Minister, the Governor General, foreign dignitaries and a Garrison Savannah full of Bajans on three of those four topics. The event was being broadcast live on television and radio too. I recalled stories I had heard from veteran calypsonians who had suffered victimisation under former Governments because of things they said in their songs. My nervousness grew.
I started mentally leafing through all the poems I had in my head to find one that would feel less like suicide to perform. There are a few that would have worked. I ended up performing Hard Ears anyway. I took the risk and crossed the imaginary line.
A few weeks after that performance I met an old school friend who said to me, hopefully joking, “Green! I glad I see you. I need to get one uh you CDs before dey shoot you.” I am pleased to report that I’ve never been shot, nor, as far as I know, been shot at. And if it pleases God, I never will.
Every time I watch the recording of that performance on YouTube I remember the feeling of fear that almost made me not perform it. I felt a similar feeling recently as I mulled over the decision of whether or not to speak at the Barbados Labour Party’s award ceremony. It is the fear of crossing some imaginary line and facing victimisation because of it.
It is meant to keep you quiet and doing nothing. Doing nothing and keeping quiet only feels safest until the floor collapses right where you are standing. Right now Barbados’ floorboards feel shaky.
The quality of life improves with the number of difficult conversations you are willing to have. Difficult conversations are a must if we are to move the quality of life in Barbados forward. Lines need to be crossed: party lines, colour lines, class lines.
Maybe when enough of us have the courage to really scrutinise them and cross them, they will disappear.
Adrian Green is a creative communication specialist. email@example.com