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PETER WICKHAM: On Western values


PETER WICKHAM: On Western values

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I RECENTLY POSTED on one social media site, an article which spoke to the banning of corporal punishment in France with the caption: “How do we get this to happen in Barbados”, and the responses were numerous and predictable. The majority were supportive of my known abhorrence of corporal punishment; however, one commentator, who is a popular media personality, criticised my haste to adopt “Western values”. 

This assertion prompts reflection as I have found the label associated with issues such as corporal punishment, the death penalty and one’s comfort with homosexuals. Broadly speaking, people like myself believe that corporal punishment should be banned along with the death penalty and homosexuals are no less human than heterosexuals. Conversely, people like my Facebook friend (who is not homophobic), believes that this type of thinking is Western, or to put it colloquially, “white people’s thing”.

Having conducted research on all of these issues, I can scientifically confirm that there is some truth to her belief since there is a correlation between the type of person who holds these views and a higher level of exposure to “the West”.

In addition, some of the first countries to ban corporal punishment in both homes and schools were predominantly white (Norway and Scandinavia) and the American states that have held on to the death penalty and corporal punishment longest are also the ones with comparatively higher populations of black people.

I have noticed that people who look like me appear more convinced that violence can be a useful persuasive tool that helps children to learn better and can inspire both adults and children to behave better. Any social researcher can tell you, anecdotally, that domestic violence appears more “popular” in lower socio-economic groups that in Barbados are more likely also to be black.

If properly understood, our association of this type of behaviour with black people has more to do with social class than race. Certainly, if we use the mythical (but typical) Miguel Street about which Naipaul spoke, it becomes apparent that East Indians behave no differently.

Similarly, in the “Western” context, research among the Roma (who might look like white people to us), reveals a high proclivity towards violence of the domestic variety along with substance abuse. This reality contradicts any suggestion that black people are genetically predisposed to think this way and implies that such thinking is rooted in issues of social class and a lack of exposure to enlightened thinking.

I have always found it unfortunate that so many of my people still think this way since we have historically been the unfortunate recipients of more violence and discrimination and should perhaps be the first to ensure our children do not suffer similarly. It is all the more ironic that our suffering was sanctioned by the same Bible that we now quote from selectively in support of our proclivity towards backwardness. So we should beat our children, hang people and persist with our intolerance for homosexuals because the Bible tells us so, although the same Bible told those who enslaved us and introduced this book to the Americas that this was right in God’s sight.

As I step back and look at things, I see a Western world that abhors violence, regardless of whether it is used against children or adults. One in which the death penalty has no place and one where as Obama said recently “love is love” (regardless of gender).

The extent to which I am comfortable with those values came home to me recently when I attended a wedding between two male friends, one who was Western and white and the other who was black and Barbadian. The parents of the Western boy were up front and centre welcoming their Barbadian son-in-law into the family and congratulating their biological son for having “done well”. The Barbadian parents were conspicuously absent but sent “best wishes”. I think I like these Western values!

Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES). Email: [email protected]

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