When Will People Take Control of Their Lives?

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In democratic societies, especially the liberal kinds, the electorate is often faced with the challenge of weeding out, from among those who offer themselves for public service, those who ‘know’ and those who think they ‘know’ but in reality do not. It is a peculiar case for any people to have to carry out such an action because it means we have to think. Each eligible person and even those under the age of voting, to a lesser extent, must peruse their minds about what they want to see become of their country, whose message resonates with how he or she feels and who is the person most likely to make this happen. Unfortunately, thinking or maybe I should say critical thinking is quite lacking among the general populace. Even those who think they think critically do not.

Ever so often, about every four to five years, the Caribbean people in particular are faced with a melancholy. They must elect without knowing the candidates. Arguably, aside from politicians in very authoritarian democracies and dictatorships, Caribbean politicians enjoy a large cushion of protection from scrutiny. I should say here that when I say Caribbean I really mean primarily those in the West Indies. Yes, that place which like most other post-colonial regions adapted the British West Minster System into ‘models’ to ‘suit’ the New World Environment.

When one really thinks about the whole situation, there is little surprise coming to mind as to why the people do not really know the policies of those they elected and those who want to be elected. The ‘models’ we have, we, as a collective, did not make. We trusted our pioneers and founding fathers to make certain decisions such as the construction of our Constitutions which dictate almost every facet of our living instead of taking a stake in the pie. Yes, one may argue that West Indian Constitutions are Acts of the British Parliament and not even our leaders of the time really had a say. Yes, we may also argue that the ‘we’ about which I speak really means our foreparents so today’s people are not to blame for what we experience presently. Surely, we know all of that to be erroneous.

We are the ones living today and every day we let pass without engaging the very nucleic forces of our society is another strike taken off of the ‘we’ of the past to be marked against the ‘we’ of today. The politicians need not go beyond a manifesto to debate because we have hardly ever challenged them to do it. Think about it. If it is that those who sell goods and services usually provide a certain quantity and quality commensurate with market they serve then would not it be reasonable to assume that our leaders (trade union leaders, parliamentary members, clergy, teachers, government administrators) would respond to our demands since we are the market and the only market to which they can ply their trade? Normally markets are held captive but geography and nationality hold our suppliers captive; making us their masters and them our servant-leaders. 

With this small argument in mind, hopefully you recognize that it is within your rights to demand from those you employ the deliverance of what you want. It is also your right to do and say nothing to affect this occurrence. However, if you neglect your duty, even though you may benefit from the actions of those who demand what they want, in the long-run you, mostly likely, will also be neglected. 

The Caribbean Reality

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Drawing from the colonial period, which only functionally ended with the British West Indies’ labour unrest in the 1930s, the West Indian reality is today one of systemic un-freedom due to the maintenance of the plantation society which perpetuates a plantation-like socio-economic structure. To believe that the end of colonialism-proper means the end of authoritarian governments and anti-democratic mechanisms such as criminal libel laws to control the media would be a mistake. One must understand that the Caribbean in general, and the West Indies in particular, are substantially defined by colonialism. Consequently, the Caribbean may be seen as a post-slavery civilization with a mirroring politico-economic structure.

The influence of Euro-American foreign policy, facilitated through international aid, dictates the Caribbean development agenda; limiting the extent to which the region exercises its right to self-determination. This situation dates back to independence of the then colonies; being preceded by the implosion of the West Indies Federation in 1962. Though popular sentiment may resist Euro-American policies which, inherently carry with them the refashioning of the Caribbean way of life, there is a tradition of compromise with international powers to facilitate local development. This explains why, for example, even though in many Caribbean countries while corporal punishment is a popular statutory mechanism for disciplining school children, the UNICEF’s call for its end was not vehemently rebuffed as imperialism; but instead compromise was made by establishing ‘child-friendly’ non-‘flogging’ schools.

The Caribbean understands its dependent disposition relative to more developed economies and uses diplomacy to safeguard its future. This inherently means compromise at the expense of sovereignty. The Caribbean way of life, like Latin America, has a fixation on peace and investment in our greatest, and in the case of countries like Barbados, our only abundant natural resource; its people. The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States’ (CELAC) declaration of our region as “a zone of peace”, and the exclusion of this hemisphere’s military and economic great powers, the USA and Canada, from its ranks at its establishment in 2011 are testimony to this fact. This concept of peace, created through mutual respect for culture and individual history guides the Caribbean, of which various Latin American and South American countries are geographically a part, in its quest for prosperity; however limited it may be. This exploration of the Euro-American Nexus’ relation to the Caribbean creates greater appreciation of the ensuing topic of Caribbean domestic policy.

Barbados proves the greatest case study for understanding Caribbean development philosophy and its inextricable link to education as evidenced by 14.27% (2009) of government expenditure allocated to that sector. Unlike Jamaica with an abundance of bauxite and Trinidad and Tobago controlling vast oil reserves, Barbados is without natural resources; circumstancing a people-centred society. Historically, Barbadian politics and economic initiatives were primarily constructed by the people’s needs. Consequently, profits derived were used for their benefit. With a size of 166 square miles and a population under 300 000, Barbados has over 70 and 20 primary and secondary schools respectively, leading to being among the top 5 literate countries at 100% in UNESCO world rankings.

Human development policy emphasis and the creation of the welfare state directly derived from colonialism and cannot be ignored. Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor designate of the University of The West Indies (UWI) and Chairman of the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) Committee On Reparatory Justice, in addressing the British Parliament in 2014 explains that Caribbean poverty is systemic because the British Parliament, “in 1833 determined that the 800,000 enslaved people in the Caribbean were worth, as chattel property, £47M [£3.892B Conservatively (2013)]” and in compensating slave owners for the loss of ‘property’, “provided the sum of £20M [1.656B (2013)] in grants”, while refusing compensation to freed Blacks. Compensation was denied and poverty institutionalized by way of British Emancipation Acts which gave Caribbean countries independence while holding that, “ ‘property’ cannot receive property compensation”.

Less than a century ago, Barbadian children attended school barefooted while pit-toilets and outdoor kitchens fuelled by firewood were commonplace. In fact, these conditions are but some of the reasons for the labour unrest earlier mentioned. This reality is only but a half-generation (25/2 years) removed from the general populace but various aspects are a mainstay in contemporary Caribbean life. Circumstances like mass child labour prompted Caribbean countries, to compromise with the economic (white planters) and political (black descendants of the enslaved as well as indentured servants) majorities in order to secure the universal right to education but it was Barbados that made it free up to tertiary level.

Contextualized by these maladies, one is dismayed by the Barbadian government’s decision in 2013 to limit the access to universal education. Until then Barbadians enjoyed, through heavy direct income taxation (20% to 35%) and indirect value-added taxation (17.5%) tax-payer subsidized education up to university level. The ruling party’s argument during the Fiscal Estimates Debate (2013) highlighted education as exponentially increasing government spending to uncontrollable levels; resulting in debt of student fees to UWI exceeding $100M BBD ($50M USD). In accordance with the ruling party’s solution students now pay tuition fees while the economic cost is tax-payer funded.

While this seems fair, understanding the Caribbean reality illustrated above, the payment of tuition fees is a barrier to social mobility for the average Caribbean person because Barbadians still pay heavy taxation rates in addition to this new barrier. What placed Barbados ahead of many Caribbean countries including the more historically powerful Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago and what makes Barbados’ achievement the Eastern Caribbean countries such as St. Lucia, Grenada, Dominica, St. Vincent and The Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis is the rapid transformation of the socio-economic status of individuals unilaterally facilitated by way of ‘free’ education. Though great strides have been made, the reality remains, that systemic generational poverty bars many from being able to pay the tuition fees. Notwithstanding the assurance of loans being available, the impact of high cost of living induced by heavy taxation makes the loan repayment simply impossible.

The generational revolution is under threat!

An Introduction to The Barbadian Ideal

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The length of this article will constrain, to some extent, the efficacy with which my points are carried to your mind but I am sure you will be able to pick the sense and construct your own opinion in reply. For the sake of ourselves, in the memory of our ancestors and for the promise of tomorrow let us do a short but very needed preliminary inquiry into the nature of the Barbadian psyche. 

I love my people but I detest some of their ways at times; especially that knack for holding the tongue in periods when it should be unleashed. It is this  seemingly minor peeve that brings me to more widely question the extent to which we, though seemingly free in body, are, in reality, free in mind. I think, if only but for clarity in understanding what makes the Barbadian tick, we must ask questions like these.

We must ask. We must prod. We must debate. We must analyze and evaluate. It is only when we do these things that we can create for ourselves the lives that we truly want to live. I believe we have failed, if only because of time and circumstance, to undertake proper scrutiny of our lives. Consequently, the Barbadian in particular like many Caribbeans in general is wandering in a quandary mixed with sediments of self-denial, inferiority and superiority complexes, schizophrenia as well as economic, social, political, cultural and ultimately spiritual instability.

Firstly, we must distinguish the Barbadian from other Caribbeans; not for reasons of superiority or inferiority but simply because we, at this juncture, want to focus on the particular traits that make Barbadians, at an essential level, who they are. Unlike other Caribbeans who also have their own unique, inspiring and notable histories Barbadian history is universally one of development through consensus. There is a reason why, besides the Battle of Jamestown, few slave rebellions and the 1930s Riots, Barbados has been a sanctuary of peace throughout the centuries. This consensual state brings great admiration from regional and international leaders who laud The Idea of Barbados and challenge their people to create an idea of their own but is the Barbadian Ideal made in the Barbadian image? 

It is at this point that I want to challenge the extent to which Barbadians are aware of the Barbadian Ideal. It seems to me that this ideal is more of an external construct by those who see Barbados as a bastion of hope but for the Barbadian this ideal is but a series of painful compromises made over time to appease those who would wilfully destroy any chances of a happy life for our people. The Barbadian way of life at this point, instead of being characterized as a people charting a path of their own choosing, may be better described as a people given limited liberty by past masters to choose their own path within already prescribed parameters.

I cement this claim by noting that I believe (yes a belief and not a ‘fact’) most Barbadians dead and present, regardless of political and ideological affiliation, if they have or have not, are fundamentally unhappy with the way Barbados since gaining Independence from Britain has developed. The people may be appeased by the garnishes such as the standard of living and strength of the dollar but at a personal level they must feel as though their truest potential is untapped, restraint, retarded and eroding.The Barbadian wants more but knows that in order for more to be had a great fight may have to be made with short-term and even long-term consequences reminiscent of previous projects of outright self-determination even if more subtly created in this new age of global diplomacy. It is with this in mind that I charge that the unhappy Barbadians, unable to truly act in their own right, appease the spiritual, universally felt but hardly ever spoken disquiet with the platitudes given them by the very people who constrict their souls.

Barbados is truly a model for the Caribbean because this country’s history shows others how to navigate waters that they do not own but this ideal must end; for though it created a good way of life where the people may enjoy the modern things it also created a people fettered to the whims of others. I caution those, however, who will take my argument to mean that Barbadians are outright slaves and should be shunned. Barbados’ history shows the resilience of those who were enslaved and their ability, knowing their positions and dispositions of power,  to negotiate the harsh realities of life while creating their own space of living.

In short, I am grateful for the compromises which afford me this opportunity to want more but now I argue that the time for compromise is over because The More calls the soul to unchain itself from appeasement. My challenge to the Barbadian is to use the foundations laid by the sacrifices of personhood made in the past to construct a true Barbadiana.Though stagnant for so long, inherent in the Barbadian Ideal is a sense of action which must be re-kindled.What this means is that our tongues which were held in order to survive must be unleashed in order to prosper.  Let the feet walk, the arms swing, the lungs fill with air and the voices bellow. 

 

The Ostensible Chronicles: From Freun To Barb

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The Ostensible Chronicles is a RealTalk.BB comedic series shedding light on social issues facing various societies. We hope you enjoy. Remember to rate, comment and share. Thank you!

Dear Barb,

I am not sorry for being silent this past year. When you took me back last year you knew what you were getting. I am a man of seemingly big but surely silent words. I inherited you from my brother-in-arms. He wanted you but I never did. I never expected to have to provide for you or comfort you. Last year, after dragging things out I gave you a choice. You could have left me. You could have chosen another man or woman for all I cared but you stayed. I barely uttered two words and it appears as though you thought that would mean I would speak forever. I am not a man who often speaks. Stop trying to change me!

I need peace and quiet to think. If the children are hungry, need lunch money or tuition fees need to be paid do not ask me. There are other people in the family to lean on you know so ask them. Right now the Cabinet is bare so stop looking for miracles to come. I want some time to myself. I cannot think with you always complaining about Chikungunya and Ebola. I have other things to do.

I was told communication is the key to success in any relationship so I’m trying something new. This letter is my way of talking. Be happy with what you are getting now. You won’t hear my voice until these five years are over but at least you have my words. Are you happy? I am not using any big words. I am just talking to you about us and what we need to do. Well, what you need to do. You need to work harder. You need to put your back into it. You used to be on top but now you are at the bottom and you have me doing all of the work. I didn’t expect this and I don’t think I want it. There are others who may want a turn though so call Chris or Don but leave me out of it. I just want to live out these final years in tranquility and rest at home. I want a divorce! I am tired of you but I am stuck with you for a little while longer.

I should call the Men’s Educational Support Association and complain! This emotional abuse is too much. You won’t even try to be productive but you expect me to make things happen. You expect me to create miracles but am not God and I am not a magician. I did the worst thing by opening my mouth last year and I am not doing it again man. I fear my silver tongue is too sweet. If I open up you will surely want to be with me again and I can’t handle you. You are too much. Too demanding. You need someone else. You need someone who can handle your high maintenance. I am not your man.

My love for you is not what you think. Before you I had few things but I was happy. Now I have more but I cannot even enjoy them. What is a man to do with a big house, lovely bed and an unhappy bride ? I am frustrated in every way possible. We cannot possible co-exist for too long. Consummation feels more like taxation. You want more things from our relationship but I unable to give you! Stop asking me for the impossible. It is time you learned about me. I am a man without a plan but guess what? I am honest.

PLEASE find someone else. Here’s a list. There is Chris, Don, Arthur, Ron and Amor. It doesn’t matter which way you swing. Just choose one. Wait! I forgot Dave. He may even take you back to Africa. Wouldn’t that be exciting ? Don’t you want to go far, far, far away from me and see your people. I would not mind. I am an understanding man. I understand you have needs that I cannot satisfy.  My back is broad. I can take a horn. You can start horning me now until we divorce. There is no need to be sad. This was always a weird relationship mixed with funny emotions that made us do weird things like get together in the first place. We know we won’t last. We should call it quits and go our separate ways.

Yours Ostensibly,

Fruen DiBroad