Sunday, 4 May 2014

“They say what we know, is just what they teach us”

There are two types of people in the world, those who rule and set the rules, and those who follow them. And one of the greatest tragedies in history is that we, the masses of society, give consent daily to the hegemonies, ideas and people that rule unfairly –  “domination by consent.” It is in this way that without raising a finger, or firing a gun, those who set the agenda, do so, while the earth spins unfairly on its tilted axis with all of its injustices. But what do I mean by all of this?

Most of it goes without saying. As human beings we are creatures of habit, and we learn daily and are socialized into thinking in particular ways and not so well in others. The majority of our everyday actions and language too are mostly reflective of the dominant culture of the day. The ideals we aspire to in society, for example, the lifestyles of the rich and famous are a product of trend and consumerist values. And even in less superficial ways our own ideas of what is progressive as well may simply be those things which go contrary to our material well being. For example, many Barbadians are in the habit of demonizing progressive governments such as Cuba/Venezuela, in concord with what we are encouraged to believe from popular media, despite very real material benefits these countries have presented to the region.

In ways similar to the above,  it is very easy to become caught up in immaterial ways of seeing ourselves that similarly do very little for our own well being than we think, as individuals and as a wider Caribbean and human society. And of course none of us are immune. Growing trends today can lend to growing interests in US sports, such as NBA and NFL and also Premier league in UK, Scifi, global interest in Anime, Japanese popular culture and other extensions as well as aristocratic habits across the board and of course you have your popular television shows. Some say they choose to be part of these trends to be ‘part of the group’ or bandwagon, or because they feel “world spirit”. And then there are those who readily identify with similar interests, the already die-hard fans.

On the contrary, however, these growing trends don’t represent “world spirit”. They represent more so the growing influence of the few powers that be, those who have the power and means to spread their influence ideas and crafty technological products across the globe. And coded into the majority of these every day trends are the consumerist driven values, underlined by stereotypical ideas of race gender class politics etc etc. And while we might think it harmless to be interested, collectively when we buy into these franchises we consensually give legitimacy to those who rule, while at the same time we negate the very beautiful talent and productive capacities we have within ourselves and the region, and we contribute largely to the age old problems of underdevelopment and inequality between nations and people.

It is quite the paradox too that the same social media that exposes us and connects us right into the belly of the beast also presents us with a genuine chance to craft a better world and present ideas which more represent who we are and what we have to offer. If we can ignore the widespread narcissistic habits they encourage of course, along with all the rest. Now is the perfect time to be different, and no, I don’t mean by changing your hairstyle, but by taking an active interest in who you are, where you are and what’s happening around you.

For those of us who want to feel genuine “world spirit” and “freedom”, understanding these things goes hand in hand with understanding the ways in which we face oppression and how that oppression still manifests itself today. It is more than carrying the one love mantra in your heart while remaining particularly ignorant to how "Babylon system" works and how our ignorance and socialized acceptance of its ideals sustains poverty and inequality within our homes and across the globe. It also comes with understanding that we all, yes, all of us, face these problems together, and in the same way, none of us are alone in the hardship and misery that this life presents. One thing I've found in my small existence of life as well, is that happiness cannot be sustained by ignorance or wishful thinking, but maybe we might do better together by taking avid interest in the why, how, when, and where.

(Please note too English and Japanese are just two of the over 6500 languages spoken on this earth. You want to feel world spirit? You have a long way to go.)

But to bring us back home, If  we read our local newspapers, we would see that  Barbadians are being laid off, one by one, and tightening economic and political corruption has extended its arms almost fully now to our island shores. WE stand to lose all that we have gained and It is a global problem created by those who make the rules and endorsed by all those who follow. But it is here now and I personally don’t hold the belief that things are looking up…

We bare a responsibility to ourselves and each other to go beyond our convention and think critically of our surroundings and why we believe and endorse the things we believe and endorse. We bare a responsibility to understand. To understand where we come from and what it takes to build a better world for ourselves, our families and our brothers and sisters. And we owe it to ourselves to truly experience the many facets of our human condition and the realization of one love, for all. We have almost every opportunity to do so today, whether or not we allow ourselves to do so is entirely up to us.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

What can People do?

Recently I attended a People’s Assembly meeting staged by the Barbados Labour Party at the St Leonard’s School. The Panel at the assembly, which consisted of three BLP personalities, social activist David Comissiong, and Nation editor Harold Hoyte, presented their perspectives. What was agreed by both partisan and nonpartisan presenters was that the current administration, for a number of reasons, was unfit to carry on with the governance of the country, and that also we, the Barbadian people, were in great danger of losing the Barbados we knew. At the end of the discussion, a lady moved by the presentations of those on the panel approached the mic. She enthusiastically asked,

“Tell me now, I hear everything you say, now what can I do, what we can do?

Waiting to respond was the leader of the opposition, Mia Amor Motley. Her answer to the lady was simple. “People have the power, and that has been proven, but it is only when they realize that they do, will anything change.” The lady nodded at the response and afterwards returned calmly to her seat. The matter however has never been that simple…

People’s participation in the political process has always been an issue in our island state, especially for those of us who are acutely aware of the situation. Today it can be seen as one of the main reasons for the chronic abuse of public office that has been observed during the last few administrations. Despite the many endemic problems with the way we’ve been governed (issues of transparency, accountability, fairness, mismanagement, lack of foresight/vision) Barbadians today are still reluctant or unable to take a stand or even care about the political realities of the country. This begs a question of why.

Answers of this question have touched some particular points. There is the idea firstly, which has been expressed by many a Barbadian, that most people hardly understand the magnitude or the particulars of what has been happening in the country (access to information).  Those who do, like the lady at the assembly, have no idea how to do anything about it. Some argue that people are so used to being excluded from the decision making and implementation process that they simply do not care or could not be bothered by a system they cannot change. Others point to our colonial past which created the most passive slave colony in the West Indies. It was said that the enslaved in Barbados maintained a very poor sense of rights. Excluded from the system, it was (and is) a society built on fear and violence still suffering from a legacy human degradation.

The thing is, the average Barbadian has never had an understanding of democracy as being anything more than a vote every five years, or engaging in what Maurice Bishop described as “ 2 second democracy.” Even more troubling is the fact that there have been certain key features of our governance, from the time of slavery until now, which have remained unchanged. One of the more worrisome features of our system has been its built-in authoritarianism, which has left government officials immune to any real public reprimand, save for the five year chance. Real- lived Public empowerment has never been a feature of our society and people just don’t understand how to affect the political system other than waiting again for a five year period. Those who do, either lack the constitutional power to do so, or are afraid of political backlash.

These reasons and many more would show us why it is possible for public officials to make statements of ‘cracking heads and shooting people’ without reprimand or any serious public backlash. This is why political parties are allowed to win elections based on fraudulent electoral campaigns without fear of public dismissal. This is also why leaders, whether within the unions or government, are allowed to withhold crucial information, such as the names of persons to be prospectively fired within the coming weeks, with no worry of any real threat from the body politic. Words such as accountability, transparency etc  etc mean very little for Barbadians, and in many ways these ideals are yet to be a lived reality.

What cannot be denied is that the current situation has indeed showed us, the failures of our system of governance and the exhaustion of party politics. Today the meaning of a vote is no longer an expression of a right fought for to affect a system. Rather it is a commodity which may be traded for a few dollars (or a new Ipad every five years). Youth today have undoubtedly grown more apathetic to a system which is already seen as so hard to affect and more interested in the workings of their new Ipads, lost in cyber space. Those who are not apathetic have either become politically brainwashed into the party v party conundrum, making a roll of excuses for those currently in office, while the rest are forced to resort to the standing opposition of the day.

“And I want to say that as far as I am aware, no political party has ever shown much enthusiasm for carrying out, in a systematic way, the kind of program of political education essential to any major change in the popular consciousness.” - George Lamming.

Further, words such as ‘political education’, from the time of independence, have never meant more than “vote for my party.” Our society now is crashing from a system which has encouraged a blind dependency on those in power, and has never fundamentally addressed even more crucial issues of civic rights and the responsibilities that go with them. Today what we see is a blatant abuse of public office by those in charge with the constant use of the media for legitimizing their mismanagement. This exercise in blindly trusting inept public officials has surely revealed that public officials can no longer be blindly trusted.

While the entire system of governance is in desperate need of democratic overhaul, the onus is on us few who are aware, to actively try to do something about it. The power to constitutionally change anything, to allow greater public participation for instance, (such as the ability to recall ministers, or force an election) currently remains in the hands of ruling elites, whose political agenda will never be towards that end. It is up to those of us who understand these issues to educate those around us and pressure that change into being.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Identity and Freedom

“One of the hindrances to our creativity has been the obsessional concern with the universal: afraid of being merely his depreciated self and ashamed of wanting to be what his master is, the colonized accepts therefore – supreme subtlety- the values of his master as the ideal in the world.” - Jean Bernabé, Patrick Chamoiseau, Raphaël Confiant “In Praise of Creoleness”

What Francophone Caribbean intellectuals were then describing was a problem at the crux of the West Indian experience. The region predominantly remained mentally submissive to the universal status-quo and trapped in a habit of self-negation. It was a consequence of our history and its characteristic oppression of a people and their identity.

This destructive process facilitated many of the features of our present day society; the worshipping of the lighter shade of skin or texture of hair, the idea that ‘money whitens’ and others,  like the idea that it is better or more appropriate to be Catholic/Anglican, than to chant Rasta, or any other ‘minority’ religion.

Our speech is also seen as illegitimate and inappropriate racket, and, as a consequence, local language in general still varies between an authentic Bajan to a kind of pseudo or full British/American twang. These habits are still pervasively identifiable in present day youth. Other more worrisome habits are seen when the local, in the presence of the tourist or relative from the outside, drops her/his local persona for a British or ‘more suitable’ American one.

This kind of schizophrenia and lack of integrity was what Rex Nettleford referred too as the ‘double consciousnesses.’ Frantz Fanon described our people as one possessing black skins but unconsciously wearing ‘white masks’. Others such as Naipaul emphasized the damaged identity of the masses which left them fissured and ‘supposedly’ destined to be mere consumers of outside ideals.

George Lamming explained that, coupled with the history of colonialism and slavery, ‘our process (as Caribbean people) of establishing the way we think of who we are and how we relate to where we are has been very much dependent on the character or the nature of the power where we are situated’. What this has meant is that, even now, current European/American and other popular habits sets precedent for our tastes and lifestyle choices.

So then, to reiterate, the ‘universal’ or body of ideas which influences most of our habits and behaviors is one particular [mainstream] expression backed by power and tremendous influence. Contrary to popular belief, however, it is not the only way to be.

The expressions of Caribbean stalwarts such as the late Robert Nesta Marley gave his particular cultural voice to the World. Our Own Anthony ‘Gabby’ Carter continues to give his essentially Barbadian voice and even take it into new forms, free of cultural domination.

The continuation of our emancipation from an almost chronic state of mental slavery begins with an exploration and understanding of what we have been taught to negate. Further, it involves a critical approach to the popular behaviors we blindly internalize. It is through this process we maintain sovereignty and security, of our souls and our imaginations.

So when we speak, interact with the wider word, use social media, are we predominantly still consumers of incoming information and produce or do we partake in the exchange and present ourselves, offering our own produce in the mix? Do we understand what we come from and where we want to go?

While we remain inundated with incoming information, we must refrain from being mere victims of our history and seek to understand, and then define who we are. To forgo this process leaves us predominantly doomed in a colonial cycle of self negation and mimicry.

While there is also a clear need for a Political and Cultural Revolution which can rid us of our negative historical legacies, there is still much we can do in propelling this vital, much needed process of “inward stretch and outward reach”.