Our veteran historian, Trevor Marshall, was trying to direct national attention to a very critical socio-cultural issue in his recent public lecture about the lack of participation of Whites in the electoral process, and the associated issue of what he perceives as “job reservation” for local Whites in the Senate and for foreign Whites in the highest levels of our business structures.
And the fact that he may have expressed himself robustly, or that he inappropriately singled out Dr. Frances Chandler, should not cause us to gloss over the relevance and seriousness of the core issue that he was trying to grapple with.
When Marshall expresses his frustration with white Barbadians not putting themselves forward as candidates for political office, he is really highlighting the fact that ever since the attainment of “Independence” in 1966, the White Barbadian community has evinced an attitude of ambivalence towards the “National Independence” project — a kind of one foot in, one foot out, type of posture.
Of course, there are many notable individual exceptions to this general trend — Dr Frances Chandler being one of them — but evidence of the existence of the trend is there in the relative dearth of White participation in many of our national manifestations of Bajan culture, arts and sport; in the continued existence of almost exclusively all-white recreational facilities; and in the all important electorial process that Mr Marshall zeroed in on.
Furthermore, it is this attitude of ambivalence and uncertainty about the new predominantly black independent national society that leads the white Barbadian community to facilitate, and perhaps even encourage, the foreign white job reservation that Marshall is complaining about.
Clearly, this state of affairs is a hold-over from our colonial past, and is evidence of the fact that there is still a number of race and class contradictions and cleavages in our Barbadian society that we need to resolve. The harsh reality is that “Independence” did not undo colonialism in Barbados: rather, it made Barbados “post-colonial” — in the sense of being self-governing — but still shaped by its colonial heritage.
As Trevor Marshall suggests, this core defect in our national society is not only frustrating the cause of national unity and initiative, but also has the potential to violently derail our nation if it is allowed to fester and deeper.
It is surprising however that Marshall perceives the presence of white Barbadians in the Senate as part of the problem, rather than as part of the solution!
Surely, if we are ever going to transcend the divisions, suspicious and uncertainties engendered by our racial differences and our history of racial oppression, it will call for dialogue and the attaining of greater insights into our shared history, culture and aspirations.
In any event, what is the primary function and purpose of a national Parliament? Clearly, the main purpose of our national Parliament, inclusive of the Senate, is to be a chamber of public reflection that brings the inherent and collective wisdom, experience, memory, common sense, morality, values, imagination and intellect of the nation to bear on the process of national decision-making.
Thus, to have a national Parliament that is totally devoid of representatives of the White community would be to do our nation an injustice.
As far as I am concerned, what Barbados desperately needs now is not less opportunity for dialogue across race and class lines, but just the opposite — more dialogue, much more dialogue, across lines of race and class!
As we all know, Barbados is in a state of crisis. We are all conscious of the economic crisis that has afflicted us for the past five years, but there is also a socio-cultural crisis that is manifested in a litany of failing or dysfunctional national institutions.
We are also all intrinsically aware that this crisis is not going to be solved by the thirty men and women who sit in the House of Assembly! On the contrary, if we are going to have any chance of solving this crisis, we must mobilise and organise a comprehensive civil society dialogue that brings to the table representatives of all the segments of our population and society, including our white Barbadian brothers and sisters.
Indeed, as recently as July 5, 2013 I sent out a “call” for such a national dialogue, and recommended that the following white Barbadians should be key participants: Dr Frances Chandler, Sir David Seale, Annalee Davis, Dr Henry Fraser, Richard Cozier, Sue Springer, Ralph “Bizzy” Williams, Sir Kyffin Simpson and Patrick Hoyos.
I also proposed such key black Barbadian participants as Lynette Holder, Sir Roy Trotman, Shantal Munro Knight, James Husbands, Ken Hewitt, Muhammad Nassar, Senator John Watson, Ryan Straughn, Peter Adonyah Alleyne, Alister Alexander,Sir Hilary Beckles, Andrew Bynoe, Lionel Weekes, Bobby Clarke, Bishop Wilfred Wood, Elombe Mottley, Grenville Phillips, Marilyn Rice Bowen, Stedson Wiltshire, George Lammins, Clyde Mascoll, Marian Hart, Mac Fingall, Keteurah Babb, Phil Phillips, Anthony “Gabby” Carter, Anderson Toppin, June Fowler and Richard Stoute among others.
Hopefully such a civil society dialogue would lead to the coalescing of a national consensus around a concrete programme of reforms that will be so powerful that it will force itself upon the official national policymakers!
It is said that a wise nation should never waste a crisis. In other words, the sense of urgency engendered by a crisis should be used creatively to solve not only the immediate causes of the crisis, but also deeper underlying problems.
Perhaps this is our opportunity to come together in Barbados, not merely to solve the economic conundrum that confronts us, but also to come to terms with our deeply rooted, historically based racial dilemma.
* David Comissiong is president of the Peoples Empowerment Party.