The family is the basic economic, political and developmental unit of the nation; it is the load-bearing wall of civilization. Given the dynamics of our changing society, it appears that we may have given up the primacy of the family for the primacy of the state and in our efforts to renew Barbados, we will require a different dream, one where we see the development of our nation tied directly to the preservation of family life and the reconstruction of the Barbadian household.
–– Bishop Jason Gordon
So stirring were the Independence Messages from our Prime Minister, Opposition Leader and, most especially, Bishop Jason Gordon, that I became overwhelmed with a sense of national duty. As such, I decided to forego my usual Independence socializations to gather my thoughts and reflect on our history, while assessing our current social and economic circumstances.
It is during this reflection that I became extremely concerned about the future we are likely to inherit, given the apparent dysfunction within our family structures. And, inasmuch as it seems we have imported and adopted new ideologies, values and beliefs, I believe the time is opportune for us as a nation to step outwards and gaze at ourselves from a wide-angled perspective.
According to several recent studies, the value and importance of the family as the primary cornerstone of national prosperity and social development cannot be understated. Indeed in Barbados, like many other nations across the globe, the traditional family unit appears to be under intense strain, as our perceptions of right and wrong, ethical and unethical are being recalibrated, refashioned and reassembled to reflect our new political, social and religious ideals.
I shall be grateful if we can travel through a portal in time, back to a Barbados when the family structure of the black inhabitants (slaves) was inverted and re-engineered by slave owners to destabilize and disrupt its natural formulation to achieve maximum economic benefit for the plantation.
In his Independence Day address to the nation, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart spoke of the remnants of colonial shackles and the fact that in order for us to achieve “real Independence” and move beyond the merits of nationhood, we must strive to free our minds from the indoctrinations of our imprisoned past.
As such and if we are to accept Bishop Gordon’s assertions about the importance of the family, it would be useful if we were to analyse some of the primary root causes that enabled the destruction of our family units during those earlier periods in our history.
To achieve this goal, I have chosen to reference and highlight several excerpts from the book The Willie Lynch Letter And The Making Of A Slave, published by Lushena Books.
For those of us who may be familiar with stories of our forefathers, stories of slavery, stories of human disenfranchisement, the one that weighs heavily begins with the psychological conditioning of slaves that denigrated the value of the father in their family units. It is particularly interesting to note that while the slave owners worked tirelessly to vilify the importance of the father in the black family unit, he was revered as a leader, protector and provider in his.
According to The Willie Lynch Letter, in order to make a useful slave, strategic initiatives were often utilized so that the will of the slave would not only be broken, but his domestication would be instilled and passed from one generation to the next. As such and according to the literature, Willie Lynch a West Indian plantation owner was contracted by slave owners in Virginia, United States, to help them solve some of their problems with their slaves.
Lynch boasted of having a foolproof method of control which he guaranteed would be self-sustainable for more than 300 years. He further proffered that after being indoctrinated, the continual cooperation of the slaves would be self-refuelling and self-generating so long as the image and strength of the black man was broken and his role as a father, protector and provider ostracized.
To achieve this, he advised the slave masters to select the two strongest, most respected male slaves; parade them in front of the other slaves (male, female and children) before brutally killing one, while beating the other within inches of his life. Willie Lynch contended that doing so would create a reversal of the father/mother role within the slave family unit.
By brutalizing these particular slaves, the black man’s image of strength and his image as a protector of his family would be lost and the remaining male slaves would never challenge the authority of their master.
The black woman now left alone and afraid would unconsciously suppress her son’s natural urges to be respected and to be psychologically strong, for fear of the same happening to him. In this frozen psychosocial reversal, and out of love for her male offspring, the black woman would raise her son to be mentally dependent but physically strong to do work. Her female offspring on the other hand would be trained to be psychologically independent as she was.
If we are to accept that this type of extreme brutality and psychological indoctrination was in fact used on slaves in the Caribbean, then perhaps this might explain why some Barbadian men are accused of being mentally weak and overly dependent on their mothers.
I am certain to get more than a tongue-lashing for such comments, but I have had the unfortunate pleasure of hearing many female colleagues bemoan the lack of ambition, drive, self-purpose, independence and strength of some Barbadian men. With that said, I shall also like to state that Barbados and many of our Caribbean states have actually been blessed with many ambitious, strong, intelligent and independent men, albeit that they were raised within extended family units where a female was the head of the household.
The research and statistics clearly show that in many Caribbean homes, fathers were not often present, and this may be as a consequence of the reversal of roles spoken of earlier. Additionally, and given that our historians have suggested the black man’s primary role as a slave was confined to hard work and reproduction, it would make sense to conclude that his duty as a father, protector and a provider would not have been encouraged.
So while I choose never to take any excuse for a father’s absenteeism in our modern world, I am still compelled to accept that perhaps some of our Caribbean mothers are still raising their sons to be weak-minded and dependent. Given the foregoing, if fathers are not allowed to play a more active role in the development of our children, then the state of our youth, particularly the young men, will remain in crisis.
Such posits are likely to raise a few eyebrows as the question of allowing men to play an active role is tabled. I am certain that some commentators will argue that the only thing stopping men from being fathers is the men themselves, but, truth be told, they are many obstacles that continue to restrict a black man from taking his rightful role as father, mentor, provider and protector of his children.
But before we go deeper into the rabbit hole, I shall like to submit that in keeping with the African proverb “it takes a whole village to raise a child” back in the day within our extended family structures, all the boys in my family were exposed to positive male role modelling from both our paternal and maternal uncles, cousins and grandfathers, ably assisted by godfathers and community leaders alike.
This I contend has significantly contributed to our overall development as men, fathers, providers and protectors; and perhaps would explain why I continue to support the view that although a mother can teach her son to be kind, to be independent, to be responsible and respectful, despite these immeasurable contributions to his development, the final transition from boy to man lies within the interactions, mentorship and knowledge transferal that is only available in the conclave of elder men.
The essence of our current Barbadian family structures pale in comparison when weighed against the extended families of the 1970s and 1980s. This I will argue is at the heart of our current problems with respect to our children. The absence of fathers and positive male role models in their lives continues to stunt their overall development, and explains why many of them are choosing questionable guardians to fill the resulting void.
According to Louis de Bernieres, “in reality the world is as full of bad mothers as it is of bad fathers, and it is not the motherless children who become delinquent but the fatherless ones”.
Having digested the foregoing I am now completely convinced that the absence of fathers and positive male role modelling in the rearing and development of our children is directly proportional to the current levels of delinquency seen in our youth today.
Accepting this as fact should serve as a catalyst for all of us to collectively find solutions to wrestle this crisis to the ground, given the extraordinary impact that it is likely to have on the future development of our nation.
How therefore should we proceed? How do we create an enabling environment where at best our homes are no longer fatherless? How do we achieve the best possible alternatives in instances where the father is not in the household, so that our children can still benefit from his guidance, protection, support and mentorship?
I submit meaningful time with a child cannot be achieved during a weekend visit of fun and party. I shall further posit that men who spend quality time with their children, take on the responsibilities of parenting, men whose children live with them, men who have to take their children to school, make sure they are safe, comfort them when they are sick, clothe them, cook for them, have not only understood and accepted their role, but are indeed worthy to bear the title of father.
In my opinion, men become better fathers and fathers become better men when their roles are respected and honoured. To be continued.
(Sean Fields is regular social commentator.)