Irish playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw once described independence as middle class blasphemy. Every last soul, he said, was very much dependent on someone else.
Corliss Lamont, the American left-wing philosopher, suggested that true freedom was the capacity for acting according to one’s true character, to be altogether one’s self, to be self-determined and not subject to outside coercion.
But perhaps the take on independence that resonates most, especially as it relates to third-world countries, is that posited by Booker T. Washington, a man who emerged from slavery to become an educator and author. He is quoted as saying: “At the bottom of education, at the bottom of politics, even at the bottom of religion, there must be for our race economic independence.”
We are in the middle of celebrating our 50th year of political independence. November 30, 1966, was a momentous occasion, one that should be celebrated and its importance observed by all Barbadians at home and abroad.
However, the inherently abstract quality of our independence, especially within the context of being a third-world, reliant country should not be lost on any of us. Of course, there is no shame in romanticizing aspects of our independence; having that warm feeling burn in our bosoms and appreciating the things that make us uniquely Barbadian.
But in the midst of our celebrations we must be forever searching for ways to make our independence greater, more tangible, sustainable, inclusive, and relevant to the times in which we live.
Independent Barbados of 2016 is far removed from independent Barbados of 1966. Despite the progress that our nation and its people have made, some may argue that there are many Barbadians who have been caught in a time warp and other than the aging process, are still children of that early post-colonial period, especially at a social, mental and economic level.
If one were to examine newspaper articles of 30 or 40 years ago or visit our Parliament and refer to Hansard, one would find that several of the burning issues of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, which were vented and remedies outlined, are still the issues being discussed today. It is true that many might be considered ongoing issues, but considerations for agricultural diversification, finding alternative energy sources, expanding our manufacturing sector, improving the relevancy of our educational system, providing greater opportunities for our youth and women, work productivity, and the like, were being debated 40 and 50 years ago.
The question remains: Have we dealt sufficiently with these and other issues over the past 50 years or will our progeny be reading about us in 2066 and questioning whether we have given true meaning to independence?
The likes of the late Carmeta Fraser, Members of Parliament LB Brathwaite and Patsy Springer, as well as personalities such as former Government ministers Dr Richard Cheltenham, agronomist Dr Frances Chandler, Haynesley Benn, and others, have preached since 1966, the importance of Barbadians having the capacity to feed themselves. Have we taken their entreaties as seriously as we should? We still remain unashamedly dependent, voracious consumers of imported food, much of which can be produced locally.
Barbados enjoys a high standard of living. But not every Barbadian enjoys that high standard of living. Could more Barbadians have been carried in the wave of progress if greater attention had been paid to self-sufficiency? Has our progress been stymied by internal dependence dressed in external independence? Has our tendency to believe that politicians owe us or that our progress is tied to politicians resulted in arrested development?
Some 31 years ago while speaking at a political meeting at King George V Memorial Park, then Prime Minister Bernard St John noted that the only way Barbadians could maintain the standard of living they enjoyed was if they understood that no one owed them a living. “The world today is not for people who think that the world is going to give them a standard of living,” he said.
That was 1985, 19 years after Independence. Has our development been retarded in the ensuing three decades by an unwillingness to pursue and grasp all the manifestations of true independence?
Over the years we have tied ourselves to international treaties and conventions that have rendered some of our laws and systems impotent and in some instances, virtually anachronistic. The death penalty comes readily to mind. Have we considered making an independent decision on this matter?
At a social level both young and old are swift to mimic what they observe occurring in North America and beyond, whether at the level of exposing their undergarments above their trousers, or seeking to lighten their complexions or hair. Or whether in the way they address women folk or resolve mutual conflicts. Are we of independent thought when we discriminate against fellow West Indians at our ports of entry but present broad, toothy smiles and accented speech to Caucasian faces?
Our necessity to “play the game” might very much be as a result of our economic dependence. As Mr Washington noted “our race” and in many ways, our small stature, necessitate a large measure of economic independence for true independence to materialize. As we celebrate this month perhaps it is time to gird our loins and recommit ourselves to removing most, if not all, of the cosmetics that can become attached to an independence that is not sufficiently removed from the scars of dependence.