This week I want to focus on culture and the continuing balancing act that fostering a healthy national culture demands. I want to examine how and why we should retain certain aspects of our culture, even as we work to change toxic aspects.
Emera Caribbean, trading here as the Barbados Light & Power Company, recently made a public fuss over the use of their poles for the erection of election paraphernalia associated with the constitutionally due general election in Barbados. I thought Emera’s position was insensitive at best and downright disrespectful of the political norms and culture this island at worst.
For years Barbados has used electricity poles as types of public billboards. Now Emera is citing the use of their poles for advertisement of dances, sewing services and political paraphernalia as a health and safety risk for their linesmen and other personnel. Wood ants, I expect, are as much a safety hazard for linesmen and other personnel at Emera Caribbean, but I doubt a letter to said wood ants stands to change the fact that the wood ants are part of the cultural landscape of Barbados, around which business strategy has to be uniquely crafted.
In every jurisdiction there are norms and practices, environmental nuances and conditions which companies must be established around. Where a case is being made for culture and practice to change using safety concerns as the basis, proof must be presented of how the practice has been adverse. Otherwise, a company may be seen to be trivially seeking to get the country to abolish an aspect of its culture that not only defines much of the political campaign life of the island, but of other countries in the Commonwealth Caribbean as well.
This is an offensive dismissal of the attachment and value that Barbadians have for various elements of their indigenous experience. Posters and the placement of them on poles provide a legitimate intersection at which the average person in the street is engaged in the work of a campaign. It is the point at which many people take ownership of the campaign and it forms a signal that the election campaign has started. The pictures accompanying this article show various uses of electric and other utility poles in Barbados. They show how the poles have been integrated over the years into the entertainment life of the country.
Therefore, if political posters on electric poles pose danger to linesmen, what of the markers of place names and districts? Will Emera Caribbean bear the cost of planting signposts across the island?
Emera depends on the goodwill of Barbadians to report downed poles, streetlights which are not working and to understand when they lose the ability to provide the island with power for whatever reason. Goodwill can never be a one sided benefit and the advertising space provided on poles across Barbados is a big part of the value added which Emera has to offer in the form of reciprocal goodwill.
So what do we need to change in the culture of Barbados? How do we stop large globalized companies from trampling on our cultural identity while at the same time changing our national culture in valuable and relevant ways? These are the questions associated with nation building and nation building is not a one off activity but a continuous striving for simultaneous preservation and change.
Switching gears, I would like to acknowledge the Golden Globe speech of Oprah Winfrey and her assertion that it is time for the actions of bad men to be stopped. Oprah was able to weave an excellent historically sound narrative of how women have been assaulted, raped and then silenced by the racist construction of relations between whites and blacks in America.
She was also able to put the spotlight back on the #metoo campaign against the perpetrators of sexual assault and harassment against women. The campaign has wavered at points and has degenerated into victim blaming, instead of keeping men accountable for their actions.
In returning the focus to men who devalue women, Oprah added her tremendous voice and world appeal to the cause of empowering women and girls against abuse and sexual manipulation. Where the movement was slowly spreading to various countries in Europe, I expect that there will now be a true universal groundswell.
Oprah has challenged us to construct the support system for girls and women worldwide to make them feel as though a new day has dawned for them; a day in which there will be no need for mass movements dedicated to ensuring that women can speak out against abuse. These movements would no longer be necessary, not only because there would be stronger systemic mechanisms for reporting, but equally because the attitudes of men would hopefully have adjusted significantly with respect to the treatment of women.
Oprah has validated the wave of revelation moving across the world about the atrocities women face in the execution of simple daily tasks. She has thanked the men who stand shoulder to shoulder with women and the women brave enough to continue the discussions about still obscure topics. These discourses include issues such as victim shaming, love and the construction of love, as well as overcoming the emotional and psychological fallout of abuse, which need to remain in the front burner of the social and cultural imprint of all countries.