In the spring of 1992, rioting exploded in the American city of Los Angeles, California, after four police officers were acquitted of charges of using excessive force in the violent arrest of African-American resident Rodney King, in what was seen by many as a racially motivated and gratuitous attack.
Halfway through the six-day-long disturbance, King issued a broadcast appeal for calm, in what has become one of the most oft repeated (and misquoted) statements.
“People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids? … It’s just not right. It’s not right. It’s not, it’s not going to change anything. We’ll, we’ll get our justice . . . . Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to work it out.”
In the ensuring years, can we all get along has become, can’t we all just get along? But the sentiments are the same.
If you have been paying attention of late, particularly in the last several days, you will wonder what has become of the civility of which we were once so proud.
The tone and tenor of the discussion surrounding the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Barbadians suggest we are at risk of losing – and maybe we have already lost – all that is good and pure and understanding about us.
There is much hysteria about the issue and since hysteria is contagious, the unpalatable conversation is spreading rapidly.
Vile, incontinent, intransigent hatred has replaced positive expressions of ideas and opinions. Parasitic cultural and religious grievance effluvia are exploited and remodeled into toxic and incendiary abuse and spread throughout this tiny 166 square miles of rock.
Is this what we have become? A nation so intolerant, so hateful, so boorish, so blinded by narrow religious, political, gay agendas and the like that we abuse, harangue, bully and assail those with whose lifestyles, whose practices, whose faiths we disagree?
Where will this end? How far are we prepared to take this hostile environment? How badly are we prepared to toxify the air?
It seems we have stopped seeing people as people first, as human beings like any other.
We look at people and we see gays or lesbians or heathens who must be condemned to burn in the fires of hell, instead of seeing human beings who are our brothers, our sisters, our relatives, our bloodlines.
Or we see devils, or demons or cloth-wearing hypocrites destined to spend eternity being consumed by the fires of hell, instead of seeing people who are our friends, our neighbours, our caretakers, our pastors, our fellow Barbadians who are all each others’ keepers.
From whichever side we stand, we condemn each other to eternal damnation, completely oblivious to the fact – or likelier, ignoring the fact – that no one gains and our country is worse off for it.
We look at those with whom we disagree, wallow in bouts of maudlin self-pity, before going on the offensive, thus creating an environment for resentment and revanchism, and, worryingly potential conflict.
And if you believe this is an exaggeration, a recent incident at House of Soca calypso tent during which a member of the LGBT community stormed the stage in reaction to a comment which the master of ceremonies said was a comedy act, but which the lesbian did not think was funny, should set us thinking. The hardline positions taken by all sides is unhealthy, and takes us down a slippery slope of disparagement, and the virtual execution of those we deem to have committed apostasy.
We cheer the side we agree with no matter how vile the comments, we insult those on the opposite side to the point of tears. We are becoming alarmingly Trumpian here, and we do not seem to notice.
Is this how we want our children to remember us? When they grow up and become adults, do we want them to recall us as the most spiteful, vengeful, intolerant generation of contemptuous people ever? Do we really want them to hate all we now stand for? Is this the legacy we want to leave our children?
Sure, we can disagree with people’s lifestyles, their faiths, their politics, or whatever we wish. But this does not mean we cannot speak with each other in a civil manner, and see each other as deserving basic respect.
Just as Rodney King said in 1992, we’re all stuck here for a while. As Barbadians who love this land, can we all get along?