The creation of Barbados’ highest alternative national honour, the Order of The Freedom of Barbados, has been hailed by lawmakers as a step forward on the nation’s “road to emancipation” as they passed a bill for the honour last night.
The new honour is being introduced as an equivalent to the Knight or Dame of St Andrew – the patron saint of Barbados whose feast day of November 30 is also Independence Day.
In introducing the bill, the Prime Minister suggested the honour, to be styled ‘FB’, is to be granted to those who opt not to accept a knighthood from the Head of State – the Queen.
During debate on the bill, MP for St James South Sandra Husbands said it was an important moment for her, as it was a signal that Barbadians are now beginning to celebrate their own achievements.
“I was born in a Barbados where that which was foreign was better. That which came from the Mother Country was desirable… was pointed to as that to which you must aspire.
“And so our psyche was riddled with self-hatred where we were unable to value that which came from ourselves…. We were taught to venerate what was made by others,” she said.
For her colleague, Trevor Prescod, the MP for St Michael East, the honour was an indication that Barbados no longer needed validation from its former colonial masters.
Prescod, a prominent Pan-African activist, declared: “We don’t want any British validation to know who we are and to know that we are human beings, and to know that we are great.”
But he acknowledged that not everyone would welcome the new honour.
He said: “We still have an educated elite, sad to say, and that is why you have to have an honour like this because the educated elite would not even want to be associated with this, because this is no honour for them.
“So this is the honour for the people from the trenches; the people who’ve made significant contributions in Barbados. And it’s not to be trivialised because it does not have the sanction of the British Monarchy.”
Prescod further argued that it was of even greater significance, as the country’s highest honour will now be indigenous and not from the ‘British throne’.
“In the post-independence period, there are people in Barbados today they don’t hold any respect because of that psychological damage of not believing that we are people of importance and that we can contribute anything to the development of Barbados.
“There are still those people who still believe that they should be given special privileges in this country. So this is a major transformation.
“And what we have to do now is to address that miseducation that we had prior to independence, radically transform it, and I believe that is what we are focussing on as we look at the removal of the so-called Eleven Plus, all those areas of social stratification.
“You cannot build a society that is based on equity and equality and inherent in the educational system it has in those areas of social stratification. You can’t do it.”
MP for St Michael South Central Marsha Caddle said that the new honour represents the importance of having a new national consciousness.
Using the opportunity to address criticism of her natural hairstyle, she said it was important for young Barbadians to have people and values that represent where they came from and what they look like.
She said: “Some years ago I made a decision that… it was perfectly acceptable for the hair that naturally grows from my head to be presented to the world as who I am.
“And I remember when I decided to stop processing my hair with these chemicals that really you sit in the chair at the stylist and you just cannot wait for the lady to tell you please come and sit at the sink to wash it out because you feel as if your head is on fire.
“I don’t make any judgement for what other people choose to do but I made the decision as a descendant of African slaves, as a black Barbadian woman, that I would no longer go in that direction and that the way I was born and presented naturally to the world as a black woman was perfectly acceptable in every context.
“Perfectly acceptable in a professional context, perfectly acceptable… in any way that I choose to present as an economist, as a proud member of parliament for St Michael South Central, as a young black Barbadian woman.”
St Philip West MP John King, the Minister for Culture, called on his fellow legislators to “let this also be a time when we free ourselves from some of the historical incidents that may keep us in a particular place”.
Said the veteran calypsonian turned politician: “But it is my job as a person who has the honour of seeing Barbados in a completely different light, having been born in the colonial mother country, having to suffer racism from five years old and then having the privilege to come to this country to experience something completely different but in many ways very similar: classism.
“And so I have a perspective of what it means to be able to look in the mirror at yourself and have a confidence that says that you have the ability to be whatever and whoever that you decide you want to be.”
He added that the new honour is a chance for all Barbadians regardless of ethnic background “to decide who and what we want the rest of the world to know”.