Senators have approved on the nation’s newest top honour, The Order of the Freedom of Barbados, as an symbol of nationhood and self-image.
But in debating the bill to bring the award into law this morning, the lawmakers were warned against the award being used to the exclusion of minorities.
Senator the Reverend John Rogers said the ‘Freedom’ honour must not be regarded as Afrocentric. He also expressed concern about the honour’s place as an alternative to the knighthood among the nation’s highest.
Reverend Rogers told the Upper House that the notion of Barbadian does not involve any indigenous group to this island, as “we were all brought here or we came here via some route”.
He declared: “I’ve said that to say that being Barbadian is a unique dynamic.
“And when we speak of the Freedom of Barbados Award I hope that we do not go down the road to hold it as something that is Afrocentric because we cannot let go of our Eurocentricity either.
“In fact, when we think of ourselves as a Barbadian people we must recognise even within the Caribbean that we are a potpourri of people.
“We’re a combination of different groups. And therefore when we speak of the Order of the Freedom of Barbados, I find it timely and I’m very happy that it is coming at this time because it gives usd the opportunity to set out an ideology of our nationalism, of who we are as a people.”
But the Anglican cleric warned against the type of nationalism that would lead to the devaluation of other people of other origins.
While giving support for the bill, Rev. Rogers raised concern over what he said was an “inherent danger” in placing the award in the same category as the Knighthood of St Andrew and the Dame of St Andrew.
He said: “The danger I perceive there is that if the option is given to someone to choose the knighthood, the Dame or the Freedom of Barbados and they opt not to choose the Freedom of Barbados, what does it say about them?
“If we’re going to create a national identity we either cut the umbilical cord, sever it totally or we incorporate everything recognising our history as a people.
“Because I would hate to think that something as novel as this could be a symbol of division in our society.”
He also suggested that the award could be bestowed posthumously to people who have contributed to nation-building.
He told the Senate: “How do we honour someone like an Israel Lovell who was instrumental in the 1937 riots but not necessarily the face of the riots?
“How do we recognise someone who led so revolutionary a movement as the [Universal] Negro Improvement Alliance, something that spoke to the development of our people at that time?”
The UNIA was created by Jamaican national hero Marcus Garvey, who spoke in Barbados in the 1920s and inspired a generation of political leaders, including Lovell.
Earlier in the debate, Government Senator Rudy Grant pointed to the need for Barbadians to recognise the importance of collaboration with other countries, even as it celebrates its own achievements as a small nation.
He said: “There needs continually to be collaboration, the need to continually be working with other persons and other countries sometimes in ensuring that we are able to have an action and have identity placed on those issues that are critical to us.”
Senator Lisa Cummins referred to the Right Excellent Errol Barrow’s Mirror Image speech, saying that Barbadians now need to ask what image do they now have of themselves several decades after the Prime Minister’s speech.
She said: “There is an image that tells us we are to welcome those that come from far but we are to reject those who come from near and call them foreigners or things like low islanders because we have a mirror image of ourselves, Mr President, that does not yet reflect that we have understood what was being asked of us in May of 1986.
“We still have difficulties with migration of persons from near who look like us, whose culture is similar to ours, who live lives that are not dissimilar to ours yet when we ourselves, in almost every Barbadian household can cite a member of our families or in our friendships who are migrants themselves in places afar.
“Mr President what is our mirror image of ourselves?”
Barbadians, she declared in the Upper Chamber, need to embrace their Caribbean identity.
Senator Cummins said: “We are a Caribbean people, Barbadian heritage, African descent and I am of the full view that every aspect of our lives needs to be infused with that authenticity of us as a people, representative of our consciousness of who we are and that is fully embodied in this order that is before us.”