Since the merciless public killing of George Floyd under the knee of a white police officer, the world has started a revolt against racism, inequality and injustice.
Barbados, too – as evidenced by the recent marches led by the Caribbean Movement for Peace and Integration, and robust public discussion on social media, call-in programmes and public fora.
Hardly can anyone deny that every right-thinking human being, regardless of the colour of their skin, class, religion or sexual orientation, should pause and ask the hard questions, not only about the systemic woes in the United States but even more so at our own state of affairs in Barbados and, push for change.
Discussions about racism and inequality are not new here.
In July 1999, the Owen Arthur administration established a Committee for National Reconciliation to develop and implement a programme towards building a just, inclusive society.
Wide-ranging proposals which touched all aspects of Barbadian life emphasized that “at the very base, the people of Barbados must be encouraged to rededicate themselves to the building of a just society in which the enjoyment of fundamental political rights is matched by access to economic opportunity and to real prospects of social advancement”.
This prompts the question of what serious progress has been made in the 21 years since that committee set out a platform for economic and social transformation.
No doubt the time has come for a frank assessment and a new conversation on the way forward. A modern society like ours demands it.
The Barbados Private Sector Association, a grouping of the business class, signalled last week that the time has come for the conversation to resume as it urged the country to start the conversation on the imbalances here, including racial division and economic enfranchisement.
In his statement, BPSA President Edward Clarke said: “Given the need and opportunity for us to “reconstruct and rebuild” nationally, occurring at this time of global conversation on racial tensions and inequities, attention must also include a focus on imbalances that currently exist in our country. It is therefore timely, and necessary, to honestly look at the society we live in with a view to progressing Barbados to become a model of inclusiveness, diversity and equality of access for all. Undoubtedly, this process must necessarily include discussion on racial division and economic enfranchisement in Barbados.”
This bold move by the private sector is equally historic and timely.
It’s refreshing to hear the country’s business leaders willing to dialogue on the racial imbalances and committing to not just talk but an “ implementable plan” to make Barbados a model of inclusiveness, diversity and equality.
We should strike while the iron is hot on this public call for addressing deep-seated fissures in our society.
On Sunday, a distinguished panel on a Barbados TODAY discussion on Race Relations in Barbados made a similar call for the creation of substantive strategies to deal with all inequities in Barbadian society, not only in terms of economic enfranchisement but also against discrimination against the LGBT community, women and Rastafarians.
Such discussions are not straightforward – given the wretched history of slavery and colonialism dating back nearly four centuries and the lingering damage to how we live.
But we make bold to suggest this dialogue begin on the premise suggested by Dr Martin Luther King Jr more than a half-century ago: “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
Engaging in a conversation now is one thing all of us can do to make meaningful change to eradicate assumptions and beliefs that have fed racism, inequality and injustice for far too long. Let the dialogue begin.
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