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by Margaret D. Gill
I was recently honoured by publication of an open letter to the Governor General of Barbados through the on-line news organ Barbados TODAY.
That letter essentially raised my concerns about the proposed change to the Barbados constitution to make the sitting Barbados Head of State an independent body in a republic of Barbados, rather than a representative of the Queen of England, in the context of the country being in a state of national emergency. At least the debaters seemed to be discussing this for the most part.
Two responses to my concern with timing and process from two sources I respect frankly shocked me: one asked “Why do you fear Barbados becoming a republic?”; the other suggested I was removed from what was really felt by “Barbadians”.
Whether they intended it or not, I experienced myself as someone who at independence would have taken the side of those opposed to change from the colonial status.
I could defend that idea in my poetry, published and performed publicly, as well as my letters to the press and contributions to call-in programmes and on television, and my published scholarly work, place me in the so-called radical tradition.
This new designation as a conservative if not an actual reactionary, frightened me. This actual fear arises from how easily one can be silenced or can silence oneself by a word in these Caribbean islands.
So, my simple question to those arguing for a republic at this time, why now and suddenly? What is it I am supposed to fear about becoming a republic now?
I know you offer that it cuts the remaining vestiges of the colonial ties, but that is patently arguable in the light of the claims of neo-colonialism.
Those claims have been correctly made by our scholars, cultural critics and practitioners.
Further, all our visual artists, film makers and photographers, plus De Men Dem, have all guided us away from being caught in thinking that the trappings of flag and anthem and pledge and currency have made us independent from the “permanent plantation”, to use Kamau Brathwaite’s words.
Why should becoming a republic in the midst of a pandemic of the proportions of COVID-19 make the difference I hear being offered in my parliament and by most discussants on the television?
One commentator, Dr. Deryck Murray asked me and others, for input into his participation as the head of the inspiring Centre for Hybrid Studies, CHyS, as he debated with other panelists on the Barbados Charter recently. But I was unable to get back to him and nearly missed the televised debate.
You see, the pandemic and national emergency has me in great straits.
My time, but more directly, my money is stretched beyond where it has ever been as I handle the crisis forced on me and my family and friends by the pandemic, its effects and the emotional costs to me as a Barbadian to hear, however indirectly, that people are dying from this unseen danger, that people I know and love, and others are falling apart mentally and that I have to guard, my own mental health while being a self-chosen advocate on behalf of mentally ill individuals and those diagnosed with mental disorders.
I give my own circumstance because it feels so socially distributed. But maybe I am unique and outside the normal experience of the average Barbadian, whoever he may be. I don’t fear becoming a republican.
I guess I fear not being able to give it real thought and having to close my eyes and trust the current legislators when we have been taught by all politicians, newspaper editorials, university lecturers and our own experiences in this region that we should hesitate before blindly trusting occupants of our legislatures – republican or democrat.
But maybe I will trust you even though one of the panelists of the evening’s discussion of the Barbados Charter once said to me, “you feminists are a fringe element”.
His party was in power, as we say, at that time, and we feminists were doing things like demanding full participation of women in national decision making and an end to harms like domestic violence and sexual harassment. But he might have really changed as his rhetoric about inclusivity suggested. And anyway, here I am writing this and not responding to the Charter. Perhaps it is easier.
Margaret D. Gill, Ph.D. is a lecturer, poet and contributor on matters of national interest. This column was offered as a Letter to the Editor.