Whither our Independence?

What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? This Fourth of July is yours, not mine…There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.” – Frederick Douglas, quoted by Colin Kaepernick.

On July 4, our great northerly neighbour, the United States of America, celebrated its Independence Day. This is always treated as a significant event in that country.

This year, that country’s persistent “Negro problem” led one of the people who continue to fight for equality of the races there, to quote an extract from Frederick Douglas, the noted 19th century anti-slavery activist. It is often said that the more things change the more they remain the same. This is given credence by the reality that a July 5, 1852 speech is still regarded as relevant in relation to the lives of African descended Americans in 2019.

Former National Football League player, Colin Kaepernick, tweeted the quote at the head of this offering on his country’s day of celebration. His extract from Douglas, accompanied by a video of the evidence of what he spoke, was specific to his message. I present a larger portion of the Douglas speech, not beginning where Kaepernick began, and without the reaching to the gravamen of his conclusion, simply because I wish to present a local context.

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”
Frederick Douglas spoke in the midst of slavery and his words painted a clear picture of his times. Kaepernick’s presentation was made against the background of the African-American experience.

As we continue down the unholy road of widening the divide between Barbadians, are we stripping our country of the validity of its independence boasts?

Pomp and pageantry are the hallmark of our independence celebrations, but are these empty noises that no longer reflect the true lives of ordinary Barbadians? Are we simply putting on a show?

We may have already made this concession. Based on images which were widely circulated in this country, we recently denigrated the national flag by placing it in a hole in the ground in a foreign country and allowing a strange man to pour some unknown liquid on it in some ritual which was unfamiliar to most of us.

This was all very confusing to me. In a previous life, I had the honour of raising and lowering the national flag on a regular basis. The first thing I was told when I first undertook this duty was that I must never allow the flag to touch the ground. I believe that is still the correct protocol.

It was because of this knowledge that I first dismissed the images as fake. But the frequent speaker who never rests remained silent on the veracity of those images. So what is one to think?
According to those images, it seems that we buried a box which bore the country’s coat of arms. Could this be true? When and where was this ever done before?

The lack of respect for our national emblems may speak volumes about how we see this country. It was noteworthy that despite all the comments that flew widely when these images first appeared, there has been no loud cry in objection to what we saw. Maybe we have already crossed the Rubicon and there is now no way back.

It seems like our people have become numb to what is being done to them. Some still seem to be in a daze, as they are being pushed further down the pecking order in their own country.

It does not seem strange to Barbadians that Trinidadians are selling Barbadian lands to Barbadians. If there were nothing else, this symbolises that not even these fields and hills belong to us. When the British gave us our own fields and hills, we proudly sang that they were beyond recall. That was not true legally, but that is another story. In 53 years, we have succeeded in handing our country to others again. And this time, probably beyond recall.

We have sold off or are in the process of selling off all of our national assets. Those that cannot be sold are handed to foreign hands for their profiteering. We have recently
advertised that we are willing to hand our airport over to a foreign entity. When the criteria set out for managing it cannot be matched by a local concern, we are simply saying to our people, you need not apply.

Foreign businesses here inform the Immigration Department that they cannot find any Barbadian to work as teachers and maids. And we boast of our education system and our industriousness.

What is Barbados? What of Barbados is Barbadian? One struggles to find any entity of importance that can be truly called Barbadian.

The father of our independence is reported to have said that one day we will wake up and realise that we no longer own this country. Has that day arrived?

Yesterday was the Day of St. Andrew, the day of our Independence. Other countries celebrate this day with pride. They own their country. We have moved past it with grave concerns about our future as a nation and a people. May we never go back to the experience of Frederick Douglas and Kaepernick where ordinary Barbadians may ask of our independence celebration, “What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? This “Thirtieth of November” is yours, not mine.”

God help us.

Barbados Advocate

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Advocate Publishers (2000) Inc
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