Dear Sir Roy,
We have not met and I am not in the habit of writing to total strangers. But on this occasion I think it is pertinent, since the subject- matter is of crucial interest to those of us of our generation and, more so, future generations. Further, I believe its contents should be shared with the country we both love as it is about the battle for the soul of the nation.
Recently, you had cause to describe a New Barbadian as an “Egyptian Jew”, or were reported as such, following an industrial relations dispute. It was an unfortunate turn of phrase which can rightly be interpreted as having racist undertones. You deny this and I am prepared to accept your word as an honourable man. Needless to say, I felt your pain from 3000 miles away, since the self-imposed restrictions we put on ourselves corrupt the grammar of our public discussions. I can tell from a distance that you are a proud man and will not suggest that you apologise unless you want to. An apology, if it is sincere, must come from within. But, if you are so inclined, do so unequivocally and move on.
The row over the alleged remarks is far too important to be personalised since it is but the tip of a ticking ethnic, religious and cultural time-bomb that will, in time, if it continues to go unchecked, will tear Barbados apart.
In a show of typical arrogance and chutzpah, the Barbadian ruling class has a firm belief that, despite the evidence all over the world, that that tiny island can be a successful multi-ethnically, multi-culturally and multi-religiously.
But, living in London, which prides itself on being the most multi-ethnic and multi-cultural City in the world, I can say that the evidence on the ground does not support this boast. In fact, London is a collection of ethnic, social and religious pockets that when they meet at work or in public spaces, there are hostile, aggressive and sometimes even violent against each other. And, if anything, London is more divided at present than it has been at anytime since the 1960s. I speak as one who has worked, even if for a short time, at the Commission for Racial Equality, the state-sponsored Quango tasked to make us love one another. So, I have some form when it comes to multiculturalism.
But Barbados is sleep-walking to an uncertain future and you are one of the public faces with the authority and influence to change that course. You are an independent Senator, a leading trade unionist and a leader and former of public opinion.
It is unfortunate that this debate has descended in to one of political morality, your calling the businessman an Egyptian Jew, even if you are right about his nationality, ethnicity and religion, has touched a raw nerve.
The real issue is one that the Barbadian political and professional classes are playing a game of monkey with: they cannot see anything wrong with this social drift which is tearing the nation apart; they cannot hear the pain of the traditional Barbadians as they are squeezed more and more by these newcomers; and cannot see how the best parts of the island are occupied by Norwegians, Irish-Canadians, semi-literate British footballers, and the others from the developed world, as long as they have fat wallets. That is the real issue, and not specifically Diamond International, Merricks, or any of the other major developments taking place.
When these people arrive in our island they do not just come with their wallets and packed suitcases. The most important of their luggage is their cultural baggage, and it is this we want to talk about. How does this cultural baggage impact on our national values? How does it change us as an island people?
In London, we have seen whole communities transformed, and not necessarily for the better. You got this coming. At some point we must discuss the nature of our nationality identity, who has a right to own our 100000 odd acres, and who has the right to call themselves a Barbadian.
Sir Roy, I have long believed that in the absence of a progressive political class the trade union movement should have taken a leading part in the defining of the new Barbados, post independence. You have failed as that person and as that leader. The BWU, a union that I have had a great affection for from the days of Walcott and Blunt when the union was at the corner of Fairchild and Nelson Street – my paternal grandfather owned a rum shop and bakery on Nelson Street called the Olde Grogge Shoppe, but that is an aside. Most importantly, as a trade unionist you have failed to draw up a roadmap to the future for ordinary Barbadian workers. Where is the BWU think-tank tasked with debunking some of the mythologising of the New Barbados?
Sir Roy, let me relate one of the myths to you, one that has seeped in to the sub-conscious of almost every Barbadian. We now boast of our place on the Human Developement Index, a bogus measurement of progress created by the UNDP since everyone and his mother agrees that per capita GDP measurement is inadequate. But the HDI, which combines GDP, life expectancy at birth and literacy is not it. It is based on the myth that Barbados has a 99 per cent literacy, when in reality the majority of Barbadians, including many of the professionals, are functionally illiterate for a modern, technological world; on health, in a society with one of the highest HIV infectivity rates for under 25s in the world, and, what is more, when obesity has reached epidemic proportions so much so that this generation of young people run the real risk of dying before their parents’ generation, reversing everything we have experienced in terms of life expectancy for over 11000 years. Most of all, it is based on the myth of Barbadian economic prosperity when most of it is based on debt.
Sir Roy, this is the reality of modern Barbados, a society closed to new ideas (just look at the way this incompetent government is dealing with the financial crisis) in a world in which ideas rule – Apple, Google, Facebook.
Sir Roy, I do not want to put it all on your shoulder, but you are in a pole position to lead. More importantly, you have failed your members and the wider trade union movement – shouting loud, but shouting rubbish. Where is the skill, literacy and technological training for your members and their offspring? What about protection – medical, income and investment?
Sir Roy, your faked militancy is based on your frustrations, your consciousness of having failed your members and the wider Barbadian working class. You have relied on strike action and the threat of strike action to cover your failure to devise a menu of benefits for your members, from nationwide occupational pensions, to decent health benefits, up-to-date training and apprenticeships, and your lack of good negotiating skills.
Sir Roy, you have failed as a honourable citizen, a member of the senior chamber of our parliament, as a senior trade union leader, as an elder of Barbadian society. You have also failed as a host through your lack of good manners and courtesy towards our guests: you do not invite someone in to your home and then insult him? But you can make amends. Just launch a redemption campaign, lead the national debate about who we call Barbadians, raise national awareness about the overshoot of the New Barbadians.
Sir Roy, I hope you can take these few words with the spirit with which they are intended as there is no negative intent on my part. But, in case you are unclear, when you are wrong, admit it; when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.