The Grenville Phillips Column – Keep Your Head Down
The slavery experience of our foreparents has left a legacy that we still struggle with today. It is a legacy that everyone who has tried to improve a situation has felt. Over the past quarter-century, I have talked with many persons who saw something being done incorrectly, whether on a construction site, or at a social function, or in a business, and they said nothing.
Why are we so reluctant to identify a problem, or stop an injustice, or stand up to a bully? Why do so few Barbadians speak or write or act when we see something that ought not to done? The typical reason that people give is that they did not want to draw attention to themselves by getting involved.
Challenging unfairness or recommending improvements will get you noticed. During slavery, being noticed could mean getting raped if you were a girl, or being beaten if you were a man. So everyone learnt to keep their heads down and just try to finish their work without being noticed. This attitude has persisted, and I have found that it requires a conscientious effort to change.
In my youth, I used to enjoy watching kung-fu movies at the cinemas. There would typically be some unmannerly adults in the audience who would put their feet on the chair in front of them and shout obscenities and insults across the room, but no-one ever said anything to them. I learnt to keep my head down in order not to attract their attention, and just enjoy the movie. By this time in my life, I had seen numerous instances of injustices, and wondered why responsible adults were never around during those times.
In my late teen years, while waiting for a kung-fu movie to start, and listening to the familiar string of obscenities and insults, I remember making myself a promise. I told myself that when I reached 30 years of age, I would be the adult that I was hoping for during my youth. When I was 30, I kept that promise and continued to keep it for the next 2 decades to this day.
Over the past 51 years of our independence, Barbados has had no shortage of competent persons with high integrity. However, we were starved of persons who were willing to actually do something meaningful to bring about the much needed change to the benefit of all Barbadians. We have had political columnists, moderators, commentators and calypsonians who would entertain us by giving voice to what we felt, but were too intimidated to say. However, their efforts rarely resulted in national improvements.
There are two likely methods of solving national problems. The first is to convince a ruling political administration to pursue effective and economical solutions. The second method is to form a political party, assemble a set of highly competent persons of high integrity, and provide the electorate with a competent alternative.
I have tried the first method for almost 2 decades. It is akin to sitting up and being noticed, much like the columnists and calypsonians, and like them, I was tolerated to a certain extent. However, like them, I have seen no national improvement from my efforts. Had our arrogant politicians not brought us to the brink of economic ruin, I would likely have continued to simply sit up and lobby for change.
I am now back in the Plaza cinema, the unruly fellows have their feet on the back of the chairs and are shouting their now familiar string of obscenities and insults at their targets. Most of the audience have their heads down, not wanting to attract their attention. The bullies are arrogant because they have intimidated the crowd for the past 51 years and the audience’s fear has sustained them. However, this time, I stand up, and turn around, and face them, and whatever will happen will happen. Barbados, you decide whether I face them alone.