Submitted by Tee White
Recently, I was listening to an African Bajan, like me, sing the praises of my hometown and make the argument that it had made a significant contribution to the development of Barbados. In support of his argument, he declared that “we provided some of the first governors of the Carolinas”. I was taken aback by this comment. Did the speaker not realise that he was referring to the English slave masters, who saw both his and my fore-parents as sub-human chattel and against whom they committed every crime that could be committed against a human being? Why would a descendant of the enslaved Africans take pride in the fact that the tormentors of his fore-parents had grown so rich from their crimes in Barbados that they emigrated to the USA to continue these barbarities against other African there and rose to be political leaders of the slave masters in that country? It makes no sense but it reflects the official ideology of white supremacy that has been passed down to us from the days of slavery and colonialism and which we have continued to promote during the last 52 years of independence.
This racist doctrine is enshrined in the very preamble to our Constitution which declares:
Whereas the love of free institutions and of independence has always strongly characterised the inhabitants of Barbados:
And Whereas the Governor and the said inhabitants settled a Parliament in the year 1639:
And Whereas as early as 18th February, 1651 those inhabitants, in their determination to safeguard the freedom, safety and well-being of the Island, declared, through their Governor, Lords of the Council and members of the Assembly, their independence of the Commonwealth of England
In reality, Barbados was a laboratory for the destruction of human freedom, safety and well-being. Professor Beckles has pointed out that on the coast of Africa, Barbados was widely known as a place worse than hell and the life expectancy of an enslaved African once they arrived on the island was no more than 7 years. Yet our Constitution presents a fundamentally racist gloss of our country’s history which basically denies the humanity of our African fore-parents.
This psychological dislocation from reality which white supremacy has imprinted on the Bajan psyche is further reinforced with references to the parliament in Broad Street. For example, at Grantley Adams International Airport there is a mural which hails with pride the fact that ‘we’ have the second oldest parliament in the Commonwealth. But who is this ‘we’? The parliament in Broad Street was set up by the English slave masters and used as an instrument for the violent subjugation of our African fore-parents. In 1688, this parliament passed a law entitled “An Act for the Governing of Negroes”. This Act legislated the following:
WHEREAS the Plantations and Estates of this Island cannot be fully managed, and brought into Use, without the Labour and Service of great Numbers of Negroes and other Slaves : And forasmuch as the said Negroes and other Slaves brought unto the People of this Island for that purpose, are of Barbarous, Wild, and Savage Natures, and such as renders them wholly unqualified to be governed by the Laws, Customs, and Practices of our Nations: It therefore becoming absolutely necessary, that such other Constitutions, Laws, and Orders should be in this island framed and enacted for the good Regulating and Ordering of them, as may both restrain the Disorders, Rapines, and Inhumanities to which they are naturally prone and inclined
That no Master, Mistress, Commissioner, or Overseer of any Family in this Island, shall give their Negroes or other Slaves leave on Sabbath-days, Holy-days, or any
other time, to go out of their Plantations, except such Negro or other Slave as usually wait upon them at Home or Abroad, and wearing a Livery ; and no other Negro or Slave, except with a Ticket under the Master or Mistress’s Hand, or some other Person by his or her Appointment, specifying the time allowed for his or her Return ……. And if any Master, Mistress, Commissioner, or Overseer of a Plantation, shall find any Negro or other Slave in their Plantation at any time without a Ticket, or Business from his said Master, and doth not apprehend them, or endeavour so to do; and having apprehended them, shall not punish them with a moderate Whipping, shall forfeit Ten Shillings Sterling, to be disposed of as aforesaid
A N D be it further Enacted and Ordained, That if any Negro or Slave whatsoever shall offer any Violence to any Christian, by Striking, or the like, such Negro or other Slave shall, for his or her first Offence, by Information given upon Oath to the next Justice, be severely whipped by the Constable by Order of the said Justice; For his second Offence of that nature, by Order of the Justice of Peace, he shall be severely whipped, his Nose slit, and be burned in some part of his Face with a hot Iron; And for his third Offence he shall receive, by Order of the Governor and Council, such greater Punishment as they shall think meet to inflict.
Why would the descendants of the enslaved Africans take pride in an institution which committed such crimes against our fore-parents? Should we not instead take pride in the parliaments our fore-parents set up in the cane fields and gullies to fight for human rights on this island against the slave masters and their parliament in Broad Street?
Malcolm X described this psychological affliction that is plaguing Barbados thus:
If the master’s house caught on fire, the house Negro would fight harder to put the blaze out than the master would. If the master got sick, the house Negro would say, “What’s the matter, boss, we sick?” We sick! He identified himself with his master more than his master identified with himself. And if you came to the house Negro and said, “Let’s run away, let’s escape, let’s separate,” the house Negro would look at you and say, “Man, you crazy. What you mean, separate? Where is there a better house than this? Where can I wear better clothes than this? Where can I eat better food than this?” That was that house Negro. In those days he was called a “house nigger.” And that’s what we call him today, because we’ve still got some house niggers running around here.
In 2018, Barbados, it’s way past time we purged ourselves of this white supremacy.