Bajan Black Lives Then and Now
Submitted by Roslyn Stanherd
The fervent tone of most of the panellists supporting the removal of Lord Nelson’s statute on the Sunday July 12, 2020 programme, ‘The Peoples Business’ muted that of the sole panellist against its removal. There was a lot of emotion, stated positions but no balance view on why the statute should be removed. Research was necessary to determine fact from fiction and emotion from material evidence.
Lord Nelson shared via his writings, his ‘old-school’ views of a profitable British colonial system dependent on the slave trade, i.e., supporting money for the plantation owners and death for thousands of slaves. Production was of prime importance to plantation owners who had mortgages to pay. The common practice therefore was for slave owners to deliberately work slaves to death via overwork, poor nutrition, poor work conditions, brutality, and disease simply because it was cheaper to replace slaves every 7 years than to feed them properly. The high death rate among the Barbados slave population in the 1770s is evidenced by the annual importation of the 5,000 slaves necessary to increase the population by 700 per year. Therefore, slave owners by their actions bring into question the validity of the contention that Lord Nelson’s sinking of ships carrying food including bread fruit to the islands caused the death of thousands of slaves. Sugar cane was a land intensive crop that required plantations used most of the arable land. With few exceptions, slaves were only allowed to cultivate food crops on rubble land but were granted limited time to do so. Owners did import costly foodstuff but they rationed these with a stingy hand. It was the Amelioration Act of 1798 which forced planters to improve conditions for slaves.
Yes, he spoke of his support for slave owners and the slave trade but was Lord Nelson overtly or privately racist. Evidence suggests otherwise. He helped secure the release of slaves, hired ex slaves, paid them well and supported the idea that plantation slaves should be replaced by freed, paid industrious Chinese workers.
Finally, his success at the Battle of Trafalgar created the conditions that supported the British abolitionists. Now in control of the seas, the British adhered to the abolition of slavery capturing 1600 slave ships and freeing around 150,000 slaves.
Whether we choose to learn our full history or err on the side of emotion is left to us.
The Sunday Nation of July 12, 2020 article ‘Black Lives in the Spotlight’ by Colville Mounsey addressed realities centred around the position “that elements of our historical starting points still shape the Barbadian economic power structure’. This balanced article provided a contra position that was interesting, in that it might remind one of the American constitution which informs that all men are created equal, yet generations of blacks continue to be marginalized. The article is worth the read.
From my Barbados experience, though black business people had limited experience running businesses, they all had good ideas. Unfortunately, they were naive always expecting business to be good and never planning for worst case scenarios. Their mindsets prevented them from being responsive to situations which hampered businesses growth and development. In addition, money to cover business lags was not every easily accessible and most of them failed.
Retail banks and credit unions are usually wary of startups. Most of the local companies once providing funding to businesses as well as offering much needed advice and guidance are no longer in operation. A business plan along with collateral security are prerequisites for obtaining loans but whites and Indians have the option of obtaining financial handouts and other material support from family and friends something that is a rarity for blacks. In addition, the long preparatory process inclusive of financial assessment can open doors for ideas to be subtly and overtly sabotaged.
Even at the end of a successful black businessman life cycle there is generally no succession plan for the handover of the business to a competent offspring. A failed black business most often means a loss of property/ies with black people poorer for it. Successful black businessmen also fail on a macro level in that they do not transfer key business information and knowledge via offers of support and guidance to start ups.
Then there’s this; the A students work for private enterprise, the B students for Government and the C for themselves, with the later typically starting at an early age. There is no need to guess the categories preferred by black people.
My response is not analytical because there’s little evidence to support the perceptions and questions raised by those who doubt that black businesses are disadvantaged. It is an area that should be investigated/researched. Meanwhile, successful black businessmen should develop strategies to offer support to startup businesses.