By Alvette ‘Ellorton’ Jeffers
“You may write me down in history / With your bitter, twisted lies /You may trod me in the very dirt / But still, like dust, I’ll rise / You may shoot me with your words / You may cut me with your eyes /You may kill me with your hatefulness / But still, like air, I’ll rise.” [Still I Rise by Maya Angelou].
They were not assigned their national identity or referred to as a people of African origin. For the material requirements of the moment, Barbudans were presented as “deracinated imbeciles.” “Dunce elements,” and “squatters” who did not like hard work but stay-at-home recipients of “welfare.” As if to make the cut more galling and bitter, it was insinuated that Barbudans were sexual deviants. Soon after, even some who credited themselves with a level of intelligence, began to repeat ad hominem, parts of the Prime Minister’s diatribe.
Why would a Prime Minister of African origin imitate the white, slave masters and the colonisers of his ancestors to falsely portray the descendants of Africans living in Barbuda as uncivilized with low forms of intelligence, which, it was suggested, made them incapable of deciding what was good or bad for them? It seems odd, doesn’t it, that a people who had been forced to work during slavery for centuries and after emancipation, who relied on the labour of the family unit and the solidarity of the wider community in order to live, were being portrayed as “mendicants.” And this willful mischaracterisation of Barbudans was started at the same that they were trying to come to terms with the havoc that the 2017 hurricane created in their country.
These venomous words were not off-the-cuff utterances. They were chosen and used for ill intent. Specifically, the Prime Minister was seeking to make Barbudans seem dated in beliefs and lifestyle. Worse, they were intended to infer that Barbudans had no standing in the discussion about the future of the place they have called home for over four hundred years. If they gained approval to speak, it would be on the condition that they accepted their subordination to the State and the investors of capital; and in such a duopoly of State and finance, or gangster capitalism, their words would acquire meaning only when it is not in opposition to the selfish and pecuniary objectives of the duopoly.
What is this outmoded existence in Barbuda which so infuriates the Prime Minister and his government that it requires public shaming? Their attitudes and philosophy, it is said, are not in alignment with modes of living in the twenty-first century. Twenty-first century capitalist modes of production and the pursuit of endless growth is destroying the environment, and human beings now face the real possibility of becoming extinct. Displacement of people is already occurring as a result of rising sea levels and severe hurricanes. When you add displacement caused by imperial and genocidal wars, plus famine and the social degradation in which millions of human beings are trapped, the twenty-first century, as a way of living, is not to be promoted but critiqued and dismantled.
To drag Barbudans into the twenty-first century, the Prime Minister, who is a strong advocate for reparations is prepared to destroy everything African in Barbuda, preferring to replace it with that which is European in origin and predatory. It has always been the assumption of colonisers, neo-liberals and now his, that underpopulated and public spaces should be converted for capitalist gain. Barbudans’ outlook counterposes this neo-liberal ideology and practice.
For as far back as Barbudans can remember, they have always held a contrary view. They are not so sure how and when that conception of living entered their consciousness. But it seems that there was never a time when they did not believe that the land was the property of all the people to provide for all the people. Additionally, they were to be and are conscientious protectors of the environment, using everything around them in a judicious manner to allow for the replenishment of the environment and its species. This is essentially African, and it is European intervention in Africa in the nineteenth century which countered its development with the imposition of a violent and rapacious economic system that established command over the continent’s natural resources and people.
In Chapter V1 of his book, African Life and Customs, published in 1908, Edward W. Blyden describes the governing principles of property ownership in Africa before European conquest took hold in Africa. The following is what he had to say:
“The people always have free access to the land and to the water, to cultivate the land for food and clothing, to hunt and to fish…There is no law of property so sacred that any man, woman, or child would be allowed to remain and suffer either hunger or nakedness without sufficient supply of food or clothing, provided such things existed in the village or community.
“When the full meaning to the life of the African of the two conditions we have mentioned above, as regards land and water, is understood, then it will be realised why the African everywhere fights for his land when he will hesitate to fight about anything else.”
This reads like Barbuda to me, and guided by their principles of community, a new approach to the organisation of economic development can evolve. This system of economic development would discourage the exploitation of one human being by another and the steady lessening of the distinction between those who manage and those who are managed by the introduction of forms of democratic practices into the workplace. Work on the land and in whatever enterprises that are formed would become a communal effort to satisfy, to the extent that its resources allow, the material needs of the people and to aid their advancement in the intellectual and artistic fields that they choose.
When the Prime Minister uses vulgar language to denigrate Barbudans, he is hoping that they become less confident in their capacities to gain mastery over their transformation. If they become what he says they are, it makes it easier for a Eurocentric notion of development to be imposed on them. But if they discover in their African traditions a philosophy which can aid the renewal of Barbuda, then they will transcend the servitude that Brown wants to impose on them. In this way, they will rise far above and away from the political sludge that flows from the mouth of the Prime Minister. Barbudans have one choice. They must rise!