My French teacher Mr Lilla told a true story about a man, as iconic as any Taffy or Mrs Bhakcu, in the East Port-of-Spain plannings where he grew up. He wanted to end his life and jumped from the top floor of the building.
Nothing happened. Determined, he picked himself up, went back up the stairs and threw himself off again. This time, he succeeded in breaking a foot and could not climb back up to try again
Joining year-end contemplations of our lives, society and future, I am drawn to both that story and Barbados Opposition Leader Mia Mottley’s words to Caribbean politicians, civil servants and activists at a 2011 HIV meeting: “What kind of society do we want to build? What kind of children do we want to raise? And what do we have to show for having had control of our nations for two generations since Independence?”
I feel I’ve said just three things, over and over, over my year as a columnist:
How we uphold each other’s human dignity in the nation we share is more fundamental than almost anything else.
This is a hopefully small, resourceful place, overwhelming with worth (to slightly misquote Sniper), where our personal agency and our relationships matter profoundly.
But globalisation, patronage and cynicism have atrophied politics into something no longer aspirational; and those seeking change repeatedly fail to build political movements.
This simplified state of the nation glosses over questions of economic planning, sustainability, how we build state machinery, and our chronic “implementation deficit disorder”, as Mottley labelled it. But I still firmly believe:
- our nationbuilding failures have essentially been in investing in people’s worth;
- our current inertia—in building movements and mobilising;
- and both due to an absence of powerful, liberatory ideas that raise our pores and imagination.
There is no injustice like rum “we eh leaving until done”, no freedom we eh leaving until come. Personal advancement has become unshackled from the notion of a shared destiny, and a selfishness prevails.
Our failure on all three fronts means we are unable to compete in the opportunity marketplace with the globalised economies of corruption, drugs and sex for our own people or our own leaders. How we rear our children like owners, and our examination system, invest no faith or commitment in young people that ensures their own belief or belonging to anything that can contend with the arms cache and cash of the drug and sex trades, which are breeding alienation and violence that political solutions will soon, if not already, be unable to undo.
Faith has also failed us. Across the Americas, faith communities produced powerful ideologies of justice at times of sweeping social change and instability—the US Civil Rights movement; liberation theology; in our own history, Emancipation. Faith here now responds to the complexity and uncertainty globalisation imposes on us with retreating, not enlarging, ideas—evangelical rapture; a turn to fundamentalism to dumb life down; and rigid sex roles as the priority moral battlefront above everything else.
Another measure of failure to invest in our own worth is the Naipaulian cynicism and self-mockery that is the pride of some of our brightest minds, newspaper columns, and any social media conversation about national life. We argue each other down that things are hopeless.
I am only occasionally hopeless. We have always been jamettes and badjohns. Our lawlessness can again become a strategic and communal challenge to harmful systems and authority, much as it continues to be a problemsolving counter to a colonial culture of rulemaking and stratification. At the root of our often dysfunctional “Carnival mentality” and the way picong stunts our emotional intelligence is a profound and productive ability to play and laugh.
So let me close the year trying to beat Yesenia at accuracy and relevance with some hopeful divinations for 2015:
- We’ll stop pretending undocumented immigrants aren’t important to our economy, or scaremongering will affect crime or votes any more than the 2011 State of Emergency did, but merely increase abuse of young men like the Jamaican detained for his accent by Woodbrook police.
- Anand Ramlogan will champion legislation adding sexual orientation, HIV and age to the Equal Opportunity Act early in 2015, and avoid homosexuality becoming a campaign issue. No churches will march. And usage of the EOA’s existing disability protections will climb.
- Pope Francis will visit, and leave us even more breathless than Archbishop Joe and the Holy Faith Sisters, embracing gay people as God’s children.
- Oil prices will fall further. Instead of goats, buss files and marginals, the general election campaign will be about diversifying the economy and broadening economic opportunity beyond racialised patronage programmes.
- Kamla will meet the LGBT citizens she told foreign investors public opinion prevented her from affording equality, and start listening to their youthful ideas about how to win an election instead of the party patriarchs in safe seats.
- More than one major-party candidate will be revealed to be gay/lesbian, and elected.
- If a clergyman tells the media again all homosexuals need chopping down, Amery Browne’s post on Facebook won’t be the only response from a politician saying faith beliefs don’t license that, and the Minister of National Diversity will speak out.
- More men and women will understand the profound damage gender inequality does to men and boys. UWI’s Institute for Gender & Development Studies and the Single Fathers Association will work together on a project to ensure court decisions on maintenance and custody are equally fair to men and women.
Forging the liberty to love: One nation…many bodies…boundless faith