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A community response needed

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Over the past two weeks, from Barbados, I tried following developments in the ongoing sad saga that is being played out on our national theatre, with an audience that is regional and international. 

We are continuing to attract attention for the wrong reasons. This latest episode that is still being played out, albeit with a seemingly long break contemplated, makes little sense in and by itself to me as a lay person. I continue to be puzzled by the decision to send Yugge Farrell to the Mental Health Centre for evaluation after she had made a plea of ‘Not Guilty’. What prompted that decision?  Was she a repeat offender who had gone to the magistrate before? Having taken the decision to send her for evaluation/observation, shouldn’t the decision to administer medication follow a report to the court and involve an order of the court? I am raising these questions because to me they are key ones that raised alarm bells and drew attention to the justice system. We will undoubtedly hear more from the lawyers and medical personnel, but my focus here is on community response. 

Many would have been agitated by the way the matter was originally handled. When issues arise that demand a community response, some of us surrender to power, allow political actors to take control and then, with a sense of disdain, try to justify our placement in the spectators’ gallery by suggesting that the matter at hand had become a football to be kicked around without rhyme or reason. A lot is said on social media, but we lack viable civic and non-governmental actors to go beyond the rhetoric and falsehoods. In the period of the 80s and 90s, persons outside the political arena believed that they had a responsibility to drive things and not await political direction. NGOs were then active and predominant among them were young people speaking through the National Youth Council.

Now is a different era. Independence, which should have propelled and strengthened this movement of ordinary peoples, produced the opposite effect, as some of the key players abandoned their course and gravitated into the political arena that was being vacated by the colonial elites. They claimed that they were about transforming the society and destroying the colonial structure and by extension, superstructure. We have instead what Gordon Lewis had described as the darkened theatre audience, where the lights are turned off and we sit and look at the new players performing on stage. We continue to clap and pick our heroes. Every year we compliment ourselves on being a proud, independent people and marvel at how much we have achieved in so short a time. We even selected a national hero, thanks to advocacy by the NYC.  This is something we felt we had to do and we remember him largely every March 14. We have even named things after him, but what made him a hero has not entered our consciousness.

Issues arise, and we act and react in the same way. The subjects and personalities might change, but the more things change, the more they remain the same. Power defined slavery and colonialism, but unlike Chatoyer we refuse to speak truth to power, which incidentally is what made him our hero. We applaud power and find excuses to remain in the darkened theatre. Until we turn on the light and direct what is happening on the stage, we will continue to complain under our breaths and blame others for our misgivings. Justice for and assistance to

Yugge Farrell must remain at the centre of our undertakings, but we must ask relevant questions

and take control of the conversation, regardless of who is offended.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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