IN A CONVERSATION about culture, a friend, a young man, younger than me, declared in an almost defensive tone, that he was “a proud Barbadian”.
He may have felt the need to defend his “blue, yella, blackness” because he is what we call a “hip hop head”.
He embraces American hip hop culture as tightly as someone born in the Bronx.
His defensiveness, if that is what it was, is understandable, given the common criticism that the young people are quick to switch the yellow and black of the flag for red and white.
The defence was unnecessary.
A young Barbadian would naturally gravitate to superiorly marketed foreign products which are often more easily accessible than the local alternatives. I have no issue with a Barbadian embracing any other culture. This does not necessarily mean you reject your own.
The statement that followed caught me off guard. “Maybe not as proud as you,” he said, with an air of respect mixed with a hint of, “how you get so!?” I imagine, based on comments I’ve made in the past, he had the image of me as a trident-waving, pelican-riding, tuk band-playing, conkie-eating super-patriot.
I love tuk music, though I don’t particularly care for conkies. And I happen to disagree with Bajan dancehall artist Jesse James. I think spouge is the force, not dub. However, the idea of being proud about an accident of birth, something I had no choice in, doesn’t sit well with me. It would be like being proud that I won the lotto. I would be happy, but I don’t think I would be proud.
You might be proud of your athletic achievements, a piece of art you created or your collection of koi fish. These are things you put in work for. Your national registration number? You get that just for turning up.
Pride is a schizophrenic word. It can have both negative and positive connotations. From small, you’ve been told to take pride in yourself and what you do. We consider it a good thing when someone takes pride in their appearance. Yet, in Sunday school, you learned from the book of Proverbs, that “Pride cometh before destruction”.
Pride can stretch from indicating great regard, respect and appreciation to great arrogance. Let’s assume the kind of pride we are talking about here is not the haughty kind.
It is hard to take pride in or even fully appreciate the air you breathe. No one says I am a proud breather. From the day you were born, you have been provided with an abundance of oxygen. You did not even have to exert any effort in your initial respiration. Most of us popped out and we were breathing and we’ve been breathing ever since.
If you are asthmatic, you may have a greater appreciation for air. The rest of us? Somebody may have to come and lock off our windpipes for a few seconds to get us to really give thanks for the ability to breathe. Or maybe, we would have to go somewhere really polluted like Beijing. Coming back to Barbados would literally be a breath of fresh air.
Often, Barbadians who have spent a long time overseas display the most Bajan pride.
You tend to feel less regard and appreciation for something when you have never experienced its opposite. We have TV, though. Barbadians can see the hardships other nations are struggling through. Nuff o’ we glad we ain born in Syria.
But being born in a stable country is like winning the lotto – the luck of the draw. Statistics show that lotto winners usually are back to square one in a matter of years. Easy come, easy go.
Being proud to say: “I am a lotto winner,” seems a little cheesier than proudly saying, “I am an Olympian”. I would have more respect for the accomplishment of the Olympian even though the lotto winner may be wealthier.
There is one justification for taking pride in winning the lotto. If my good fortune is a manifestation of God’s favour, and God’s favour is dispensed only to godly people, then winning the lotto is evidence of my godliness. This is the message of preachers of the prosperity gospel: “My private jet is God’s reward for my stewardship.” This could explain the pride some people take every hurricane season in saying: “God is a Bajan”.
Really we don’t take pride in things, but what we think our things say about us. The stereotypical Jamaican is proud, to the extreme, about being Jamaican. Jamaican is a well defined brand. It is a recognised “Thing”. The proud Jamaican is proud of a set of attributes that they perceive themselves as having by virtue of being born in Jamaica. Whether they actually have those attributes or not, they identify with them.
The same can be said for any nationality that comes packaged with a set of assumptions: the bold American, the disciplined Japanese, the passionate French. Often, your nationality is not just where you were born, but the personality you are assumed to have inherited because of where you were born.
When a person is a proud Barbadian, what is it exactly that they are proud of? What are the positive attributes of the Barbadian brand? What can we assume about them? I don’t know that I could list them as easily and confidently as a Japanese could, or even a Jamaican, to make a fairer comparison.
I can easily say right now I am a self-respecting Barbadian. I was born and raised here and embrace that. It is a part of who I am and I respect myself enough to respect Barbados. What being Barbadian means, though, is not well defined. It may mean something totally different from Bajan to Bajan.
Adrian Green is a creative communications specialist. Email Adriangreen14@gmail.com.