AS WE APPROACH the 50th anniversary of our Independence, one of the challenges we face is how we decolonise our minds.
In his Independence address last year, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart made the point that we will not be able to decolonise our country if we do not decolonise our minds.
This problem of the colonised mind is one that badly affects our country and our people. As a result of the specific experiences of the Holocaust that the Africans and their descendants have endured on this tiny rock, the problem of the colonised mind is one which needs seriously addressing in terms of moving our country forward.
Frantz Fanon, the Martiniquan psychiatrist who specialised in the study of the psychology of the colonised mind, and in particular, the psychological impact of slavery on the African slaves and their descendants, makes a number of important points about this issue.
In his book Black Skin White Mask, he states that the colonised black mind is based on “the replacement of the repressed [African] spirit in the consciousness of the slave by an authority symbol representing the master, a symbol implanted in the subsoil of the collective group and charged with maintaining order in it as a garrison controls a conquered city”.
He continues that for the individual with this type of psychology, “if his psychic structure is weak, one observes a collapse of the ego. The black man stops behaving as an actional person. The goal of his behaviour will be The Other (in the guise of the white man), for The Other alone can give him worth”.
Describing the situation in Martinique in the early 20th century, Fanon explains the process of socialisation which produces this psychologically alienated individual. He states: “The black schoolboy in the Antilles, who in his lessons is forever talking about ‘our ancestors, the Gauls’, identifies himself with the explorer, the bringer of civilisation, the white man who carries truth to savages – an all-white truth. There is identification – that is, the young Negro subjectively adopts a white man’s attitude.”
He makes the point that this psychological damage is so far-reaching that the individual with a colonised mind denies his own existence. For example, he states that as late as 1940, “no Antillean found it possible to think of himself as a Negro”.
Although Fanon did his work in the mid-20th century, many of the features he found then of the colonised black mind remain with us in Barbados in the 21st century. As is known, Malcolm X also outlined this problem in his famous description of the house negro and field slave.
In the specific conditions of our country, this kind of colonised mentality is only too common. We recognise it today when some African Bajans almost instinctively jump to the defence of white supremacy and white privilege; when we deny our African origins; when we welcome white visitors from North America and Europe but harass our brothers and sisters from other Caribbean territories on their arrival in our country; when we, as descendants of slaves, glorify our oppressors such as the English royal family or Lord Nelson and so on. The examples are there for all of us to see.
The challenge for us as Bajans is how we initiate a national discussion to address this problem. It may be too late to save some individuals who are steeped in this mentality, but the least we can do is try to protect the young generations from this psychological damage.
– TEE WHITE