Friday, April 12, 2024

GET REAL: A perverted mirror image


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“WHAT I WISH to speak to you about very briefly here this evening is about you. About yourself.

“I want to know what kind of mirror image do you have of yourself? Do you really like yourselves?”

Errol Barrow asked Barbadians this question on the campaign trail in 1986. It is from one of his most famous speeches. 

What kind of mirror image do you have of yourself?  The question and the challenge resonated. They still do. We instinctively know there is something wrong with the way we have learned to perceive ourselves. Exactly what is wrong and how to fix it is an ongoing debate.

Do you like yourself? Most persons would probably have answered “yes” at the time. Most would probably answer the same today.  The speech Barrow gave suggested that he thought otherwise; that Barbadians did not like themselves as much as they might have indicated. 

Barrow understood the importance of self-image not only to a person, but to a people. He also understood that self-image was one of our major problems.
Did he understand the depth of the problem, though, and how much it would take to address it? A speech wouldn’t do.

You can like yourself to the extent that you know yourself. The problem is: can you truly like yourself if you know very little about yourself? And what if the image you have of yourself was given to you by someone who did not want anything good for you?

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May, in a recent address to American policymakers, declared that under her leadership and the leadership of Donald Trump, “the days of Britain and America intervening
in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over”.

The mirror-image problem Barrow identified is not genetic, or an accident. It is by design. Britain’s project to remake the world in its own image started centuries ago.  

The mirror image of colonised people had to be destroyed and reconstructed to colonial specifications. 

A sophisticated and self-perpetuating programme of brainwashing was implemented to turn captive Africans into passive slaves. The mirror image that was created for us served and still serves a purpose. The purpose is not our own. Our distorted mirror image helps to make us oppression-compliant and complicit.

Barrow understood what colonialist and enslaving powers had long figured out. A people will act according to the image that they have of themselves. Bondage and freedom are psychological states as much as economic or physical states. Barrow recognised that the psychological state of Barbadians was in need of repair if we were to significantly improve our physical and economic condition.

The rhyme scheme of history suggests May’s retreat from remaking the world in an Anglo Saxon image is a practical economic step rather than a shift in moral position. When Britain abolished the enslavement of Africans, it did not do so because it had a moral overhaul.

Abolishing slavery served a purpose.  As its colonies pulled towards independence, Britain let go of them. It did so strategically because it served Britain’s purposes. 

The shift away from overt tactics of domination is made more attractive as more subtle and effective techniques become available. Why would you want to go to war to remake the world in your image when you can do so by remote control through mass and social media? But Britain does not have the same military or media might that it once had. Enter her special friend.

In the same speech, May said the United States and the United Kingdom had a “special relationship”. About this famed relationship, psychiatrist and revolutionary author Franz Fanon remarked: “Two centuries ago, a former European colony decided to catch up with Europe. It succeeded so well that the United States of America became a monster, in which the taints, the sickness and the inhumanity of Europe have grown to appalling dimensions.”

In his mirror image speech, Barrow chastised Bajans for their lust to leave and run to America. Barbadians had replaced the Little England fantasy with the American dream. In the background of the imagined mirror image, Big Ben was increasingly being replaced by the Statue Of Liberty

It was a little unfair of Barrow, though, to berate that mirror image but do little to undermine the systems that perpetuate it. A programme implemented by design would have to be deliberately addressed.  It will not simply fall away. It has not. 

If he were alive today, would he be satisfied that we have come a far enough way in repairing the mirror image he felt was so faulty in 1986? Did he recognise, as Bob Marley did, that 400 years of psychological enslavement are not wiped away by a song or a speech? 

The programme to pervert your mirror image is precise, pervasive and perpetual. A major work of anyone or any people of a former colony will be to institute rehabilitative mirror image programmes and protective systems.  

In a country where the leadership is blinkered by economic theories, profit driven ideology, and self-serving concerns, Britain and America need not worry. We are already heavily made in an image not of our own design. 

And if a Government is looking to exploit the people in much the same way the colonisers did, efforts to repair the perverted mirror image will be half-hearted at best or manipulative at worst.


Adrian Green is a creative communications specialist Email



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