Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Son of the Soil??

This is a guest post by Nia

Eric Holder has just been sworn in as the new Attorney General of the United States of America and like much of American politics, this ordinarily wouldn’t mean a single thing to me. However, this seems to be causing quite a stir in my country Barbados for no reason other than the fact that Eric Holder’s parents are from Barbados. (I am not sure if his parents currently reside in Barbados or the US). I am happy for Mr. Holder and wish him well in his new position. However, the media and government celebrations here at home over Mr. Holder’s appointment raised an interesting question and something that I see occur quite frequently. Many countries, especially those in the developing world, do not seem to celebrate “their own” unless they are in some way affiliated with the United States of America or in some cases Europe, and I wonder why. I awoke this morning to hear our government proclaim that Mr. Holder’s appointment was “an achievement for Barbados.” An achievement how exactly? Barbados didn’t do anything to get him appointed. His parents are Barbadian but that’s about as far as it goes.

What’s equally interesting is that Mr. Holder, as far as I am aware, does not particularly identify himself as being a Barbadian. I personally don’t see why he should. He was not born or raised in Barbados, his formative years, schooling and developing all took place in the US, so the US should be the ones celebrating him if anything. I am not sure if he even visits Barbados.

There are many homegrown Barbadians who are doing great things in Barbados but they are not really celebrated or acknowledged by our government. It seems your accomplishments can only be considered worthy of validation and accomplishment if you “leave the rock”.

A similar example is with a famous British-born model by the name of Jodie Kidd, who has parents who reside in Barbados. Apparently Ms. Kidd spent some of her childhood years in Barbados and vacations here from time to time. Her parents are white UK expats who own a villa here and host an annual theatre event called Holder’s Season which puts on European-type plays. That’s all I know about them. Like most white expats they do not really interact with local Barbadians or claim any allegiance to indigenous Barbadian culture. They tend to keep company only among other European expats, and maintain their European culture. The Kidds even flew in a Swedish steel pan band to play at their Old Year Night’s celebration, despite the fact that there are many local, extremely talented steel pan players on the island who could have done an excellent job.

But if a photo of Jodie Kidd appears in any of our island’s newspapers there is always a caption saying something like: “Bajan-bred Jodie Kidd…”. What is ironic was that when the US entertainment channel E! did a documentary on Ms. Kidd, the only mention Barbados got was when Ms. Kidd’s nanny proclaimed: “When Jodie got into trouble as a child, I would tell her if she didn’t behave herself I would pack her on a boat back to Barbados!” And Jodie would yell: “Oh no, PLEASE don’t do that!” This is how many US and European expats in the Caribbean regard the territories that were formerly colonized by the UK. Hot, uncivilized, under-developed purgatories (Heart of Darkness and all that) that they can’t wait to leave. After they buy up all the land and villas and plunder the best resources from them of course.

Same with the actress Minnie Driver, who also spent some of her childhood in Barbados. Have you ever heard her identify herself as having Bajan roots? The UK and the rest of the world certainly do not see her as being anything other than British. Yet we in this part of the world (the Caribbean) have this urge to claim them as one of us.

Is it a symptom of a mind not fully decolonized? Many do argue that the US is the new colonial master after all. Or is it simply pure, unadulterated capitalism? Kenya is expecting a rush of Western tourists due to Obama’s popularity and top designer perfume houses such as L’Artisan Parfumeur are rushing to release “African-inspired” fragrances now and so on. Perhaps we are just trying to cash in like everyone else. Whatever the reason, it is a bit puzzling and brings to the forefront more serious issues of Caribbean and post-colonial identity.

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