OPINION: The prevailing system of neocolonialism by way of the Queen’s reign as head of state has come to a screeching halt
The world watched on Monday night as Barbados removed Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. While many rejoiced in the streets as the small island nation was declared a republic — some Bajan constituents couldn’t be more unbothered noting that the transition in government may not solve the island’s woes. But as Prince Charles landed in Barbados Sunday to commemorate the festivities, it is critical to inspect the country’s stormy colonial history and the historical precedence of what has happened on Tuesday, the country’s 55th Independence Day.
Barbados is a small island nation — with only 21 miles in length and 14 miles in width and less than 300,000 inhabitants, it is tiny by all standards. But what the country lacks in size it has never lacked in culture, food, and history. In a country that is 91% Black and 4% White, any critical thinker might ask why the head of state would be the Queen of England — with her jurisdiction over the country from thousands of miles away.
Others don’t realize that this is a practice that is seen in recurrence all over the Caribbean as the Queen remains head of state in 15 countries, Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas and Grenada amongst them. One only need look to the Anguillan flag to see the United Kingdom’s oppressive hold on the West Indies. (The British Flag is actually incorporated into the Anguillan flag.) But how did this happen?
Prince Charles, who was bestowed the highest-ranking Order of Freedom honor at the festivities, noted in his speech last night that despite “the appalling atrocity of slavery which forever stains our (Britain’s) history, the people of this island forged their path with extraordinary fortitude.” Thus, the short answer is slavery. The long answer is this; despite the island being inhabited by the indigenous Kalinago people since the 13th century, the Spanish were the first colonial nation to claim Barbados as early as 1511. From then it was claimed by the Portuguese in 1532, only to be abandoned in 1620. But on May 14, 1625, one colonial ship called the “Olive Blossom” changed the trajectory of Barbados as it claimed the country in the name of King James I.
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales arrives at the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony at Heroes Square on November 29, 2021 in Bridgetown, Barbados. (Photo by Toby Melville – Pool/Getty Images)
Two years later, the first settlers arrived from England and the slave trade quickly followed.
From 1627 to 1807, slavery permeated the island operating on a plantation economy at Britain’s bequest. But even though slavery was ended on the island by the Slave Trade Act of 1807 and the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 — Barbados continued its existence in subserviency as a commonwealth. A commonwealth is an erroneous term given to countries that the Queen kept as territories all throughout the world. It is an erroneous term because it implies that there is a mutual welfare between both nations. However, most of the wealth in the word commonwealth went to one nation and one nation alone — the British Empire. Despite this week’s festivities it is important to acknowledge that Barbados will continue to be part of that “commonwealth.”
Since 1966, the Caribbean country has decidedly been operating as “independent” but still acknowledged the Queen as the reigning head of state all this time. This type of neocolonialism is not unique in the Antilles, and it has typically led the countries to becoming entangled with debt and exploitative multinational corporations. But in 2021 this prevailing system came to a screeching halt as Barbados elected their first president, a woman, Sandra Mason.
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales attends a meeting with the Governor-General Dame Sandra Mason on March 19, 2019 in Bridgetown, Barbados. The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall are visiting a number countries as part of their Caribbean Tour. (Photo by Tim Rooke – WPA Pool/Getty Images)
President Mason began her ascent to power in 2017 when she was appointed governor-general of Barbados. Mason and Prime Minister Mia Mottley announced last year that Barbados would become a republic and remove Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. Seeing two powerful Black women Prime Minister Mottley and President Mason, who was still governor-general at the time, work together to bring this accomplishment to fruition is joyous within itself.
Mason, who is 72, noted, “I was born and grew up in the time of colonialism and witnessed Barbados’ independence, I am part of the bridge generation from the colonial past to the independent nation to the future of the new republic.”
As the British Royal Standard flag was lowered and replaced by a new presidential flag, the beginning of a new era was marked for the island nation that singer and mogul Rihanna calls home (The Fenty entrepreneur was officially declared a national hero at the festivities). Fifty-five years ago the country declared its independence from Britain and today on Independence Day in Barbados the people have finally tasted the freedom of true liberation.
Wen-kuni Ceant is the CEO and Co-Founder of Politicking. She is a Fulbright Scholar and through the fellowship she studied health infrastructure in Senegal during the last year. She received her Masters in Public Health in Health Management and Policy in 2016 from Drexel University. Before Drexel, she attended Howard University, in Washington, D.C. where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa and with honors with a Bachelors of Science in Biology.
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