The official revoking of the allegiance to Britain, a territory which Barbados had only formally converted to in 1959, doesn’t take place until October 27.
But the public has been learning of the Royal Monarchy’s departure ahead of time, and on July 19 there was a barbeque outside the official residence of Her Majesty, but it wasn’t the usual cook-out to celebrate the Queen’s 80th birthday.
A royal convoy pulled up and out stepped a woman identified as the new Barbadian Governor General, Dame Nancy Ireland. She issued a long statement outlining a formal renunciation of its allegiance and all constitutional rights to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and all the property which the Queen had under the control of the Barbados government.
Given that Britain is outside of the European Union and can therefore only hope to continue trading with the single market, the revoking of the original diplomatic recognition of England gives the Barbadians hope that they can join it once again.
Britain wasn’t the only Empire to fall in the Caribbean in the 60s and 70s. There were political conflicts in Cuba as the Communist revolution took root, and there was growing opposition to European domination of Dominica. But there’s a measure of history for people in Barbados to cherish, as the break from its British jingoism was more than just a major reversal. It represented a break from a century of Yankee-influenced racialization, the kind of change they had largely managed to avoid until recently.
The Barbadian government talked about how much it valued the close relations it had with Britain, and admitted that “it is not always easy to get the message across when you are feeling under pressure from people who don’t have to read English, who don’t speak English, who don’t understand you.” But politics became so aggressive, and so damaging, that the government decided to change its language and tone. And those principles were plainly evident.
Like the US, Barbados came into independence in 1957 and was on the same level as Jamaica, but as Americans looked to close the gap they looked at economic inequalities and saw those in Barbados. The story of the struggle against slavery here had driven the emancipation movement, but the failure to build on those gains meant that for more than a decade the country’s elite had remained poor and the majority was kept in decline. The roots of that alienation had been placed in an abstract in which the elite were seen as relatively successful and the poor as essentially parasitic.
That was the approach that those in the country wanted to steer away from. It was embodied in the 1958 general election that brought out the first coalition government. It followed the great non-confidence motion in the previous year. With the loss of the one seat the Labour Party in the legislature, which had been in opposition for 30 years, the dangerman-like Lord James Gordon became its leader, uniting forces with two of the other parties — the Caribbean People’s Movement and the Barbados Cement Workers’ Union — to form a minority government.
The first question Gordon faced was how to balance hopes for a promised land where the economy would start flowing once again and tempering the anger of those who believed they had been unfairly neglected.
One of the biggest promises was built around the abolition of a new criminal code that put the burden of proof on the accused, and has used the same arguments to maintain poor prison conditions. Since then, Gordon has also called for the abolition of slavery statues on the island, and — much as President Trump did recently — made it clear he would advocate a denationalization if it was a safer option. Gordon has also reinstated a basic income guarantee for all Barbadians, something that wouldn’t have seemed possible in the 50s, and which he described as a “stark lesson.” Gordon also had to find ways to persuade Barbadians that they would not be a second-class state that could only take some form of responsibility for their lives.
Barbados will join its neighbors in Guyana, Belize, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines in switching to independence from the British. For some Barbadians, like Shaneb McArthur-Jones, the turnaround was long overdue. He described himself as “politically left,” and had joined the People’s Progressive Party in 1998. He said that though the party’s Marxist leanings would always remain, Gordon got things moving. “His chief tactic has been compromise,” he said.