The tiny Caribbean nation has decided now is the time to remove Her Majesty as its head of state. Might it spark a chain reaction among other former colonies?
Britain is under siege from all angles. Inside its borders, there’s serious unrest over how the government is handling the Covid-19 fallout and over its plans to break international law. Outside, there’s a battle with the EU over Brexit and lots of disappointed allies.
Barbados is the latest to land a blow.
The Caribbean paradise, which has a population of just 287,000 and is 21 miles (34 kilometers) long and, at its most, 14 miles wide, has announced it’s going to remove Queen Elizabeth as its head of state. Its plan is to formally split on the 55th anniversary of independence from Britain, in November 2021.
There’s a certain irony that they’re still intertwined with the Queen, given independence was gained so many years ago.
An address written by Prime Minister Mia Mottley stated: “The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind,” adding “this is the ultimate statement of confidence in who we are and what we are capable of achieving.”
Colonial is the telling word.
In 1625, the English ship Olive Blossom landed on the island and claimed it in the name of King James I. What followed from there has been recounted many times, but essentially Barbados was plundered, turned into a sugar colony and became the new “home” for African slaves.
The slave trade eventually ended and, as the generations rolled on residents created their own currency, the Barbadian Dollar, and encouraged the proliferation of their local tongue, Bajan.
But the English – by then, the British – remained. Even after the island gained its independence from the “mother country” on November 30 1966, the Queen was retained as its head of state.
Barbados is showing its chutzpah by deciding it’s time she was gone. Major other former members of the British empire, like Canada, Australia and New Zealand, still retain the Queen as head of state (she reigns over 15 in all, excluding the UK), so this is a bold move.
The timing will have been influenced by the BLM movement that has swept the globe. There’s been a massive reaction on every continent, very few places haven’t witnessed reactions – be they negative or positive.
It’s admirable how the authorities and people of Barbados have handled their response.
We’ve all seen so many protests, now they’re no longer impactful. Many have turned into violence or spawned looting, rendering their original motivations obsolete.
We’ve seen politicians express their disgust in parrot-fashion about racial inequality. Some businesses have been boycotted, some local initiatives have tried to restore balance. The thing is, none of it has changed anything structurally.
It’s all raised awareness, similar to how we all know about climate change but there’s very little impact we can effect without the system changing.
That’s what Barbados has done. No screaming, no shouting, no drama. They’ve calmly thought about it and decided to tell the Queen, a rich white woman who lives 4,200 miles away, “there’s the exit.”
It’s a demonstration of true leadership.