This month in Saint Lucia, we celebrated 39 years of Independence. This year, Independence Day celebrations differed from many years that I’ve experienced. This year, I noticed many people waving our flag from their cars and in general, the expression with national colors seemed to be at an all-time high. We love symbols and symbolism here — from the crucifixes we wear around our necks, to carrying Jansport backpacks at school.
What do we find when we observe these symbols? What’s there and what does Independence mean?
How often do we ask that question? How often do we ask whether or not we’ve truly “made it” out of colonial oppression?
We take to symbols because symbols are easy. Attend church instead of doing good. Buy an Audi instead of saving your money for the future. Cover up a priest’s inappropriate actions rather than standing up against pedophilia and misogyny. The symbol of good being done in our community is better to us than the good itself.
Don’t let symbols be a scapegoat for lack of depth.
Power continues to be consolidated in the upper class. The wealthiest are more often than not, of the lightest hue. Our people are hungrier than ever and more desperate. Women, children and the elderly face social, psychological, political and physical violence at the hands of people in our country. Human trafficking and drug trafficking both thrive amongst us, free citizens.
As new hotels further our ecological destruction, our people are forced to work there for little pay due to a lack of choice. Our “independent” government actively supports the destruction of our National Landmarks and continues to childishly lash out against organizations like the National Trust who have the best interests of the country in mind.
But we choose the symbol of independence. We choose the outward symbols of "development" while the reality is a crumbling infrastructure and a foundation of sand.
We also choose to be “apolitical”. We cannot make this choice however as our very existence as formerly enslaved people is political. When you move through the world as a black man, or a black woman, or a biracial person, your existence is political. Politics affects everything in your life, whether you are aware of it or not.
Denying the importance of politics is a cop-out. We choose to bury our heads in the sands, denying our own capabilities as the survivors of enslaved people who led multiple successful revolts against the wealthy European colonizers. Our ancestors razed plantations to the ground — they didn’t celebrate their grand opening with a selfie.
We buy flags instead of engaging in political protest when we should be doing the two in tandem. We wear our national colors instead of changing how we interact with our communities. We can do both! We deny responsibility for the “political” because we’d rather watch someone else get the job done. But the job never gets done. The very politicians we rely on are the upper class that abandoned us for their creature comforts and fat pockets.
We are all culpable. We are all guilty of choosing symbolism over action. Perhaps it was bred into us, but now we all have the choice to change.
Will we approach our 40th Independence Day with even more excitement, but even less substance?
We can’t allow this to be the case.
I’d like to write a small note here to thank everyone this year (2017-2018) who supported the Saint Lucia National Trust, Raise Your Voice Saint Lucia, United & Strong and other organizations doing grassroots work in Saint Lucia. Your contributions are recognized and acknowledged. Thank you for working towards making our country a better and more equal place.