Earlier this week, Barbados removed the statue of the 18th century English soldier, Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, from its National Heroes’ Square in Bridgetown. From all indications the statue will be placed at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society.
But what was equally momentous on the day was the speech given by Barbadian Prime Minister, Mia Amor Mottley, at the event that sent Nelson’s statue on its way. Mottley’s speech was deep, informative, on point and in the moment. Mottley spoke about Caribbean identity, colonialism, reparations, values, empowerment and the proposed move to a republican Barbados.
The highlights of Mottley’s tremendous speech were many and they included memorable quotes such as:
- “If these streets could talk they will be telling us the stories of those who wondered whether they were lucky or whether they were truly condemned when they moved from the boats to the shore of this nation. They will remember those who didn’t make it. And they would come to understand they would held dear.. their love for one other that all this thing were taken from home”
- “We understand that those who went before us ran their leg of the relay race to allow you to walk these streets free. But are you really free? Are you really free until your mind is liberated?”
- [on her phones] – “I keep a picture of Bob Marley as my screen saver to remind me always that the mission of our generation is the mental emancipation of our people. While Bob popularised it, Marcus Mosiah Garvey .. would have told us that this was part and parcel of our obligation and yet almost 100 years after Marcus Mosiah Garvey declared those words we continue to fight for mental emancipation.”
- “There has never been any doubt that we are good as any human being that walks this earth.”
- “How does a statue of Nelson get there in the same era of a Bussa (National Hero) who fought against chattel slavery so that none could be used as someone else’s property?”
- “You ask yourself how Sarah Ann Gill, another national hero, could exist at the time and in the shadow of Nelson’s statue being put there? But she knew that she could not allow black people and coloured people to worship the god that they wanted to.”
- “We must find symbols equally to recognise that those who wanted to worship a god and to have a liturgy that was reflected of the colour of our skin as opposed to the nation and ideology of a superior metropolitan power as they would believe they were”
- “When you hear people in the past tell you ‘come out of the sand you getting too dark’ it was intended to be a signal to you that dark is not good when black is beautiful.”
- “I wonder wow we have come this far for anybody to be buying bleach in this country or any part of the Caribbean.”
- “We need to explain to our children what truly are the things that are likely to undermine them, whether it is the mental infiltration in their heads, the notion that bleaching could help somebody, the notion that guns can make you powerful other than to put in (prison/cemeteries).”
- (As the workmen gradually pulled down Nelson’s stature Mottley remarked) “The irony is that as I have spoken this evening, workers of Barbados have taken the utmost care in placing a piece of sponge and crates around a bronze statue. If only some sponge and care had been taken for those who were taken off the ships at this same carinage.”
- “How do you bring about emancipation because it is cruel and inhuman and you compensate the owners for cruel inhuman punishment treatment of people but you leave the victims of that cruel and inhuman punishment to have nothing to start off with fair promises and in some instances no promises.”
- “We can pass legislation making everybody equal. We cannot pass legislation to emancipate people’s minds. That is the process of education and sensitisation. ”
Mottley is a rarity in 21st century politics when it comes to heads of government across the globe. She is smart, pragmatic, impressive and commanding. Mottley never shirks from speaking up for the Caribbean on issues that some of her counterparts and predecessors tended to skirt around. e.g. Windrush and Donald Trump’s efforts to drive a wedge through CARICOM member states.
Mottley is for is me the politician of 2020 for a number of reasons including her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. She is head and shoulders above most other political figures today. But if you follow the western media and some academics about who are the impressive political figures today, they tend act as if the Caribbean could never have such people in their midst.
Mottley also told her audience: “Earl Lovelace won the Commonwealth Book prize for a book that should be compulsory for every Caribbean citizen to read and it is called Salt (published 1996). The book speaks about the need for forgiveness and reparations if we are to move forward as one people, without the scars of history tugging us back into periods of time that we no longer want to visit.“
In my modest opinion Caribbean citizens and others with some connection to the region should take a moment to listen Mottley’s significant speech.
Mottley’s speech begins roughly 39 minutes in the clip below..