Grasping for CARICOM flavour

Much has been written about Jamaican immigrant lawyer, Ronald Mason’s articles in which he railed against his country remaining as a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Mr. Mason pushed the focus onto the merits and demerits of the CARICOM especially its Single Market and Economy but while I will return to those substantive matters in coming posts, I feel compel to look at a matter, brought up by Mr. Mason which has attracted passing comment but not given significance given the weight of the others he’d exposed.

That matter is name-calling, stereotyping and labelling.  As black people, we protest public stereotyping and labelling such as Anne Coulter’s comments: “Aw come on people, a black woman flying a plane? You know she got that job through affirmative action.  … Oh come on don’t be coy. I know you’re all thinking it! I just have the courage to say what everyone on this plane is thinking. Am I right?”

As I read that with Mr. Mason’s comments lurking in the background, I couldn’t help but ask is Mr. Mason courageous and right?

In the relevant segment of his “Kick CARICOM to the Kerb” part one, Mason reminded me of a “good ole-fashioned cuss-out” among


Caricom-Flag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

neighbours so I sensed his despair and frustration with Jamaica’s remaining ‘tight’ with its CARICOM neighbours … “the peoples who populate those islands 1,000 miles away,” and were not playing fair in the relationship.

Mason’s fumed about what he termed Trinidadians’ over-bearing, suffocating attitude and Bajans’ bombastic self-importance; but are those attitudes well-established and broad-based among those nationals that we can hail them deep-seated cultural traits? Do we ( I am a Bajan) as a matter of course extended such behaviour to our CARICOM brothers and sisters?

Unlike Mason, who said he had a “period of enforced residence with some of them at a particular North American university and … in Jamaica”, I have been educated at the University of the West Indies and as such experienced two rewarding and challenging periods immersed in a potpourri of Caribbean culture. We mixed, mingled, argued and shared during formal class, study groups and national weeks (where national organisations celebrated and showed-off their culture – food, dance, music national dress etc.).

Obviously, people also grouped in familiar bunches, based on alma mater, parishes and country of origin but we had our regional mixing and at times we shared with a national from another country that which we did not share with our hometown friends. We took them to our houses on special occasions when they were away from their homes and families. We kick off our shoes at their apartments near campus. It was personal thing not a country-related one.

As mixed nationality groups, we enjoyed our friendships and yes, we sometimes fell out when bombastic, pompous, over-bearing and selfish attitudes got in the way. Those de-friended were Bajans, ‘Lucians’, Grenadians, Vincies, Jamaicans, Trinidadians, and so on. We also forgave each other and were tighter than before or were merely civil but we learned to respect and appreciate each other. It was and is a human thing not a national thing.

We argued over country differences related to all aspects of our culture (food, sports, dance-moves) as well as matters, including immigration and trade that is be-devilling our road to unity. We didn’t solve those issues but we recognised that we were making a difference through our interaction with each other; we continue to show and spread the benefits of our togetherness.

Many of us still ‘shout out” each other on Facebook, Skype or the traditional telephone; we follow each other progress and call one another with an urgent ‘must-do-now” favour knowing that years have passed but the kindness and love live on and will guarantee a positive response.

We’d teased Trinis about carrying the label of insatiable ‘party-lovers’ but we knew many who said ‘no’ to a good fete and instead opt to burn the midnight oil beating some books. We’d laughed with Jamaicans about being stereotyped as aggressive but argued passionately and in consonance that this label was fitted by white man’s history that painted the Maroons and the Caribs with an in-appropriate brush.  Instead we admired the Jamaicans’ creativity, their sense of adventure and will-power to overcome obstacles.

My lists could’ve be longer, but I think the picture has emerged that we learnt that people were individuals not items boxed and labelled by stereotypes. But I could’ve sharpen the focus of the picture by telling you of the many inter-Caribbean national couplings and marriages that resulted and then I could’ve  framed it by revealing that the accents of many among us very so influenced and transformed by our interaction that we teased each other about who had a “CARICOM accent”. Such was the experience at UWI.

Let me take it from the UWI plane, less it be seen as merely a student thing. Take my challenge and visit Barbados’ Fairchild Street Bus Terminal where the state-owned buses make their final passenger stop. I’ve nicknamed that meeting place the CSME; accents of all CARICOM flavours abound; CARICOM nationalities, perhaps with the exception of Haitians and Bahamians, eat, drink, argue, watch cricket and ply their wares, there. I’ve never heard any major discord based on nationality, there. Yes, they argue about who should make the West Indies cricket team and cite island biases for some decisions but they cheer and egg-on everyone dressed in the maroon.  Understanding and appreciating each other’s differences while embracing similarities grow unity in these environments.

We need to get our people from standing underneath their individual national flags and stereotyping and name calling others in the region? (Mason isn’t the only one with his type of mantra.) Part of the answer is getting CARICOM nationals to know more about each other; and to experience more of each others’ physical company as we did at UWI and as others are doing there now and at other meeting places.

Mason indirectly noted the “importance of geographic, cultural, interpersonal relationship among people” in building regional unity as he referred to the Eastern Caribbean. “Schooners and ferries bridge the islands in the east. They have a basis for this creature called CARICOM,” he said, a point which was well made and should be taken.

His articles, therefore, heavily underlined the need for greater communication within CARICOM, a point relevant even in this decade of speedy multi-faceted communication tools. In this communication mix, I believe that reasonably-price intra-CARICOM travel and communication is necessary, not only to increase trade amongst us in goods and services but also to improve our inter-personal relationships, which will engender trust, mutual respect and understanding.

Of course, that communication exercise will call into play the stony, thorny issues of immigrant and border officials’ stances as well as the role of LIAT, but we should never fear problems that are our own making. I will return to those matters in posts dedicated solely to them.


Passport_of_Suriname (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I believe non-verbal communication is also important and therefore just as I uphold the need for national symbols I long for regional ones.

I crave seeing our CARICOM flag fluttering at many strategic places throughout Barbados and the region. So you will understand why my heart is swelling after reading a recent CARICOM Secretariat advertisement of a CARICOM song competition that will give birth to an official CARICOM song to be played at CARICOM ceremonial occasions, nationally, regionally and internationallyI look forward to singing it was as much vibrancy, ownership and meaning as I do my national anthem or our cricket “Rally around the West Indies.”


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