- After Barbados removal of the Queen, Caribbean nationals are examining British imperialism broadly.
- Racial justice protests in the US forced some in British Commonwealth to reckon with their past.
- The next steps of decolonization for Commonwealth countries are fighting for reparations.
A celebratory spirit is in the air in Barbados after ditching Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state on Tuesday — its independence day. Which has kicked off a conversation amongst Caribbean nationals from British Commonwealth countries about the influence Barbados’ has brought to their country’s future.
The move is pushing other Commonwealth nations to consider formally separating from Great Britain, rethinking its imperialist role in their society.
Barbados, settled by the British in 1627, is one of the world’s oldest colonies. The island fueled the British Empire’s sugar exports at the height of the transatlantic slave trade, and continued its rule until Barbados declared its independence in 1966.
However, the country became a constitutional monarchy and voluntarily remained in the Commonwealth – therefore keeping Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state.
Throughout the Commonwealth, the Queen selects each country’s Governor-General, the highest political office.
Reexamining the Queen’s role after racial-justice protests
Including Barbados, there are 54 countries included in the British Commonwealth, spanning the Americas, Africa and Asia. For many, the monarchy is a complicated, yet fascinating institution.
Adeyela Bennett, a nonprofit business owner from the Bahamas, told Insider that for decades, Queen Elizabeth II was seen as a protective blanket, a shield to fend off any intruder, or attacks from outside their young island nations.
She noted many still “love the institution of the royal family.”
“We love this particular Queen Elizabeth,” the nonprofit executive said. “But when we sit there and we’re honest with ourselves we have to say these people colonized us. They’re imperialists.”
Bennett went on to suggest that racial-justice protests after the police murder of George Floyd in May 2020, however, may have fueled Barbados and many other countries to reconcile its colonial past.
“We’re all impacted by what happens in America, particularly Black America,” Bennett said.
In September 2020, Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley first announced that Barbados intended to remove Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state in September 2020 – ahead of its 55th independence.
The island is the first country to take such action since the East African island nation of Mauritius in 1992.
The island joins Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Dominica, as Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean to remove the Queen as their head of state. Those countries are constitutional republics.
All four are a part of the 15-country governing structure of CARICOM, representing the region.
Like its predecessors in the Caribbean, Barbados will remain part of the British Commonwealth.
At this week’s ceremony on the island, Prince Charles gave heartfelt statements about Britain’s atrocities in the region and beyond, and the importance of self governance for Barbados.
“From the darkest days of our past, and the appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever stains our history, the people of this island forged their path with extraordinary fortitude,” Charles said.
While reactions to the Queen’s removal are mixed, and largely divided along generational lines, Barbadians on the island and throughout its diaspora abroad celebrated the moment, Sueann Tannis, a Barbadian-American based in DC told Insider.
She called the moment a time for reflection for all former British colonies.
“I think country by country, we’re waking up to the possibilities and potential of sovereignty,” Tannis said.
Barbados’ move could impact the rest of the Commonwealth
Barbados’ move may inspire similar movements throughout the Commonwealth.
Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced this week that the country will review its constitution – primarily based on British law, according to The Independent.
Jamaica has already demanded $10.6 billion for slavery reparations from Britain.
CARICOM also launched its own Reparations Commission in 2013, on behalf of all 15 independent member states. The coalition is demanding reparations from Great Britain, France, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands – all with deep ties to the Transatlantic Slave Trade in the Caribbean.
The Queen’s dismissal as the head of state in Barbados has prompted further conversations about the relics of colonialism within the Commonwealth.
Some Caribbean nationals argue that even with the removal of the Queen as head of state, there needs to be larger examinations of the traces of colonialism in education, economics and government.
This moment, they tell Insider, can’t just be about symbolism.
“The process of decolonization is urgent,” Liseli Fitzpatrick, a Trinidadian Black studies professor at Wellesley College, told Insider, adding the move should “inspire deeper and continued emancipatory and empowering action throughout the world – particularly, among the formerly colonized, dispossessed and disenfranchised.”
However, not everyone sees Barbados’ pivot to a republic from its constitutional monarchy as a catalyst for massive societal change.
—Torraine Walker (@TorraineWalker) November 30, 2021
Natalie J. Walthurst-Jones told The Independent that Britain’s institutional and economic ties were stitched into the very fabric of Commonwealth countries. The move to a republic, therefore, would not trigger massive changes to the lives of the majority-Black population of Barbados.
“They have traditionally shied away from entrepreneurial activity because of the inherent risk and lack of support,” Jones, who authored a report on racism in Barbados in the 21st century, said.
“Therefore, Barbados becoming a republic will bring no significant changes to the Black population.”
Tannis, however, argued that Barbados “becoming a republic is an important and bold step toward all that sovereignty represents — ownership of our laws, constitution, and our destiny.”
“It’s a complex process with wide-reaching impacts, she said. “Even if people don’t fully understand all the ins and outs of it, they can certainly appreciate that what happened at midnight on Monday was historic and significant.”
The fight will continue for reparations
Overall, West Indians told Insider, Barbados’ move to remove Queen Elizabeth II as its head could spark other Commonwealth nations to do the same.
It may even raise more consciousness to examine Britain’s role in their education, government, and economic systems.
Bennett says there is no reason for citizens in the Bahamas to learn the British national anthem before their own. She is calling for the Bahamas to follow in Barbados footsteps and remove the Queen as its head of state.
With Prince Charles’ transparency about atrocities of slavery during his speech at Barbados’ Independence Day celebration, the next steps in decolonization for CARICOM countries, including Barbados, is finishing their fight for reparations for slavery from their European colonizers.