“Respect your elders”. “Say ‘goodmawnin’ to your teacher“. “Say ‘yes, sir; no, sir'”. “Show some respect!” “Deya pickney nowadays nuh gat no respect!” “Who you tink you di talk to? Mind a slap u mouth suh haad, yu teeth wah march out!” “Nuh di backansah me heah? Caz ah jus fuklick yu lee rass!” “Lookya woman. Nuh di talk to me like dat heah? Befo ah bax yu crass and crass yu face! Yu own ma nuh wah know yu!”
Sounds familiar? Which Belizean has not had these words hurled at him/her or was the one yelling them? I heard these words my whole life growing up but what it instilled me was not respect, only fear and distrust. Where did we get these ideas from? Why is it so pervasive that even if someone tries to do differently; say, a teacher who asked you to call him/her by his/her given name; a parent who doesn’t believe in spanking; a woman who asserts her right to her opinion, he/she is admonished, shunned even and called weak, a “pushover”, “stupid stupid”? Yet, when a man beats his wife, “he di teach ah mannahs” or “she ask firit nuh, we tell ah fi cook hi food di way he like it; di man work haad. Whe she duh but stay home all day and watch novela?” or “every woman need fi get cuff now and again so she could remember who da boss”. What about the child who is slapped across the face in the street or pulled by the arms up the steps, or chased around the yard with a stick?
You thought slavery was over right? Heck! Belize boasts about how we weren’t really slaves to begin with and certainly not like what happened in Jamaica and the Caribbean. Oh no! We mi always run tings da dis country. Nobadi own we! Welllllll. Not quite. If you ascribe to anything I just described above, you are still a slave. All those behaviours came straight from “Massah, sah”. Slaves and indentured servants were kept in line by keeping them ignorant. They weren’t provided with proper education and even when one had access to a school, dropping out before finishing Standard VI was not cause for concern, even when I went to school. And that was in the ’80’s. When I gave my Valedictory speech to my Std VI class in the year 1987, my address went something like this: “Some of you will enter the workforce; some of you will start your own families and some of you will join me in the furtherance of our education at high school“. Shocking? Not then it wasn’t. Half of my class did not come to high school with me. One girl had already had a baby and had dropped out the year before. The other way to keep slaves and indentured servants in line was to threaten them at the drop of a hat with whippings, maiming, isolation, deprivation. Then, there was the routine raping of the women and children, the name calling, the insults.
I hope by now your head is swimming with the images from that “Arawaks to Africans” book we all had to read; and I hope you are hearing the anger and violence in the voices of those people who screamed at you and called you names. We haven’t escaped any of it and as long as we don’t acknowledge first of all, that it did happen, and as long as we don’t acknowledge the impact it has had, we will continue to have the society we live in and we will continue to have the type of government we keep electing. Huuuuhhhhhh? Double take? What does this have to do with politics? Ah mi tink yu di talk bout ‘nuh lash u pickney’ and ‘nuh beat yu wife’. Wellllll…that could be part of the solution but I really am talking about how we choose the losers, I mean, leaders, we choose.
From the very first moment we have the least bit of comprehension, we are being told to “behave”. “Don’t do this; don’t do that…OR ELSE”. Then we go to school, more “don’t do this and don’t so that…OR ELSE”. How about that lovely rhetorical question everybody and dey granny will ask you at some time or the other: ” who di hell/fuk u tink u soh?” or the statement “u only like tek up yourself” or “yu only cud ek”. AND AT THE SAME TIME we are being told “You are a Belizean! This is your beautiful country. Show the world that our education is superior. Show the world that our way of life is better than theirs” or “gial, nuh tolerate hi nuh! If he beat you? kick ih rass tu di curb!” or “Stand up for yourself! Demand better! Vote out dis govahment! Vote for people who care about the people! You matter! Nuh mek dey sell out yu land and yu futcha!” Talk about CRAZY MAKING!!!!
How can we know what respect is if we are not shown respect? This is not something we will learn as an adult or when we get an education in some fancy college. Respect is taught (or rather, not taught) in the home everyday. It is in the way you treat your wife, your husband, your mother, your father, your in-laws, your children. If you hit, scream derogatory things at your family, talk about “dey stupid teacha”; “di nasty Indian neighbour, ah wudda nevah eat fah dey, dey nuh like wash dey hand”;”di stupid politician, alla dey lyad!”; “di tiefin chineyman”; “di ugly white people, dey smell like wet fowl feather”; “look pan da pickey head gial- goonie goo goo”; AND then tell your children “nuh give trouble da school nuh, listen to u teachah and get ur education!”, “nuh sell drugs nuh, you gwein da jail”, “black is beauty, white is chalk”, (my head hurts already) I hope you get the drift. But in case you didn’t yet, how about “God says to love everybody” then you say “dey battyman need fi goh da jail” OR “dey bloody alien need fi goh back home whe dey come from” OR “yu need fi be a man and get a job!” then “but why you wa grow fruit? left dat fi di alien dey! Yu need fi be a lawyer or a doctor!” OR “gial goh tek out yu food fi yu breddah!” then “you can be anything you want to be, nuh mek no man rule you!” Your children learn disrespect from you and then they learn to disrespect you too. And so it is that we have no idea what respect is, and how to show it. Hence, politicians can get away with every immoral, unethical and illegal thing because we don’t know that that is disrespectful and that we deserve better.
Imagine a Belize where we knew what respect really means. Imagine we don’t demand respect, the threat of a big stick hiding behind our backs, but rather, we inspire it. Imagine people actually treating you with respect. The police would protect you instead of intimidate you. Your significant other would be your partner, not your nemesis, someone to go behind or around. Your in-laws would appreciate your efforts and speak well of your attempts to share new ways of raising your children. Your shop keepers would sell you quality products at a fair price (no more rat shit in your bread and expired cans of peas). Teachers would teach and foster independent thinking rather than play with people’s grades and threaten their futures. Religious leaders would encourage tolerance and love for each other instead of demonizing difference and acting as agents of terror and fear mongering. And our politicians would stop treating us like children who can’t make good decisions or like we don’t know bullshit when we hear it or see it.
Problem is…we won’t experience this Belize until we know what respect is supposed to look like. It starts with ourselves. We have to respect ourselves. We have to know our worth. You know that little voice that told you your parents were being hypocrites when you were a kid? You know, the voice that made you ask “why?” and den you got slapped so you stopped listening to it? THAT IS THE VOICE YOU NEED TO RAISE FROM ITS SLUMBER. That was your internal bullshit meter calling out, telling you that something isn’t quite right. When you can respect yourself, your ideas and your beliefs, you will raise your expectations of others. You will not tolerate put downs and dismissals. You will not tolerate this thievery and rape of every good thing we have as a nation. You will not tolerate bigots threatening your neighbours. You will not tolerate loud mouth wenches putting you down so they can feel important. You will not tolerate politicians enslaving you with ridiculous international loan payments while telling you “it’s for your own good”. You will not tolerate other people forcing their agendas down your throat because you will know that your ideas are just as good, if not better, and deserve consideration as well.
So, start today with your children. If you want them to know how to choose good leadership, you got to BE good leadership. You have to show your kids that they are valuable. You have to show respect for their ideas, questions and voice. You can’t wait until they are grown ups to treat them as equals. They were born your equal. If you wait, that tree will be bent and you can’t straighten it once it’s grown that way. Apologize when you are wrong. Make reparations to show your good faith and to rebuild trust. Don’t use anger to hurt and punish. Nurture and discipline. Demonstrate commitment and loyalty by maintaining your home and your family. Stand against negativity. Examine your own part in everything that happens and be accountable for your beliefs and actions. Ask yourself. “What is my legacy? What scars do I bear on my heart? What vestiges of slavery have I unwittingly embraced? What is my children’s legacy?” Demonstrate the principles of democracy in your own house by allowing your children to share their opinions and make certain decisions. And follow through with the consequences you have set for them when they fail to honour their obligations. And follow your own damn rules.