It’s funny the way people react to certain words, depending on who’s uttering them. The word nigger immediately comes to mind as I recall the last hip-hop concert I attended in the U.S. One of those seedy little bars, you know the type—the kind of venue where your shoes become glued to the river of the cheap beer gushing across the floor; like mosquitoes sticking to sweet flypaper. The performer stood on stage amidst a psychedelic glow of neon lights and proceeded to scream nigger at the crowd for what felt like an eternity. The interesting part though, was the crowd’s exuberant response, throwing it back at him like a church congregation in the heat of a moving oratory. I thought to myself as a feeling of hypocrisy slowly crept down my spine: What if it was some white fella up on that stage yelping nigger at his audience for 45 minutes? Knowing the answer, I waded through the chanting crowd and proceeded to see myself out.
I know. You’re thinking: “What an obvious example!” So let’s consider another, perhaps more relevant to the Saint Lucian experience: “No government is perfect.” Again, the crowd’s reaction would depend on the speaker—and yes, maybe even the governing party. In some ears, “No government is perfect” might sound like tacit approval; a kind of wink and nod: “Well, you know, I think they try to do right by the people, but hey, no government’s perfect, right?” But coming from Joe Shmoe who has no party affiliation, some might take “No government is perfect” as a more pointed condemnation of politicians across the board.
Whatever the circumstances, be it political or in personal life, people tend to accept unacceptable behavior once the committer has something good going for them. Leaders tend to get away scot-free with all kinds of horrors, as long as they’re perceived as generous to their supporters. Maybe it’s human nature to focus on what we see as good, while ignoring the bad, and inadvertently permitting it to get worse.
Optimism can make the worst days tolerable. But what if such optimism grows irrational? Consider the battered woman, caught between the need to escape and the reality that keeps her imprisoned. Most of us know at least one such victim. You’ve suggested that she leave her abuser and never look back. Her usual response? “I know, you’re right. But really he’s not always bad. He loves me. He really does. Besides, no one’s perfect.” But could that inherent optimism of ours be more than just human nature, however twisted? Have some of us been programmed to cope with the worst of abuses? A defense mechanism? Could the battered lover survive her circumstance without that built-in delusional optimism?
Considered in that light, optimism is more of an addiction than a virtue, isn’t it? Ah, I digress. Back to “No government is perfect.” What about a populace? The body-politick? Could we be the equivalent of the imprisoned battered woman? If so, then why don’t we just pick-up and leave? To borrow from the abused, “it’s not that simple.” Most people can’t just leave. More often than not it’s the most battered, most abused among us who are the least able to just pack-up and go.
So, then, what to do? Well, you could quit trying to convince yourself that “it’s not all bad” when you know damn well the opposite is true. Imagine Barack Obama opening his State of the Union address with a buck-passing “No government is perfect” line. Many people (excluding the opposition politicians, of course) would probably acknowledge the morsel of truth in his statement, especially if the American economy was enjoying an all-time high with unemployment at the lowest in years. But what if it were Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte telling you that no government is perfect? The point is that despite the fact that true perfection is nearly impossible to attain, it doesn’t mean its pursuit is any less noble. The persistent pursuit of perfection may very well be what separates the Obamas from the Dutertes of this world; what separates the heroes from the villains. Sad to say, too many have accepted the notion that they were born to be somebody’s doormat—which we all know is just a polite way of saying born to be somebody’s else’s slave . . .
Every morning as I drive through Castries and its environs, I wonder: how many people see what I see? A city begging for attention, pregnant with ignored opportunity, populated by young men and women hungry for change, their faces etched with the scars of frustration. The communities of Bois Patat, Bar St. Joseph, Bishops Gap and so on, they do far more than just witness these things—they feel and live them every single day. I wonder about the people like me, the people who only skirt the perimeter of Castries out of necessity—who try to avoid getting too close, as if simply stepping over puddles on the sidewalk, afraid of getting even a little dirty. The level of neglect by our leaders is obvious, but how many of us hear the cries of the people? Neglect, as we all know, is a form of abuse, isn’t it?
As for the city itself, we drive through it as quickly as the crippling traffic and cavernous potholes will allow—our tinted windows rolled right the way up. As the saying goes, when it rains it pours, but in little Saint Lucia, when it rains it always seems to flood. Instead of demanding change, I fear many of us just prefer throwing on our rain jackets and Wellingtons before sloshing through Castries’ asphalt ravines, the ones we’ve dug for ourselves.
The seat of our country is crumbling before our eyes yet we refuse to see, preferring instead to look the other way. As I write, it occurs to me that our two groups—those who hear the cries for change and those who are armored in rain jackets—are not all that different; simply different sides of the same downcast coin. Is Castries our battered lover? Is Helen? More importantly: Have too many of us permitted ourselves to become accustomed to the faces of neglect, disfigured by the bruises of abuse?