Heroes. A word that is no doubt familiar to all of us. According to the Oxford Learner’s dictionary, ‘a hero is a person, especially a man, who is admired by many people for doing something brave or good.’ Another definition would be ‘a person that you admire because of a particular quality or skill that they have.’ Both meanings fit the general idea behind the word. It is important to note, regarding the first definition, that in the modern era a hero does not necessarily have to be male. In fact, gender should have nothing to do with it at all.

Heroes are defined by their character and achievements, not their appearance. When one thinks of national heroes we normally see them as individuals who are generally respected and revered in their country of origin, thanks in part to their historical accomplishments, both for themselves and for their nation. At least that’s how it should work.

Last November Barbados severed ties with the British Empire, and with it her colonialist past. The country, unlike Jamaica and the majority of the English-speaking Caribbean, is no longer a dominion with a foreign individual as Head of State who frankly doesn’t care about them. Now, it is a completely independent republic, able to chart its own path with no strings attached. I commend the Barbadians on taking this step, and celebrate with them. However, one of the things that they did to celebrate and commemorate the occasion has me slightly concerned; that being making famous singer Rihanna a national hero.

Now, I have nothing against Rihanna personally. I think she is a marvellous person whose music I enjoy. However, as a certain Ben Shapiro once said: ‘Facts don’t care about your feelings’. (I disagree with him on many things, but he is right there.) The fact of the matter is that, in spite of her accomplishments and personality, Rihanna being made a National Hero is not the wisest move. I’m basing this opinion on the Bajan ‘Order of National Heroes Act’, citing various examples from both Bajan and Jamaican society, and using my own common sense. Let’s start with the ‘Order of National Heroes Act’.

To be eligible for the appointment to the Order of National Hero, one has to either be born in Barbados, and therefore is a citizen of the nation, or at the time of their death had become a Bajan citizen or was entitled to be a citizen. Rihanna certainly is eligible. She was born on the 20th of February 1988, in St. Michael. Therefore, she has Bajan citizenship. It is the criteria for eligibility that is the issue here. As it states:

“In determining the eligibility of a person referred to in section 8, the Prime Minister shall have regard to whether that person

  • has given outstanding service to Barbados and his contribution has altered the course of the history of Barbados.
  • has given service to Barbados which has been exemplified by visionary and pioneering leadership, extraordinary achievement and the attainment of the highest excellence which has redounded to the honour of Barbados; or
  • has, through his heroic exploits and sacrifice, contributed to the improvement of the economic and social conditions of Barbados and Barbadians generally.”

Here lies the issue. Rihanna is well renowned and liked of course, but I want you to pause and think on whether or not she has done any of these things. Frankly, while Rihanna has done great things for her nation — she has donated over one million Barbadian dollars to her home country to be used in the fight against COVID-19, and she has helped provide hundreds of tablets for Barbadian school children — none of these are particularly outstanding, nor have they ‘altered the course of the history in Barbados’. She hasn’t really had any ‘visionary’ or ‘pioneering’ leadership at all, except maybe on the top of the music charts.

It is true that she has made extraordinary achievements, rising far above her station. However, if that was the logic, why aren’t individuals like Desmond Hayes being rewarded?

Now, on to the third qualification. Her exploits have had little to no impact on the economic and social conditions of Barbadians in general. Sure, she may have filled them with a sense of pride, but she isn’t bringing in droves upon droves of tourists to bolster the Bajan economy.

The truth of the matter is that the reason Rihanna gets credit in particular is due to her fame. Barbados simply can’t ignore her. She isn’t the proud type, but the Barbadian government feels this obsession to give back to her. It is understandable of course. One wouldn’t be wrong to call her something akin to a Bajan Bob Marley, putting the nation on the map. However, what does all of this achieve? Nothing but more strain on her.

Rihanna is 33, and now she is a National Hero. She may have had millions of fans before, but now she has the added pressure of pleasing an entire country. She is now a part of her nation’s legacy, and any negative act on her part affects the entire nation. Imagine if Usain Bolt was made a national hero prior to the pandemic. How would things look for him then after he disobeyed government regulations when he went to that party? He would not have only shamed himself, but his entire country.

National Heroes are largely chosen when they’re dead so they can’t harm their own legacy, but Rihanna is still in her prime. God forbid she got into any scandal, she would ruin not just her own career, but faith in Barbados. She now has an unenviable burden on her shoulders.

Though Rihanna is immensely gifted, there is still a time and place for everything. Making her into a National Hero now was not the right thing at this time, as now she will be forced to suffer the expectations of an entire country with a title for which she doesn’t even fully qualify.

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