From Beautillion Ball to Brexit Cauldrom

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
March 18, 2019

“Brexit has killed and saved her [Theresa May] at the same time….She knows as soon as Brexit’s done, she’s done.”

—Ayesha Hazarika, Former Labor Party Adviser

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeIt was one of those all-consuming weeks. I did a book-signing at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, on Wednesday March 6 before flying to Dallas, Texas, the following Friday to attend my eldest grandson’s Beautillion, one of those black coming-of-age functions that has its origin in the southern part of the United States. Another grandson called it “a cotillion for dudes,” it being comparable to the cotillion ceremony that is held annually for young black women.

It was one of those proud moments in a black man’s life when he participates in a function that emphasizes his responsibility to his people, his roots, and his family as he crosses the threshold from adolescence to manhood. They call it “a rite of passage.” It is an important stage in a young man’s life.

This function was also a meaningful experience for his father and mother who felt a sense of pride at having taken their son, a black man, through the vagaries of adolescence into that cold, rough world of manhood. That’s quite an accomplishment for black parents in the United States.

Then on Sunday evening I flew to the United Kingdom (UK) to speak about my book at the University College London. I was joined by Gad Heuman, Warwick Professor Emeritus, who chaired the seminar, and Christer Petley, professor of history at the University of Southampton, who responded to my book. I continue to be amazed at their interest in a slave owner (William Hardin Burnley) of whom many were aware but few had any idea of his importance in and to the Black Atlantic during the nineteenth century.

On the evening of my lecture, the British Parliament debated Britain’s political and economic fate vis-à-vis its relation to the European Union (EU). I was in London three years ago when the UK voted to leave the EU because of David Cameron’s desire to please the Eurosceptics in his party. It was an outstanding example of a politician making a decision without thinking through the consequences of his actions, thereby landing a country in political and economic hot water.

The outcome of Tuesday evening’s vote was just as disastrous as that of a previous vote that was taken on Theresa May’s plans to leave the EU. It was sad to listen to her as she “whispered her way through a major speech…in a dry, croaking rasp…desperately gulping water and sucking on lozenges” (New York Times, March 13). Her plan was rejected by 149 votes, one of the worst government defeats in history.

On Monday, in a rare interview, Cameron, the former prime minister who called the initial referendum on Brexit, endorsed May’s Brexit plans. He told ITV News: “I don’t think no-deal is a good idea at all” (Evening News, Mach 11). Such a belated intervention did not help Mrs. May.

On Wednesday the British Parliament rejected a “no-deal” exit from the EU by 312 to 308 votes. To have left the EU without an agreement would have meant “chaos, with ports clogged, industries crippled, and supplies of some food and medicines running out” (New York Times, March 13).

On Thursday the British Parliament voted to postpone its March 29 departure from the EU. Such a request, it is hoped, would give UK parliamentarians a few more months to come up with “a workable alternative” to Mrs. May’s plan that would satisfy the EU. However, the European Commission reminded the British: “It is not enough to vote against no-deal-You have to agree to a deal. We have agreed to a deal with the prime minister and the EU is ready to sign it” (Financial Times, March 14).

Many observers are wont to blame Mrs. May for the Brexit mayhem. Robert Shrimsley has called her “the least politically agile premier in modern time” (Financial Times, March 14). We would be mistaken if we failed to acknowledge the untold damage that Cameron, in his political naiveté, inflected upon his nation.

On Friday evening I walked along the King’s Road from Sloane Square to Chelsea Town Hall. I passed some of the establishments I have come to know over the years. I observed the Botanist where Terrence Farrell and I have had an occasional meal, Starbucks Café where I hang out and read occasionally, and Chelsea Potter Pub where I saw some interesting football games as I sipped a few pints of beer. Everything seemed normal.

As I observed the human activities along the route, I couldn’t help but think of the Roman Catholic requiem: Dies irae, dies illa [Day of wrath and doom impending]. Then I thought of my 18-year-old grandson and the world he is about to enter.

When I left him in Dallas two Fridays ago, he was hopeful and optimistic about his future. Last Friday I thought of the anxieties of millions of young British men and women whose future aspirations are stymied because of the folly of their leaders.

The young people of Britain deserve to be as optimistic about their future as my grandson is about his. One hopes that the older generation stops messing up things and get their story together.

On Tuesday or Wednesday, Mrs. May will take a modified deal to Parliament. One waits with bated breath to see if these parliamentarians will regain their composure and act with their noted British pragmatism.