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Obama, but not Eustace!

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Editor: A soft-spoken Black intellectual of whom it is said that he built his campaign on moral high ground wins the presidency of the United States of America and St. Vincent and the Grenadines erupts in celebration. Roughly half of those revellers will not support the candidacy of the soft-spoken Black intellectual who is said to have built his campaign on moral high ground right here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.{{more}}

I don’t like to juxtapose the US with St. Vincent and the Grenadines. That nation’s relevance to ours has always been romanticized. But our national euphoria over Barack Obama begs the comparison.

Many will point to virulent racism in the US to explain why Mr. Obama’s situation is incomparable with Mr. Eustace’s. But consider that in the 29 years of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Independence, we have consistently installed 25 years of white-led administrations. No other Caribbean country has such a record. (Albeit our definition of whiteness differs from the US’ – mind you, this, too, speaks volumes.) Like the Americans, we are uneasy with blackness.

In November 2005, days before our last general elections, I was stunned when a friend I hold in high esteem (a Eustace supporter to boot) chided me for saying that we have a race problem in St. Vincent. I should not have been surprised. This is the kind of post-modern effacement that lands us where we are today. It was a lesson for me. Clearly, we don’t have a problem with our race problem.

It is not the point of this letter that one should vote for Arnhim Eustace because he is “like the American” – Black, intellectual, soft-spoken, and morally upright. Neither is it the point that Dr. Gonsalves’ supporters are necessarily not proud of their Blackness. Not so. In fact, some are persuaded solely by his claimed Black nationalism. It is the point, however, that the reasons Mr. Obama appeals to Vincentians are the very reasons Mr. Eustace does not.

So why not Arnhim Eustace?

Mr. Eustace is Black – so Black, we have been told, that George Bush would not have been able to see him at night. That kind of remark would not have been made, or even conceived, if we did not already feel that we could be “too Black.” Perhaps Mr. Obama will not be able to see Dr. Gonsalves by the sober light of day.

Mr. Eustace is an intellectual, albeit the anti-intellectual kind. He will not vaunt his essays in Flambeau, the journal to which CLR James and Alfie Roberts were contributors. Nor will he discuss his relationships with Sir William Demas and C.L.R. James; in fact, Messrs. James and Eustace were so close, I have been told, that the elder James gave Eustace, who was then a graduate student, one of his unpublished manuscripts.

Mr. Eustace is soft-spoken and meditative. He did not attempt to drum up political support by marching in the teachers’ strike. Instead he used radio interviews and call-in programs to explain the reclassification itself, which many, including teachers, had not yet grasped, thereby helping the teachers to make an informed choice. Like Mr. Obama, he is criticized as soft when he is measured.

Mr. Eustace takes the moral high ground. He has never flipped his finger at his nationals nor airbrushed the line between executive and judiciary. He would not reduce the importance of our teachers to 1700 votes. He does not disagree by rote; his stance has been consistent with Dr. Gonsalves’ on the recent EPA and the need for a (transparent) Caribbean Court of Justice. He is not given to shutting a country down.

So whither Arnhim Eustace? It would appear that we still buy only what we import. So externalized is our view of ourselves that we only value what we are told by the Other is good and beautiful in the Self – our hair and skin, our language, our indigenous religions, our capacity to administer our own affairs. And then, even how we value is not our own, but a borrowed criteria. To wit: it is significant, particularly to some Eustace supporters, that in 1998, a search of the 54 nations of the British Commonwealth led the Commonwealth Secretariat to offer our native son,

Mr. Eustace, the post of Deputy Secretary General. What should be more to the point is that Mr. Eustace opted instead to enter politics in his native land.

I’m off to celebrate Mr. Obama’s win at the polls, and to join with other teary-eyed Black Vincentians who are now proclaiming the world has changed. The world has changed – the world outside.

Minnie Cato