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Reclaiming black people’s heritage

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by Maxwell Haywood 25.MAR.11

March has now been instituted in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) as Heroes’ and Heritage Month. It is important to note that our national heritage cannot be separated from the history of black people. Our heritage could have been richer had there not been such a large scale suppression and exploitation of black people because of their skin color and because of the drive of the powerful slave-holding elites for other people’s territories and resources.{{more}}

The world, through the United Nations, also uses the month of March to mark two significant international days with reference to black people: (1) International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, March 21; and (2) International Day for the Commemoration of the Two-Hundredth Anniversary of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, March 25 United Nations perspective

The United Nations, which is the most significant global institution, declared 2011 “The Year for People of African Descent”. In order words, 2011 is the year to mark the history of black people, and this includes black people in SVG who make up over 90 per cent of the nation. The United Nations believes that every country should teach its people about black people’s history before chattel slavery and what caused chattel slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. The people of the world need to know about the results of this crime and about the perils of racism. It is disheartening that the official Heroes and Heritage Month activities in SVG for this year have not directly reflected the objectives of “The Year for People of African Descent”.

I am sure many are asking themselves why do people of African descent need a year dedicated to them by the United Nations? According to the UN: “During its 400-year duration, the transatlantic slave trade, one of the most tragic developments in human history, uprooted 25 to 30 million Africans, by UNESCO’s estimation. It resulted in the death of millions, left physical and mental scars on the survivors and created far-reaching social, political, economic and cultural legacies that continue to be felt today in numerous societies in Africa, the Caribbean, North and South America and Europe.”

Issues and policies

People of African descent have a global history of making outstanding contributions to the store of human culture. Then something terrible called the trans-atlantic slave trade happen to black people. This experience was so brutal it has been called a “crime against humanity”, and even called the “African holocaust”. It was a deliberate destruction of a people’s culture and civilization. Despite those centuries of barbarity against black people, they have survived, they made more contributions, and forgave their captors; but they are pressing their claim for reparations and demanding their humanity be respected. They have not sought revenge! They have not practiced terrorism against the societies of their former captors! They believe in forgiveness, peace, and friendship! How could a people who have experienced such brutality against them find the heart and soul to forgive those who committed these extremely brutal crimes against them?

Of course, people of African descent strongly resisted their capture, enslavement and colonization. All throughout Africa and the rest of the world, people of African descent have been resisting up to this day. It is this comprehensive history of African people, their present day situation, and future prospects that the year is supposed to highlight.

Presently, in every region of the world, human beings with dark pigmentation, normally referred to as black people for most part have been under constant assault from societal forces very hostile to their presence and assertiveness. This has not been the reality before the invasion of Africa by oppressing and exploitative forces. Sadly, many black people have knowingly and unknowingly joined these societal forces to reduce the lives of black people and their societies to a level of dehumanization which has made it very difficult and almost impossible for black people to rise up and build societies free from social evils such as poverty, self-hate, and glorification of the oppressor and exploiters.

Today, only public policies will be able to correct this situation. No amount of feel-good talk could bring justice to black people and closure to this major global evil called racism. Good public polices in the fields of education, housing, health, employment, gender, and governance must be re-focused in light of the unfinished tasks of restoring black people to their rightful place in history and the future world. Other policies that must also be re-focused and formulated include global trade policies; policies on reparations from countries that initiated, conducted and benefited from the transatlantic slave trade; and policies that build firmly planted economic development institutions which do not perpetuate the legacies of economic exploitation and underdevelopment resulting from the transatlantic slave trade, colonialism and neo-colonialism.

Awareness raising

The UN is very perceptive when it states that: “The transatlantic slave trade played a major part in world history. There is still a substantial knowledge gap about the 400-year long slave trade and its lasting consequences throughout the world, including the important contributions made by slaves to the building of societies in the lands of their enslavement. This lack of knowledge and the need for further information and awareness about the history of that tragedy extends to some of the descendants of the enslaved peoples and to other populations, in particular those outside the areas directly involved in the trade in the Caribbean, Europe and the Americas.”

During this year, we still have opportunities for acknowledging “The Year for People of African Descent” in SVG. These opportunities include: Easter activities (black people and religion); Carnival; Emancipation Month; Independence celebrations; Christmas and Nine Mornings; Dance Festival; and Drama Festival. Let us integrate the objectives of “The Year for People of African Descent” into these celebrations during this year. We have nothing to lose but much to gain by doing so.

Maxwell Haywood could be reached at [email protected]