The ‘Black Lives Matter’ Movement, Protests and Caribbean People
International media is filled with reports about the uprising taking place in the United States as protestors raise awareness about the existence of systematic racism in that country and the way that it has manifested itself through the killing of black men and women at the hands of white police officers.
Not just Americans, but people across the globe are expressing their exhaustion with the injustices that those with darker skin experience in the “Land of the Free” and have added their voices to the protests through the signing on online petitions and donations to various charities supporting the families of the slain victims, the Black Lives Matter movement and pro-black causes and the bailout of protesters.
Despite this, there are still people outside of the US, inclusive of Caribbean nationals who believe that Black Americans are overreacting, that their fight has nothing to do with West Indians because we do not have this experience and therefore it’s not our problem.
It is true that our experiences are not the same, as racism manifests itself in different ways, depending on the particular time and place. In America, segregation and racism were actually enforced through Jim Crow laws enacted in the late 19th and early 20th century. But these laws, although they officially ended in the 1960s, were more than strict segregation laws, it was a system intended to keep Black people “in their place”; and which continues to rear its ugly head throughout time.
The Caribbean, due to its colonial past, can be considered a melting pot of people of different races and ethnic backgrounds where discrimination among and between races is not uncommon, even today.
What will always ring true about experiences in both contexts, is that Black people have been made to be seen as inferior to White people and undeserving of the same rights, privileges and dignity that is accorded to those of a lighter complexion.
As a Caribbean people, our experience of racism affords us the opportunity to stand in solidarity with the Black people being oppressed in the US.
Despite our experiences here in the West Indies, we are privileged because we are not afraid to leave our houses, we do not have to recite with our children the right things to say or the right way to act when confronted by a police officer.
It doesn’t mean though, that we are immune to these experiences when we travel. Our Caribbean brothers and sisters often migrate to the US, making it their home, raising families there. Likewise, those who remain in the Caribbean often travel to visit or do business.
For the casual onlooker, there is no distinction between Black Caribbean people and Black Americans. No one will immediately ask where you are from, but they are sure to notice that you are Black. The probability of a Black Caribbean person being killed in the US is as great as that of a Black American.
Have we forgotten St Lucian, Botham Jean, who was killed on September 6, 2018 in his own apartment after a police officer entered his apartment and shot him. The female officer testified that she thought the apartment was her own, that she believed Jean to be a burglar and that he would kill her.
Jean was unarmed. The officer was initially charged with manslaughter, which resulted in protests, particularly given the racial aspect of the shooting. She was later charged with murder.
We may not have the same experiences but we are not immune to the issues being faced by Black people in America. Our very civilization has beginnings in discrimination and racism. Our ancestors fought for their freedom through revolts and riots that have paved the way for the lives we live now, in the same way that Americans are protesting for a change in the way Black people are treated in their country.
We must be open to educating ourselves on these issues rather than ignoring them, because while they may not be happening within our borders, we can definitely be affected by them one way or another and must, because of our history, stand in solidarity with the fight against racism wherever it may occur.