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Young people and their African heritage

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by Maxwell Haywood

As the nation prepares for the Commemoration of the two-hundredth anniversary of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the issue of reclaiming our history comes sharply into focus. Like many young people in the world, young Vincentians are searching for a meaningful identity.

Many Black young people’s lives have been positively changed because of their awareness of their African heritage. On Friday 26 January 2007, the prestigious New York Times carried an article on the great African American tennis player Serena Williams, who made a stunning comeback after going through two years of personal difficulties which negatively affected her tennis game.{{more}}

She is back in the game and winning against some formidable opponents. She recently won the Australian Open 2007 women’s tennis championship. This is due in large part to her awareness of her African heritage. According to the New York Times article, “she re-emphasized that one of the moments that helped lift her spirits was her first visit to Africa, in November, when she traveled to Ghana and Senegal.” The article quoted Serena as saying that in Ghana and Senegal.

“I saw things there that people were going through and had been through and saw a lot of things my ancestors went through,” she said. “And it couldn’t be worse than that, literally. I thought about that, and I think that helped me out a lot.”

Since my childhood in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), I have been hearing and reading expressions against African culture, heritage and history. This has forced me to ask aloud: what is the accumulative impact of this kind of information on our social fabric or capital?

The interesting thing about these anti-African expressions was that they encouraged me, as a child, to seek answers for myself since many of the people who were expressing these views were people whom I highly respected. My search put me on a journey to seek the truth. Over the years, I, and many others, have come to learn many fascinating truths or the other side of the story and our learning has been ongoing. This knowledge we attained, while seeking the truth, has made a positive and decisive difference in our lives! Now that the fog is gone, many of us are seeing clearly. Our navigation on the world’s turbulent waters and highways becomes less difficult because we are able to harness the tried and tested resources of our African heritage to overcome obstacles.

Since those days of my early youth in SVG, I recall hearing how Africans are cannibals. Oh yes! I cannot forget lies that said Africans have no culture and they are heathens. Later, I realized there is no other group of people on this earth who have such a long trail of culture and who love religion and God more than Africans. Moreover, they would go so far as to say that Africans who were born in Africa do not like Black people who were born outside of Africa; therefore it is a waste of time trying to re-build links and solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Africa. On the contrary, my experiences while I was in Africa, and my experiences with Africans whom I have met outside Africa do not convince me that Africans in Africa dislike Black people outside Africa.

Frequently, it has been a lonely road in many cases for those who without any apology are proud of their African heritage. For instance, is it possible that the dislike for Rastafarians and the official contempt that was held for Spiritual Baptists are in large part due to this hatred for anything African?

Many of my generation were committed to accentuating our African heritage. But the more we did, the more we drew resistance. This attempt to cut us off from our heritage, history and culture of progress was unproductive, because it hindered us from fully embracing the best in our African tradition. Specifically, it served to alienate many Vincentians from the rich tradition of solidarity, self-reliance and collective security

which our ancestors had to depend on in order to survive: their capture in Africa, the unimaginable hardships of the middle passage, the heart-wrenching experience on the slave plantations here in the Caribbean, and the continued difficult social conditions up to today.

I remember while growing up in SVG many young women and men did not want to be associated with anything African since to do so would have brought wrath upon them by their parents, other family members, and other people in the society. But today, I am beholding many young women and men with an open mind toward African heritage. And many of those in the times of my teenage years who were hostile to African heritage have seen the glory and are now embracing it and using it as a shield against negative social forces.

So, much has been changing and many people have been learning. However, anti-African feelings still exist in too many people in all social classes and population groups. With regard to this anti-African attitude, here again, I must ask: what is the impact on our social fabric or capital?

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