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Do we have the courage?

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05.APR.07

Editor: Maxwell Haywood’s letter printed last week in the Searchlight newspaper entitled “Outstanding Legacy of Black Women” was timely in the week of yet another hideous attack on women in St. Vincent.

He ended his piece with the desperate question – “Could someone please tell me what has become of this great legacy of black women?”

I attempt to answer this question by suggesting that the lack of respect for women generally, like many other demeaning aspects of modern day culture, is the result of an inculcated culture based on dominance and suppression.{{more}}

The African women leaders that Brother Maxwell writes about are women who lived in societies that revered the feminine principle. After the colonisation of Africa the power of the feminine became suppressed, as it had been in European societies for centuries before that.

Colonisation that brought the slave system entailed the eradication of one set of cultural values to achieve dominance over another. Conquest became the measure of greatness in the brutal competition for power. Male gods replaced female gods, wisdom of elders was given over to the agendas of the military. Divisions were created between the rulers and the ruled. There was a turn away from community that had been the basis of African society. The dominating state put down whole groups of the population- especially women and people of colour. Attitudes were inculcated to sustain a system of domination.

African traditional society was, conversely, egalitarian and gender balanced. Their values were based on harmony with nature, subjective creative and emotional expression, extended family networks and integrated communities. Art, music and dance were a bridge to the spirit world. People were able to use psychic power effectively as in other indigenous cultures throughout the world. Far from primitive and anarchic accorded by the colonisers’ propaganda, these cultures were sophisticated, complex, rich and resourceful.

The culture of domination that replaced them harboured divisions, hierarchies, and exploitation of many to support the privileged few. Slavery is part of this system of domination.

This was the context within which women have come to be suppressed rather than live their true power and potential. The legacy of Black women is great as Maxwell’s letter affirms- a legacy of fortitude, truth and courage. But they have forsaken their role of cultural custodians to chase the same power and domination values in the patriarchal culture that has became institutionalised – in politics, religion, education- and is now reaching crisis point the world over. It pits many against each other for a few positions at the top and continues to suppress women, the youth and the poor.

In today’s world man’s disrespect for women is an enactment of the tools of suppression orchestrated and practiced by agents of the empire the colonial masters. Men are conditioned to be in control. Much damage has been done, not only to Black women who have lost their self-respect and connection with their legacy, but also to the spirits of men who feel that they must always be in control, physically and emotionally. In their common belief that women must play a subordinate role in their lives, men deny their own legacy -the consciousness that knows they are a part of a delicate balance of nature.

It’s glaringly obvious that communities cannot survive without the power of the feminine, without the sensitive and the nurturing, the creative, all starkly absent from institutionalised patriarchal systems. Society cannot sustainably progress without inclusion of all of its marginalised groups, hundreds of years of Eurocentric patriarchal domination has proven that fact starkly.

Brother Maxwell’s question of what happened to the great legacy of the Black women was also a cry to reinstate that legacy as a necessary life-affirming step forward in social survival. It’s a simple choice for men and women. Do we choose fear and rule or be ruled? Or do we change our story to one that supports the potential of all community members? We have the legacy of those outstanding Black Women to support us in this choice, but do we have their courage?

Vonnie Roudette

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