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We should encourage unity, not division



Editor: Recently, a letter from Dr. Richard A. Byron-Cox titled “This brother and sister thing” was published. After reading this unfortunately divisive piece with its seemingly bitter tone, I was compelled to respond on behalf of those who do not share his opinion on the issue of the connection between us as a Caribbean people and our brothers and sisters from the African continent.{{more}}

Firstly, I would like to say that I agree with Dr. Byron-Cox that we as a Vincentian and Caribbean people should not allow anyone, no matter where he/she is from, to come to our shores to con, hoodwink or steal from us. However, I do believe that we must recognize the anguish and oppression that Black people on both sides of the Atlantic have endured, primarily at the hands of others, over the last 500 years. We must also recognize that this systematically enforced “stunting of the Black race’s growth” has resulted in our inheritance of a legacy of poverty, ill-health, and underdevelopment. Let us not fool ourselves into believing Caribbean people have a monopoly on suffering or enslavement. For example, our brothers and sisters in the Democratic Republic of Congo were enslaved and forced to harvest rubber to fill the coffers of King Leopold II of Belgium years after our ancestors in the British colonies had seized their freedom in 1838. Many of our Congolese brothers and sisters lost their limbs and lives under this brutal regime. I need not even mention Apartheid in South Africa and Zimbabwe. With this in mind, I see it as important for us to embrace and help, to the extent that we can, any brother or sister from within or from outside of the region. This is not to say that we should not come to the assistance of someone because he/she is Indian, White, Asian, Amerindian or otherwise, but we should put our own people first. And if you think there is something wrong with this, take a closer look and you will see that other groups including the Jews, Arabs, and Indians practice this unapologetically to their own benefit.

But back to Dr. Byron-Cox’s piece. He mentions needing proper documentation to enter African countries and says “so much for the nonsense about Mama Africa”. I found this point almost laughable. Is he insinuating that sovereign African states should allow Black people to just walk into their countries without a passport or visa if one is required? Would a Portuguese descendent from SVG be able to go to Portugal without a Schengen visa? Don’t Vincentians also need proper documentation to visit our Barbadian, Jamaican and Grenadian brothers and sisters?

Dr. Byron-Cox mentions that he is aware of so many instances of the difficulties Black non-Africans face entering African countries apparently using this as further evidence that Africans see diasporans as an inferior group. I have heard the argument that Africans see us as nothing but “sons of slaves” before but my personal experience with Africans causes me to believe that this is either a myth or has been grossly overemphasized. I attended university in Montreal from 1993 to 1997, during which time I met many African students and became close friends with several of them. I even had a Congolese roommate for a year. Not once did any African even hint to me that they thought of me as any less of a person than they were. Furthermore, the Caribbean students club and the African students club supported each other’s events on a regular basis. I even had closer African friends than Caribbean friends, since many of the Caribbean students had unfortunately brought their “big island/small island” mentality with them. Today, when I fly into Barbados, St. Lucia or any other island in the region no immigration officer ever greets me saying, “Welcome, my West Indian brother. We are happy to see you”. The questions are more about the purpose of my stay there and how long I will be in the country. How many times have we complained about the treatment we sometimes get when we pass through other islands on our way to or from the US or Europe. So it seems that we need to work on how we treat each other on this side of the Atlantic as well.

Finally, Dr. Byron-Cox indicates that we should focus our attention on helping our Haitian and Guyanese brothers rather that Africans, who as he states, are “geographically, historically, culturally, and socially completely alien from us”. Oh, really! Let’s take the example of Ghana. Like SVG, English is the official language there. SVG was colonized by the British, and so was Ghana. We take sweet potato, ginger, sugar, and spices and make Doukana, and in Ghana they do the same thing and call it Douknu. Most importantly, many Vincentians who carry the last names Quammie, Quashie, and Quow can trace their ancestry back to Ghana. So, yes, Ghanians are different from us. But completely alien? Nonsense! They are definitely no more different from us than our Haitian brothers and sisters who speak Kreyòl, were colonized by the French, and many of whom have religious beliefs practices that are quite different from that of the majority of Vincentians. In the end, brotherhood/sisterhood isn’t just about living near to each other and having a common historical experience. It’s also about having a common genetic bond and because someone else forcefully tried to break our family apart to forward their own devious agenda, and scattered the brothers and sisters all over the world in the process, doesn’t mean we are no longer family.

In this challenging time where worldwide economic conditions are having a significantly negative impact on black people from Cameroon to the Ivory Coast to Haiti to SVG, we should be focusing on how we can unite to solve common problems rather than highlighting our differences and giving reasons why we shouldn’t get along. I urge our intellectual leaders like Dr. Byron-Cox to use their clout more positively. We should be seeking ways to encourage unity rather than division amongst our BROTHERS AND SISTERS.

Fidel Mo Ri Oluwa Neverson