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Is the Black Man the White Man’s burden?


Tue, Feb 21, 2012

by Nilio Gumbs

The month of February is celebrated as “Black History Month” in the United States and increasingly in the Caribbean also.{{more}} It’s a month to shed light on the blood, sweat and tears, the pain, discrimination, persecution, struggles and achievement of black people in the United States and throughout the world.

Expectedly, there would be a harangue of explanations and acclamation about the pyrrhic successes and the marginalization of blacks in predominantly white societies or Africa’s underdevelopment.

It would not be uncommon to hear a diatribe of explanations – the depopulation of West and Central Africa, slavery, colonialism and discrimination as the reasons for the under development of Africa or the predicament and deprivation of blacks in the United States, Brazil, Haiti and the Western hemisphere in general.

I choose to write this article to stimulate a civilized debate on the issue in the context of Black History month, where the comment was made at the “Mauby shop” that the “black man is the white man’s burden,” by someone who is unrepentant in his Marxist beliefs and black consciousness.

I have openly opined on the mute in the mid 1990’s in seminars at the Consortium Graduate School – the most appropriate place where liberal and alternative viewpoints are palatable – but the sensibilities of other students still rose to the point where verbal communication was at sometimes abrogated temporarily.

To stimulate the debate, I received many email links to web pages from those colleagues, directing me to sites where I could peruse the achievements of an esoteric bunch of blacks inventors – the Carver’s, the Latimer’s and the like, and such discoveries as the blood bank and the filament in light bulbs.

My immediate response was how it was possible then for blacks in the United States to make such achievements in the late 19th and early 20th century in a rabid environment of racism? Today, with some 40 million strong, they are unable to achieve the same feat in an environment where discrimination is no longer institutionalized, there is greater access to some of the best universities in the world and where black culture conflates into the mainstream of American Society. More so, they excel in sports and music, but not in the sciences.

There are many troubling questions which possibly require a historical and social explanation. With the intonation why? The poorest state in the United States is Mississippi, which also per capita has the highest concentration of blacks for any state in the United states – 37 per cent. The poorest state in the western hemisphere is Haiti. Of the ten poorest countries in the world, eight are in Africa. Why there are no academic achievements and research discoveries made in Black Africa?

In every predominantly black country on Earth, the business class and sector is dominated by and made up of Chinese, Indians, whites and Arabs (Syrians and Lebanese). In Nigeria, the business sector is dominated by Pakistanis from Punjab province.

In that country also, there is very little commercial farming; hence some of the farmers who were driven off the land in Zimbabwe were invited by the governor of Kwara State in Nigeria to farm and given a lease of 1,000 acres land, which they have already turned into a success. This begs the question, are black people consumers and not producers? It is unimaginable to believe that ships that travel to Nigeria (population of 160 million people) to off load their cargo, leave empty because there is little to export besides oil.

Closer to home, we can look at Trinidad and Tobago, where blacks and Indians are split down the middle. Today, the Indians dominate the business sector with a sprinkling of blacks. A theoretical explanation was given by a student in Seminar for such an inequity. “The Indians were given lands after their indentureship, forcing me to make the point that blacks had a head start in education from the Christian missionaries.

The Calypso “Little Black Boy” by “Gypsy,” highlighted the plight of the black man in that country. The Calysonian cited in song that at “the Mount Hope Medical Complex, the Indians are the doctors and the nurses, but the blacks are serving in the Cafeteria.

Surprisingly, the Minster of National Security Brigadier John Sandy, in a speech in September 2011, calling on blacks to stop killing blacks, cited some statistics which make interesting reading. He said “when one looked at the murdered victims in 2006, of the 390 persons murdered, 228 were Afro-Trinidadians; in 2007, of 391 murdered, 308 were Afro-Trinidadians; in 2008, of 547 murdered, 427 were Afro-Trinidadians; in 2009, of the 506 murdered, 383 were Afro-Trinidadians; in 2010, of the 473 murdered, 320 were Afro-Trinidadians. He further noted that “when one looked at the prison population, of the 2,678 prisoners in 2006.”

Sandy lamented, “1,532 were Afro-Trinidadians (57 per cent); in 2007, of 2,726 prisoners, 1,464 were Afro-Trinidadians (54 per cent); in 2008, of 3,012 prisoners, 1,610 or 54 per cent were Afro-Trinidadians; in 2009, of a total of 1,886, 1,776 or 57 per cent were Afro-Trinidadians; in 2010, of 2,412 prisoners, 1,300 were Afro-Trinidadians; in 2011, of 1,734 prisoners, 890 or 51 per cent are Afro-Trinidadians.”

Many of the ills and the predicament of the black man and countries are blamed upon colonialism. Is it time to stop blaming colonialism?

The British Prime Minster David Cameron, when visiting Pakistan in 2011, suggested that Britain and the legacy of its empire was responsible for many of the world’s historic problems.

Andrew Thompson, professor of imperial and global history, University of Leeds, noted that “the imperial past is far from being dead. On the contrary, it is actually very much part of contemporary politics” in former British colonies.

He argued that “detention without trial, beatings, torture, and killings punctuated the twilight years of colonial rule. There is also the question of whether the violence that characterized these counter-insurgency operations during decolonization set the scene for the way in which independent, post-colonial African and Asian governments dealt with political dissent from their own peoples”.

Nick Lloyd, a lecturer at Imperial College, differed with Cameron, arguing that “by the time the British left India in 1947 they had given the subcontinent a number of priceless assets, including the English language, a structure of good government, local organization and logistical infrastructure that still holds good today. Far from damaging India, British imperial rule gave it a head start”.

Andrew Thomson further noted that “the economic benefits of empire for the so-called dependent colonies were much more meagre in comparison or did not exist at all”.

We must not forget that not all developing countries went through the vestiges of colonialism. Ethiopia is one of four countries that never experienced colonialism – the others being Liberia, Thailand and Iran. Ethiopia itself was only briefly occupied by Mussolini’s forces from 1935-45; however, it is highly undeveloped.

There is also the issue of craving for power by black African leaders. Few have gracefully walked away from power. At present the vast majority of black South Africans are still loyal to the ANC, but view their leaders as being distracted by the love for power and the ostentatious display of wealth.

President Obama, on his trip to Ghana in 2009, noted “I think part of what’s hampered the advancement in Africa is that, for many years, we’ve made excuses about corruption or poor governance, and this was somehow the consequence of neo-colonialism, or the West has been oppressive, or racist – I’m not a big fan of such – I’m not a believer in excuses.

“The West and the United States has not been responsible for what’s happened to Zimbabwe’s economy over the last 15 or 20 years.

“It hasn’t been responsible for some of the disastrous policies that we’ve seen elsewhere in Africa. And I think that it’s very important for African leadership to take responsibility and be held accountable.”

So let’s get the debate going!