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Black Consciousness

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Fri, Aug 3. 2012
 
by Adaiah J Providence-Culzac

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Have you ever forgotten that you were black? In the recent past, a few commentators have made sterling contributions to the issue of race, particularly as it regards our own local Vincentian context. I pen this to accentuate what has already been stated and through my lens, contribute to the thesis.{{more}}

Living in a predominantly black country, being born in the late 80’s, early 90’s, our generation had escaped many of the horrid stories that preceded our time. We had missed plantation slavery, servitude to the aristocracy, the uprisings and fight for better working conditions, the struggle for independence and the early years of post-independence. In other countries, notably the US, blacks were struggling for equality, repatriation and economy. For many, the struggles continue unabated, but the foot soldiers are few and the few battle worn.

At home, we are still a long way off from abandoning the European leaning history books. The calls for the introduction of a well-structured local and Caribbean civic subject from the primary stage have still gone unanswered. Whether socialist, democratic or communist, many post war countries have adopted a nationalistic approach to development. Their peoples have been taught not only to parrot the significant events of their past, but also provided with interpretations to build respect for their institutions, culture and polity. However, like many under the realm, we have remained forever enthralled by the pomp and ceremony of our colonial past.

The few historic events worth marking have seen a paucity of support and opportunities to commence a march forward is normally hindered by politics, vis-à-vis the Constitutional Reform exercise and the search for a new national hero. So, for many of us, black has been about the colour of our skin rather than our identity. We are more comfortable speaking on the basis of black versus white rather than the commonality of our peoples that extends beyond slavery. Our gyration is towards who came on the ships or who is much more easily recognizable at night.

Significantly, the question is asked about our current generation being seemingly unenthused in terms of an appreciation for our history. A close look at the way we celebrate National Heroes Day or Emancipation Day with a re-cycle of activities may prove helpful. You may also consider the ‘non-solidarity’ in the teaching fraternity during their activities to mark their own struggles for clues, but then you are just back to basics. A list of answers will include modernity and its inherent cultural shift and political strife. However, our parents are as much to blame as we. They had, as some would have urged ‘left the past behind’ in a quest to chart a new way forward.

Maybe post-independence, the educated masses were too busy being concerned with becoming ‘massas’ of their own, forming political parties as the wind blew, spewing grandiose ideology, not home grown to our own local context. On the other hand, possibly the poor masses were too tired from their years of oppression that any thing that glittered became gold. But, who I am to know or judge? I didn’t live in this period, don’t understand the pain or the struggle faced, nor, have I been fortunate to sit under the moonlight while villagers shared story after story of their experiences. Alas, the little that I know came from reading newspaper accounts, books and theses, such as the account of Ebenezer Joshua and the labour movement by Prime Minster Gonsalves, works by Kenneth John et al.

So, for quite a long time, I didn’t know my black identity and maybe I still don’t fully understand, as it is just a relatively new journey I have begun. It took a foreigner to call me ‘black man’ to awaken that spirit of black consciousness that was buried within. The remark moved beyond the colour of my skin and stirred a series of questions. I had long stopped thinking about skin types or colour, as I still believe ‘man is man’ and we were all made in the image of God, but even in biblical times, there was strife among the people, stratified into superior and inferior races. What caused the perception that one colour was better than the other? What were the experiences that had shaped our identity? How have we moved forward in cultivating a new identity that is different from our past? Are we still in a race superiority fight?

Is it only slavery that joined us together? Are all blacks the product of Africa and if so, why does there remain a stigma of disassociation from the continent? Our textbooks do little justice to tracing our genealogy, no or little discussion about our Garifuna heritage, but a lot of our ‘Slavery to Emancipation’. We did well to remind every school aged child how our fore-parents were mainly slaves or indentured servants, how we had a dark colonial past, but pre-slavery, when our land was the home of the blessed remains ‘equally dark’. There seems to me more questions than answers and the first contribution to the thesis of our black consciousness would be to conclude that ‘it is we that have inadvertently kept ourselves in mental slavery’.

Maybe belittling ourselves, creating no high expectations were easy ways to receive the economic trinkets post-independence. It still baffles me that for all the talk by those against imperialistic Britain, that we have not introduced a moratorium on the annual accolades. Many leading cultural figures have not been principled to decline their knighthoods or membership of the British Empire (MBE). A call to be a post-independence republic was reduced to a debate of visa free travel to the United Kingdom. Even today, black leaders throughout the Caribbean have held our own Caribbean Court of Justice hostage, because, as Shaunelle Mc Kenzie sang, ‘We Don’t Like We’.

As I recall hearing ‘black man’, I suddenly realized that being black was just the colour of my skin. Even if it is said in a racial overtone or from a prejudiced point of view, do you only identify yourself by ‘slavery black’? What about what it means to be black-Vincentian or black Caribbean? What does it means to be you as a human being? Black consciousness must not only teach about Mama Africa or slavery; it must not only be about the ships or the whips, the wages or freedom. It must begin with a story of ‘All men are equal, no one is better than us and we are no better than anyone else.’ It must move beyond the rituals and the clichés and embrace that being black is just simply being human.

We have boxed ourselves in for so long, coming up with so many ways to act ‘black,’ that we have forgotten to just live. Our black consciousness forever remains fulfilling what was written about us so many moons ago. Every race or skin colour has suffered some form of atrocity, but the Jews have moved on and knitted themselves together; Hitler’s Germany is an economic powerhouse, World War perpetrators Japan a respected nation; civil war USA is a beacon in national pride, but our latest trade is in the skin bleaching products. ‘We don’t like we’.

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