Seize the moment, make maximum use of space
It was most heartening to see attempts by concerned groups and individuals in the Caribbean last week to organize activities in solidarity with those in the United States fighting for racial justice under the banner of “Black Lives Matter”. Several of the marches planned did not work out as hoped either due to restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID pandemic or, as happened here, because of inclement weather.
I say heartening, for there has not been any significant level of activity in the region in recent times in relation to such issues. It is a far cry from the militant, conscious and internationalist Caribbean of the seventies, eighties and even early nineties. Still, with all the limitations, the efforts indicate that all is not lost and that Caribbean people are prepared to stand up for justice.
The point must be made though that the actions planned in the Caribbean were not just “in solidarity” with those suffering racial oppression in the USA, UK, or other parts of the world. Whether we admit it or not, we too face the same challenges. The context may be different, the scale may be lesser, but the reality is that the legacy of slavery and colonialism still lives throughout our region.
The heady days of Black Power may have passed, though that movement has brought about many positive changes in the region, but many fundamental problems remain. We may have replaced the colonial rulers but the hallmarks and symbols of colonialism and slavery are still there for those with eyes to see. What is lacking is a deeper understanding of the problem and hence an appreciation that we still have a lot of “unfinished business”.
Too many of our people are still trapped by shallow slogans, so we interpret racism as simply that “white people don’t like we”. But there is not only an economic basis for racism, it has taken on institutional forms which are not always obvious to observe. In addition, we are surrounded by all the symbols and trappings of racism, and, exposed as we are by our limited knowledge and understanding of our own history, are often incapable of appropriate responses.
When for instance, the statues and symbols of slavery are being torn down in those countries where whites are in the majority, should we not look around us to ascertain whether we are in any better positions? For instance, Paramount Chief Chatoyer is our legally recognised and lone National Hero, but except for a bland obelisk at Dorsetshire Hill, there is no national monument in his honour and memory.
By contrast, in the centre of our capital city, the lone statue is one of a soldier, presumably white, marking those who died in the two World Wars fought to achieve global domination. Though we contributed to the war effort, including sending soldiers to die, the vast majority of those could not even vote in their own homeland. As for Chatoyer, the British soldier falsely recognized as a “hero” for allegedly killing the Paramount Chief, an act without historical proof, right in the middle of the Church of State, the St. George’s Anglican Cathedral, under the chandelier where people genuflect to the holy altar, is a tombstone in memory of Chatoyer’s alleged killer! We too have to come to grips with our past.
We can go on and on in this vein, the place names, the history, the imbued concepts about people of African descent and the indigenous people, all suggest that they are inferior. Too many of us still consider the acquisition of US citizenship, residency status or visa, even by those economically and academically better off, as a major accomplishment.
So, as we stand in solidarity, we have our own stables to clean. Yet we cannot be emotional about it, we must be clear on our objectives, who are our allies and how best to achieve our goals. There is a place for protests, marches etc., but we did all this before so these alone are not enough. We must avoid petty squabbling amongst us and seek to establish common purpose.
Those who seek to divide us either by pettifogging politics or trying to prove their so-called “revolutionary” credentials must not be allowed to deflect us from our higher purpose. It is not an overnight battle for it must be fought on many fronts simultaneously employing a vast array of strategies. But we must never lose sight of our ultimate goal. We have a unique opportunity. We must not blow it. Seize the moment and lay the foundation for long-term gains.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.