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Surrendering Walter Rodney’s legacy


For very personal and pressing reasons, I was sadly unable to attend last weekend’s commemorative activities in Guyana to mark the 25th anniversary of the horrendous murder of that outstanding Caribbean liberator, Dr. Walter Rodney.

From all reports, the events proceeded smoothly and the “groundings” (the term borrowed from Rodney’s “Groundings with my brothers”) had such an impact that some of those who participated are contemplating extending them to other Caribbean shores and communities.{{more}}

As is now perhaps to be expected, the regional media, especially given its proliferation, did far from enough to highlight the Rodney events. The media failed to give those too young to have known first hand, and those in the dark at the time, some appreciation of the work and worth of that outstanding scholar, activist and visionary.

Our political leaders too, in and out of government, have not exactly lined up to shower praises. In that regard, the participation of our own Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, himself a colleague of Dr. Rodney made a very positive step. Not many that get to the pinnacle of political power have time for such occasions or memories.

That seems to be particularly true for black and Caribbean people. We have a history of seemingly failing to appreciate value and treasure the work, meaning and indeed the very lives of those

outstanding leaders thrown up by our own struggles.

I recall, for instance, the failure of much of the Caribbean leadership in 1980 to take a firm stand on what was clearly an assassination of Dr. Rodney, thereby depriving the region of a significant and, it has turned out to be, irreplaceable reservoir of intellectual property. This murder took place in the same month, that there was an assassination attempt on the life

of another outstanding son of ours, Grenadian Maurice Bishop.

That too, never evoked the response as befitting an attack on a Caribbean Prime Minister, at least not from those in the corridors of power. We foot soldiers of course, had a vastly different response.

That failure of black people to rally around and defend their leaders has cost us dearly. We seem to always want to wait long years after the event to glorify praise and remember. Only last month, black people in the U.S.A and beyond, were commemorating the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X. Three years after him, it was Martin Luther King. Both have become household names today, when it mattered, we were not on the line with them!

For those reasons, those who take up the mantle of liberation, of espousing a vision of the future for the oppressed, depressed and down-pressed, often suffer the fate of being left to “hang out and dry” as we sometimes say. Our enemies are often even quicker to grasp the significance of their teachings, the fundamental revolutionary content, the potential for liberating the minds of tens of millions and are quick to pounce.

First, they use the familiar weapons of isolation, personal attacks, denial of operating space, campaigns of lies and calamity. We in turn, while secretly recognizing the truth of what Dr. Rodney and other liberators are saying, are afraid of identifying with them.

We prefer indignity, of being tortured souls, accepted by society, than a fate of isolation because of our defense for what we believe to be right and uplifting.

It has enabled those who would oppress us all too successfully and perennially use the tactics of divide and rule, to separate the Rodneys, the MLKs, the Malcolm Xs, the Marcus Garveys from the rest of us and eventually to physically destroy them. It allows them to poison the minds and pollute the atmosphere with all sorts of crap, while the real issues remain behind smokescreens.

We emerge, 25, 40, 50, 100 years later, lauding the role and place of those leaders in history. Yet the significance of their teachings for our everyday life, existence and struggle is somehow conveniently forgotten. Are we condemned to forever surrender such a rich legacy?

• (Next week: Rodney’s legacy to the Caribbean)