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We people who are darker than blue


The United Nations has designated this year, 2011, as “ Year of the people of African Descent”.

The proclamation was made since December 2009, but surprisingly there has not been the level of publicity or interest in it by our own people, the people whom the late black American singer Marvin Gaye described as the people who are “darker than blue”.{{more}} In some areas of the diaspora, in some African states and to a lesser extent in the Caribbean, those conscious of the importance of such a designation are involved in organising activities throughout this year.

When the UN made the proclamation, it was done with the intention that such a focus on Africa’s daughters and sons would have the effect of “strengthening national activities and international cooperation for the benefit of people of African descent….” Such actions, it is hoped, would assist such people “in relation to their full enjoyment of economic, social, civil and political rights” and facilitate “their participation and integration in all political, economic and cultural aspects of society”.

It is not by accident that the United Nations came to these conclusions. Colonial plunder has decimated hundreds of millions of people the world over, uprooted cultures, enslaved and robbed. Africa and its descendants have suffered more than most and the debilitating effects of poverty, hunger and disease still ravaging the African continent and its scattered descendants abroad (Haiti being a prime example), are legacies of oppression, exploitation and discrimination. It is the recognition that these are still to be addressed adequately which has led the international community to so focus on people of African descent in 2011.

While it is heartening to witness initiatives being taken at the official level, but even more positively, at the non-governmental level as well, far more needs to be done if the original objectives behind the 2011 proclamation are to be realised. I was cheered to note that SVG has not been left behind in this regard, a local Committee having been established to spearhead activities. In offering my humble support, I can only call on my own people to join in the effort and participate in the activities, and, to organize actions of your own. Some years ago, I was forced to comment that too many of us now seem to not want to identify with our own heritage and historical experiences. The 2011 year is for all people of African descent. There are a variety of ways in which we can mark the occasion, but we should all give our support. No matter what our station in life, no matter our political perspective, we cannot escape our heritage.

In Guyana, President Bharrat Jagdeo, himself of Indian descent, has launched officially activities to mark the Year. But Guyana is a country still plagued by racial division and partisan political strife, which, ever since the subversion of the British colonialists and American imperialists in the fifties, have been intertwined. It was therefore sad to note that even as President Jagdeo launched the Year, there was some degree of boycott by some Afro-Guyanese organisations and the largely Afro-Guyanese opposition, the People’s National Congress. To some extent I would not be surprised if a similar situation, though not on the same scale, occurs in Trinidad and Tobago, another Caribbean country torn apart by the politics of race. We cannot afford such distractions. Both Africans and Indians have tasted the bitter pills of slavery and indentureship and today wallow in the slipstream of imperial rule. It is as much in the interests of Indians to join with us in making the noble aims of 2011 a resounding success as it is for Africans to join in significant Indian celebrations, such as Indian Arrival Day and the other historical landmarks.

How nice it would be then, if on a suitable occasion, Emancipation Day for instance, we can put our ongoing political differences aside, have both political “tribes” mobilize their supporters and have a truly united activity, with both political leaders on a common platform, paying tribute to the “Year of People of African Descent”! We cannot allow political differences to deflect us from achieving common goals, particularly in a population overwhelmingly of African descent. Among the official aims of the Year is “the promotion of greater knowledge of and respect for their diverse heritage and culture”. We are a long, long way away from such appreciation of our culture and heritage.

Finally, to go back to President Jagdeo, he again raised the burning issue of reparation. Interestingly, he did not confine this to financial reparation. Recognising the difficulties in this, the Guyanese leader broadened his perspective to include those countries which profited from slavery, adjusting their trade, financial and environmental policies to permit those who have suffered from slavery to get “elbow room” to spur economic development. Much as many of us are still reluctant to make the reparation call, it remains central to our own efforts at political, economic and cultural emancipation. We, People who are “ Darker than Blue”, cannot afford to close our minds to having the gravest historical wrong righted.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.