The views expressed in this article are solely those of the writer.
By Darrien Ollivierre
In the Caribbean, there is much that needs addressing in terms of embracing and crafting our culture and society as a united people. This includes acknowledging our colonial past and coming to grips with it for what it was, the effects it has had, the mentality it has fostered, and the legacy it has left. It also includes the need for us to ‘preserve’ our colonial history; documented and taught through the eyes and experiences of our people as opposed to being done through the eyes of our colonizers.
Our story needs to be told in its entirety as far as possible, not just one side (told through lenses of oppression and a misguided belief of supremacy). This is imperative in order to break down the negative effects colonialism has had on our psyche, and to allow us to reshape our thinking to one which serves to cultivate unfettered dreams, excellence, self fulfillment, greater self sufficiency, economic stability, and unbridled wholesome pride. I remember history lessons in primary school left me thinking that the Amerindians were savage and uncivilized, with Europeans being the ‘heroes’ who were somehow ‘cleansing’ us. No one in the region should still be taught a history that causes us to make such ridiculous conclusions.
As a region, we tend to look closely at whatever is taking place in North America and to a lesser extent, Europe (perhaps due in part to the cultural penetration of the American media). We have many people from the region who live and/or work in North America, and so it is important for many of us to pay close attention to what happens there (a lesson I learnt from my friend Sam when I couldn’t understand the region’s preoccupation with a particular issue some years ago).
That said, it seems that the Caribbean has a much easier time uniting behind causes in the USA, than ones within the region (this is not to say that the causes supported in the USA are not of vital importance mind you). We may however, do well to have a look in the mirror and examine this reality. How easy is it for us to call out the US on matters of racial equality, on women’s rights, and on various other abuses? How easy is it for us to call out our individual countries on these matters? How easy to call out the region on a whole?
We quickly find solidarity throwing support behind some of the injustices in the US, even voicing our disappointment in our leaders if they don’t publicly voice support in a ‘timely fashion’, and in other cases, we decry our regional peers if they don’t readily pledge overt support. Yet, can we say that we hear overwhelming voices of support being thrown behind regional issues? Do we hear the calling out of our leaders for not actively pledging support to the causes in other islands (save perhaps if it serves some partisan political agenda)? Should we, as a region not tackle the internal injustices with far greater fervor? WE are Caricom, but CARICOM still seems to be failing.
Are we in the region prepared to unify in a common cause of establishing new infrastructure – physical, economical, educational, and social – which can help us to break the shackles that still hold us back? Are we prepared to create the atmosphere for our brightest minds to be able to live and work in our islands and help to increase our overall capacity, while being able to afford to mind their families, or do we prefer to continue with the brain drain? Are we yet comfortable promoting our friends’ businesses, services, art, talents, etc, or will we continue to watch our brothers and sisters merely flirt with success while we tout and support the services of the wealthy who do little to uplift our communities? Are we prepared to honour our own in our own land? Are we prepared to shout as loud at home as our prophets are killed, or are we content in standing aside and looking, while beating a drum for injustices elsewhere?
Are we willing to call out our leaders and tell them we are disappointed, and angry because weeks have passed but we have not heard them condemning spates of murders, the killing of teens, the constant attacks on our women and girls across the region, corruption that suppresses the advancement of the masses, or unlawful acts by law enforcement?
Our challenges are not solely racism, especially since this is not something some islands have really grappled with. However, the legacy of our shared past has made that issue as well as others, equally important. Many of our issues stem from the same historical place. We need to tackle many things. The lack of self-love in the skin we were born with; the desire to bleach our black skin; the desire to straighten our locks; our part in driving the commerce of false hair; the shunning of our critical thinkers, dismissing their ideas while readily lapping up those of persons outside of the region; opening our doors to white foreign investors with abundant trust (with some only continuing to rob us), but local entrepreneurs are made to jump through hoops only to be rejected for a small loan; the attitudes of perceived improved status and value the lighter your black skin becomes; the perception that a person has somehow ‘arrived’ because they now have a white partner or spouse (as opposed to just being happy that the person found love). So many things need to be dismantled and replaced through positive self identification.
There are those, who in their quest to highlight black consciousness, also spout hatred of whites and Europeans. That can be thought of as ‘justifiable anger’. However, it may also be wise to avoid ‘becoming that which we hate’. In other words, we may want to avoid fostering the same dark attitudes and beliefs which cultivated our oppression. Additionally, while there are those of us who tout our African heritage as our identity, we should not forget that if we trace our ancestry, there are many among us who will trace to not just an African heritage, but Amerindian, European, Indian, Asian, and others.
That fact ought not to be simply tossed aside in a quest to change oppressive systems or celebrate ‘wokeness’. As people of the Caribbean, we do not have as clear a ‘divide’ between people of different ancestry as may be evident in North America and Europe. We are far more integrated in the average community. Our colonizers dealt our ancestors a hand that was not asked for, however, we are here NOW. Like it or not. The likelihood of any of us in the Caribbean being alive today without this history is slim to none. So, how we chart the way forward from this geographical location that is our home, is as important as how we got here.
My brothers and sisters in the region who genuinely seek change and push for awareness, keep at it, your efforts will bear fruit. Be mindful however, that there are those who are genuinely only along for a ride of relevance. Also, don’t be quick to dismiss the support and love of white allies. Remember, there are good and bad people around regardless of skin colour and we ought not to lose our humanity – let love guide us.
There is much work to be done at home. And so, I leave you with a quote from the calypso ’ One Caribbean Nation’ by Vincentian Calypsonian Grantley ‘Ipa’ Constance:
“The search for unification, is an important mission for our scattered people here in the Caribbean. Individually we just can’t make it, together we must fight and shape it, for the benefit of we children; we got to pave the road for them. So now, with proper planning, our goals we will be achieving. With the grace of God the Almighty, we cross that bridge to victory as One Caribbean Nation. One cultural projection…If we want to live our lives happy, we got to check for unity.”