As Emancipation, T&T ’10 approaches, and considering possible choices for ongoing nationhood, three prescient thinkers, one in each of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, are worth citing. One is William Faulkner, the Nobel prize-winning American author; the other, George Santayana, the 19th century Spanish philosopher; and T&T’s David Rudder.
Rudder’s iconic lyrical line, “where the Ganges meets the Nile”, summed up a hoped-for confluence of two mighty and historic waterways as representing the urgently needed possibilities between Afro and Indo-Trinbagonians to co-exist without escalating, injurious tensions.
Was it to highlight this necessity, and hoped-for sense of nationhood why Dr. Eric Williams, the first Prime Minister in a newly-independent Trinidad & Tobago, endorsed similar themes in the country’s new anthem, “Here every creed and race find an equal place …”?
For nationhood, according to Santayana, “is a shared myth of collective origins, and a shared myth of a collective mission.” Thus, according to his diction, among the most significant “origins” in T&T would be points of confluence between the official observances, celebrations, and rememberings of Indian Arrival and of African Emancipation.
Such observances should, in my opinion, try to bring to light the impacts the points of confluence, and as well those of departure such shared origins have had, and have on these two communities.
So, why bring up the past? Is not the past dead? Should not individuals, and thereby collective communities now take responsibility for today, and stop trying to redress any infamy, past and ostensible? Should people not “get over it”?
These assertions, in T&T as elsewhere are usually layered with self-righteousness, and pasted on African communities seeking, among other things, redress against past injustices, and thereby, improved conditions for the present. Opposition to these communities is considered justified, especially considering the vast gap of irresponsibility of too many black men in parenting as compared with merely fathering their children.
It is a bane on many black communities, and one difficult to counter, unless …
One response comes from Faulkner. He said, to those who might decry a return by others to the past that, “The past is not dead. It is not even past.”
In addition, the argument and belief that black communities must now get on with it makes some sense, except that it is a belief which apparently applies, only to black communities. One reasoning cited is that Africans were also involved in the enslavement of other Africans.
Well, were there not Irish collaborators with their English overlords, during the iniquitous Irish Famines which destroyed so many families and communities? There is a naming for them: Quislings. Does their infamy excuse the English, and deny the right of the Irish to seek redress for these famines?
Or, take the Jews. Were there among them, some who collaborated with the Germans? Whatever their justification for such behaviour, does it indemnify the Holocaust against its evils? Does it minimise the impact then and now of Nazism on the Jewish people and psyche?
There are many others, but who in their right mind would publicly and make official policy premised on the rude assertion that Jews, Irish or historic others, as they consider past experiences, and try to assess the impact these experiences continue to inflict on them today, “get over it”?
In fact, not only has Africa not gotten over the impact of enslavement, but immediately following the official ending of this, the continent, in the infamous Berlin Conference of 1885 by European nations, was divided up. The Belgian monarch, King Leopold II described it, dividing the African Cake, and of which he was determined to get his fair share.
However, what was cake to Europe was, and continues to be a brew of iniquity for Africa. Mark Twain, the American writer later referring to Leopold’s impact there, dubbed it, “The Shame of the Congo.” Today, what was the Belgian Congo is simultaneously the richest piece of real estate on the earth for minerals, yet among the poorest, most corrupt, and violence-ridden regions found anywhere.
In my generation, we were to see African countries, as did other countries like India, China, also take up the anti-colonial struggles. For Africa, its vast resources continue to be a vast curse. Europe and an emerging America were determined at all cost to keep selfish control of these resources. Thus were African patriots like a Kwame Nkrumah exiled; a Nelson Mandela imprisoned; and a Patrice Lumumba murdered.
But the infamy continued. Hoisted to power as replacements for these patriots was an African ‘mafiosi’ of Idi Amins, Mobutus, and Bambatas. Their legacies today are genocides, dictatorships, and a dire impoverishment.
And what of Africans in what is called the Diaspora? For example, in North America? Were they passive? Inactive? What is better known is what these Diasporic Africans did to change the USA into a more just country and society. In Canada, people like Bromley Armstrong, Gwen and Lennie Johnson successfully led episodic struggles for justice. One of these was against the previous, official “Keep Canada White” Immigration policy. Today, it is a policy changed to protect against harassment, everyone trying to enter Canada, regardless.
In all of these communities, too, despite the higher, but less acknowledged rates of black youth who succeed otherwise, the prevalence of illegal drug abuse, violence, and lawlessness persist. There, too are strident calls for harsher incarcerations, even as fewer resources go to educational and rehabilitative means. It’s a steep slide, seemingly hopeless; an “evolution of declining expectations” had by others of these youth, and by them of themselves. A self-fulfilling prophecy on auto-pilot gone viral?
Our efforts to redeem them is no less onerous, and difficult, and with outcomes no more guaranteed than were the efforts of the generations past who toiled for our benefit. We might not have been born to these times, but they and we are here. And effort is the sinews of hope!
And what about T&T, Emancipation 2010? Is there room outside the pressure-cooker of politics, finger-pointing, and mauvais langue for celebrations infused with candour, appreciation, and maturity? For what Santayana referred to as a “shared mission” on the road to developing a whole and wholesome sense of nationhood, for all?
L. V. Farrell