My Reflections on the Black Power Conference

(Oh Yeah, It Actually Had One)

By Corey Gilkes
October 02, 2010

EmancipationFrom the 17th – 19th September the St Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies was the venue for a conference marking the 40th anniversary of the 1970 Black Power Movement. This conference was preceded on the 16th by a panel discussion at the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies.

I was privileged to attend the panel discussion as well as Day 2 and 3 of the conference and listen to the various scholars and personalities, some of whom were active participants of the Movement, present their papers. All in all a lot of very important and interesting points and anecdotes were brought up particularly during the periods for questions. Just when I thought that the books already written covered pretty much all of the main facts of this very important period in this nation’s history – particularly Selwyn Ryan’s Black Power Revolution – certain discussions showed just how much more needs to be analysed, discussed and more importantly taught.

Which brings me to what I really want to get off my chest: the way conferences like these tend to come and go without the most important people (to me anyway), those of the “babahgreen,” to borrow Sprangalang’s term, participating or even knowing about them. The conference, like a few others I have attended over the years, was for the most part an exercise in intellectual incest; a lot of preaching to the “converted” and in fact, many of the listening audience turned out to be other presenters!

Now I recognise that there has to be some space where academics and other learned people can meet or discuss among themselves. But if, at the end of it all, themes and events like these do not reach and enlighten the ordinary people, then how are they going to become enlightened? How are they going to possess the knowledge, self-confidence, pride to transform their various spaces? Indeed, how are they going to provide more people for the clichéd ivory tower? I myself only knew about the conference because I collect and read the Trinidad and Tobago Review. But what about those who do not (or cannot) read it or read at all? What about the people who one would expect to be the most important target group – those aged 21 and under – who generally pay little attention to mainstream media and who have no understanding about, let alone respect for, historical events that facilitated the things they take for granted today?

As ah saying so, ah wonder if I’s de only one who pick up on de fact that while dis focus on one of the most seminal periods of we nation history was held on UWI campus, it had very little UWI students attending it…..wha’s dat one dred? At least during the George Padmore Conference I saw a couple of A-Level classes present on at least one of the days. Then again – I have to give allyuh this story – during that conference, I ran into an old friend of mine who was doing her degree in sociology and she had no idea who George Padmore was. This is what happens when we want to compartmentalise everything. Even when I got there on Saturday, I ended up on a know-your-campus-tour before I found the conference rooms….in the building right near to whe I did park mih car in the first place.

My point is that this conference was as important as the historical event of the “February Revolution” itself and need not be treated like a state secret. Discussions like these not only educate but also provide spaces where networks are formed, ideas are traded and solutions to problems may be developed. Have we adequately identified and targeted a group or audience and reached out to them using the available technology to its fullest? One of the presenters, Josanne Leonard, made a very important point. She spoke about using the Internet and features like Skype, to organise podcasts, video conferencing, etc, to transmit these kinds of conferences and discussions to far flung areas of the country (which really eh dat far eh). In much the same way Lionel Seukeran, Lloyd Best and many others used to go all over the place holding rap sessions in and under people’s homes and in bars (trust mih, I know, I’ve been to quite a few), the same way we can stay from wherever we choose and use people’s homes and cyber cafes, of which there is no shortage even in most rural areas, to create venues for new types of interactive rap sessions.

Now I fully understand what my friend Tyehimba Salandy was saying when he complained about the difficulty in getting local media, especially state-run media houses, to support indigenous and Afri-centred programmes, etc. But while I understand, I am no longer prepared to accept that. It is no longer a reason as it is an excuse and don’t mean that to disrespect or take away from what he said at the conference. My point is that advances in technology have made a lot of the traditional media all but irrelevant. The power some people once held in determining what the media did and didn’t highlight has long since been broken. In any event, as I said before, for various reasons many young people don’t pay much attention to most of the established media houses anyway and have essentially created their own. The challenge more has to do with how do we get and keep their interest given that for many of them the academic study of the past – or the study of anything that is not directly linked to making “ah money” – holds next to no interest (Best used to suggest we use their popular music as an avenue). More importantly, how do we get them to see the importance of any of this in what is increasingly being called, and dishonestly so, a “post-racial,” “global” community? Don’t get me wrong, it is very heartening to see what the struggles and challenges to the old, more overt racist, sexist and classist institutions of white masculine privilege have brought about. But I believe one of the reasons many youths have such an anti-intellectual, apolitical, disposition is because of the insidiousness of the new racism and patricentrism. The one that creates a seductive idea that to be enlightened (or cool) is to be colour-blind (ent America have a black president now? Wha more proof yuh want?) and to embrace a model that focuses on the “bottom line” (material wealth, profit margins, etc) and in the case of TnT, narrow, outdated ideas of development/industrialisation.

To the conscious observer this streamlining of ideas and blurring of identities, indeed the positing of the notion that to view the world and history through prisms of ethnicity, culture, gender and sex is backward or counter-progressive is itself a masking of old racist, patricentric ideologies. The conscious observer can see straight through that – as Burton Sankeralli seems to have done judging by the handout he circulated all through the conference entitled 1970 or the 70’S? What is projected as the progressive, enlightened model incorporates the same traits, ideas, mannerisms, moralities and assumptions that informed the masculinist, aggressive, racist and religiously bigoted assumptions of the ancien regime….just in a much nicer form and now championed by those who were the victims of it. Put in a different way, the physical violence that undergirded enslavement, Jim Crow, colonialism and Euro-centred expansionism has merely been replaced by psychological, economic and environmental violence. But it is still violence.

We must keep in mind that the political changeover on May 24 was only a change of administration. The colonial institutions are for the most part still there, many people are still myopically tribal, and many are still politically unconscious although they are clearly struggling to become more aware and mature. There is much work to be done at the grassroots level to create the new politics often talked about (if not always sincerely) and the sense of identity that will empower in a real sense and to put restraints on the holders of high office no matter who they are (already we are seeing signs that some reining in is needed).

Which is why conferences such as the one just concluded and the weekly sessions such as what David Mohammed and the people at the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies are so important. But that is not enough; there has to be more people interacting, debating, talking, reasoning, exchanging, cussing if need be, to tease out new ideas informed by clear understanding of what was if we are to make any headway. We can point fingers to Dr Williams and the Afro/Indo-Saxon middle class who messed up our independence and continue to do so even now. But we were and are their accomplices and will remain their accomplices if we continue to do things the way we are doing.

12 thoughts on “My Reflections on the Black Power Conference”

  1. To me, Dr. King jr. had people from all walks of life marching with him because his vision was about Civil Rights. Marcus Garvey, i believe was about Black Empower.

  2. And you are for the most part correct. I would say, however, that they all had their part to play and we must always try to see it from that perspective

  3. name of this group says it all, if whites were to respond with white power all hell would break loose , so why use a title that will only enrage certain groups, whats wrong with people power ?

  4. Who care about your views on how black folks need to depict themselves Baldwin? Whites don’t have to resort to that , as they had their phony christian bibles , blue eyed blond hair Jesus , and weapons to ensure that they continue to hold power over gullible people across the glob since Columbus the bandit, opened their eyes to the real world.
    Indians , likewise don’t need to mention it as they two can hide behind their respective Hindu Karma caste religion and Mohammedan Islam that ensured some 300 million or more murdered each other in India and Pakistan since their once loving European saviors gave them independence.
    Black people on the other hand have to work with what they have as they have been the benefices of European savagery via slavery and other subjugation, and subtle destructive behaviors , while living next to some of the most selfish, and unpatriotic people on the planet.
    As the author of the article said,”keep in mind that the political changeover on May 24 was only a change of administration. The colonial institutions are for the most part still there, many people are still myopically tribal, and many are still politically unconscious although they are clearly struggling to become more aware and mature…. There is much work to be done at the grassroots level to create the new politics often talked about (if not always sincerely) and the sense of identity that will empower in a real sense ”
    I agree, we have to still do quite a bit of work at the grassroots level to ensure that black folks recognize that this country is theirs as well, that they should quit hiding and supporting fake leaders, and so call intellectuals ,that would sell them out for 10 pieces of silver. They should develop , pride in themselves, heritage, and country. Self love is the first step towards real nation building, for if one cannot love oneself, how can one extend anything but hatred on to the other.
    Can you imagine Makandal Dagga, Dashiki and all,is running around the Caribbean as some honorary ,fake ,cultural Ambassador, while this government is telling Africans across the region to go to hell, and simultaneously, pushing to hand over half the resources of our country to Jagdeo?
    Surprise, surprise , by the end of their one term, his own African constituencies will sink further into squalor, that when pompous , pseudo African leader, Eric William ,clueless Chambers,Tobago traitor Robbie, and Manning the nepotistic clown ,were in charge? What a joke!
    Great job Corey Gilkes. Continue to keep it real.

  5. I am (or was) in basic agreement with Neal although I have some reservations with his last two paragraphs. I do not want this to be any Afric vs Indic thing even though I’m well aware that there are a few in the UNC and among the Indian community who essentially want all the Africans across the region to “go to hell.” But these are the same people who have no real sense of history, who bleat this nonsense of the “purity” of Indian “race.” They know (or pretend to know) nothing of the African presence in India that can be traced back at least 4000 years ago and live in some of the exact same regions the indentured servants came from. They also ignore the fact that in the African struggle for self in Trinidad, many Indians were and remain very much a part of that struggle. So their views mean little to me

    But I have little symapthy for the view that the term “Black” should be toned down or that it will enrage other people. Again, this is where understanding of history comes in. Why is it only a problem when the Afric tries to reclaim history and our contributions to human development? What needs to be done is to reach out to and educate other peoples who have a history of being the SUBJECTS of the Euro. Once we see each other as allies, I could care less about who else in enraged

  6. Let me breakdown who I am , and what I am about on this here information highway cousin Corey, for it seems for all sorts of reasons, a few feel incline to misinterpret , my motives .
    I have absolutely no interest whatsoever about anything that pertains to race as far as my country is concern , as I believe that it is a convenient tools that was employed by the conniving few ,within the two dominant tribalist camps ,for their own benefits over the decades- primarily within recent times ,by ‘Pro cronyism /Victimologist in Chief ,Basdeo Panday,’ and his so called arch nemesis, ‘Patrick Manning, the Clueless nepotistic clown.’
    Lacking the political foresight to hand over to a successor- as they both had very selfish goals – they were forced in the end, by two astute future political rivals Madame Kamla, and our alleged “Wajang” brother,Dr. Keith Rowley , to go for their respective jugulars,with a searing knives.

    In addition , I despise, ungrateful , selfish , unpatriotic folks , irrespective of who they are ,or what they Pretend to be for the rest of the gullible global village , more interested in our natural resources , than any thing else .
    I have seen Africa ,and Asia up close , and is not as impressed by anything I saw,as far as progressive , sustainable development, and fervently believe that with all our seemingly insurmountable problems ,the folks who fortunately were able to finally make Trinidad and Tobago their home ,after escaping both mentioned continents, are more fortunate than any of their respective cousins left behind, and most importantly-Europe , and the great ‘Norte Americana,’likewise have notting on dem.
    If however that I sense anyone is for the full and fair socio economic com political development of our 1.3 million and growing citizens in this blessed country then you have my undivided support.
    Let us continue to love our country, give support and praise where it is warranted,but never hesitate to expose, and or highlight missteps , by the present regime , or the ones wilting in the wilderness, due well documented ,stupidity ,and squander of useful opportunities when in power – for too long.
    I wish you well my friend.

  7. We continue to live being blinded by the propaganda. My experience tells me there is black and there is white (no in between). Some so called trinidad whites (no looks of black in them) would leave their home in Trinidad and set foot in another country and simply by openning their mouth and speaking would be instantly labelled as black. So we in Trinidad must forget about who is black and who is not, for we are all black. to the outer world there are a host of other types of discrmination too numerous to mention. Then there is the black “gourge” in Trinidad who feel money and power puts them in their own class. We must remember at the end of the day when all is said that we need to humble and empower our own not spend time on non issues like the above article tries to define. Trinidad and Tobago has a lot of talent that goes nowhere. One case in point is Kitchener’s music that the radio seldom plays or the great steelband panorama music that we can never hear again and again.

  8. Neal your hatred,bigotry and intolerance is a perfect example of the results of intellectual incest and rape.You may try to present yourself as an intellectual but you are only preaching to your own choir.You label everyone else as “unpatriotic”except for the black man.
    You are totally consumed by your slave mentality which is fueling your vitriol spate of savage rants.You will never be able to break free from the chains of your mental slavery.

    When Martin Luther King marched,he did so side by side with people of many races including whites and Indians,yes Indians.Many Indians marched during the civil rights movement fighting against the same social injustice which you are trying to propagate here.
    It is a shame the way you tried to denigrate the name of Makandal Dagga a man who fought for all Trinidadians.
    You attempt to demonize Indians and whites is to your own detriment,you are void of ideas so you resort to the only resource you have,hate.
    You are a victim of your own circumstance and I pity your sorry existence.

    1. Yes you are quite right and this is the propaganda of the hierarchy of the former PNM Government that persons like Neal cling to for security. Hence the words “I is a PNM til I dead”.

  9. “the propaganda of the hierarchy ….that persons like Neal cling to for security.” What the hell is Jerry the fringe lunatic, talking about, can any explain? This garbage sounds like some obscure Political Science ,or Philosophical theory, he stumbled upon ,while visiting one of those old boring libraries in any of the cold European countries , or perhaps the much adored Canadian haven ,he now finds himself socially imprisoned in ,since 1986 when he disappeared from ‘Sweet, Sweet , T&T aka Rainbow Country,’his country of birth, with stolen loot, and as many of his other self loathing,typical country hating traitors ,claimed that it was the land of genocide, and discrimination , until they miraculously reclaim same ,on May 24th 2010 ,and for obvious reasons, now think it’s a paradise on earth ,that’s worth investing in once more.,129077.html

    Now ,for this simi-incestuous -tribalist character, defined as morugamax. Don’t we love it when they try to hide behind these idiotic sobriquets, while sprouting the same mantra, yet believe that they are fooling any?
    Hey buddy, here is a more appropriate suggestion for you, it’s TorontoMax,or BrixtonMax for you non patriots. Imagine this illiterate bum ,attempting to flip the script, and call me a bigot ,and or intolerant, that only think Africans are patriots. Where did this comedian here me anywhere on this board -past or present-, suggest that Africans in this country were the only ones worthy of praise re the development of our country? Make up your mind my brother, I only praise T&T Africans , but hate Makandal Dagga. You would have certainly made a terrible lawyer.
    Hey phonymax ,let me inform you that when you were trying to spell the word ‘reverse psychology,’ I ,instead was writing the script my friend. Instead , I suggest you look in the mirror, and do some introspection into the hearts of your own tribe , then reflect on the damage they’ve caused to their country as a result of their destructive ,unpatriotic disgusting behaviors through the decades.
    In the interim ,pay particular attention to one of my tributes to a person I consider a real patriot , that also loved his rich culture , appreciate the self , but most importantly his beautiful country.

    Finally, anyone ready to do some public book burning in the middle of Woodford Square POS, Trafalga Square London, Parliament Hill Ottawa, or Zoo York USA,in protest against the most famous of all Trini non patriot, embodied by Fake British, ‘Sir Vidai Nobel’- the national ingrate, self hater in Chief?
    Again I enquire , with revolting citizens like these , who needs enemies folks?
    Let’s wish this beautiful country , and it mosaic of remaining, resilient, dedicated people well, at the same time , never hesitate to hold the varying symbolic hands, of the frauds closely to the fire, and expose their evil and deceitful ways whenever we can, especially if the words sustainable development , or underachievement are matters of concern.

  10. Mr.Neal while you hide behind the veil or burker of your fingertips tapping on a keypad babbling your nonsense ask yourself what good is it to the people you are so desperately trying to influence.You like many others do not understand the reason and message of the black power movement.Their main purpose was to instill pride in the black man,to instill in him an acceptance of himself for who he is and to love himself and to break free of white influence and culture in order to develop his own identity.The phrase “black is beautiful”was created for that reason,simply for self affirmation that you were beautiful regardless what others think of you.Malcolm X left the nation of Islam when he realized the Elysia Mohamed was not totally forthcoming regarding the white man.
    Growing up in Moruga I one of three non-African in my class and I was not treated any different from anyone else.In fact in the 70’s my community was 95% African and I was no different from any member and is still unchanged today.
    Although I may not possess the ability to effectively express my true feelings as your learned self in responding to your ramblings,I do have one thing that you may never acquire and that is pride in one’s self and an unwavering desire to inhibit the growth of racism in my country which you are so desperately trying to propagate through propaganda and hate.

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