By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
January 26, 2021
“We the successors of a country and a time/Where a skinny Black girl/descended from slaves and raised by a single mother/ can dream of becoming president [of the United States].”
—Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”
On May 31, 1849, Owen Finnegan, Joe Biden’s great-great grandfather from Ireland, arrived in New York aboard the ship Brothers. He was part of an oppressed people who were fleeing their country because of “caste oppression and a system of landlordism that made the condition of the Irish peasant comparable to those of an American slave” (Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White). “America,” Ignatiev explained, “scooped up the displaced Irish and made them its unskilled labor force.”
No sooner had the Irish gotten to America than they adopted the attitudes of the white oppressor class and began to treat African Americans as their inferiors. In 1843, John Finch, an English Owenite who traveled to the U.S., commented on the Irish behavior toward Black people: “It is a curious fact that the democratic party [which represented the slaveholders’ interests then], and particularly the poorer class of Irish immigrants in America, are greater enemies to the Negro population, and greater advocates for the continuance of negro slavery, than any portion of the population in the free States.”
In 1853, Frederick Douglass, the most celebrated African American of the 19th century, complained: “The Irish, who, at home, readily sympathize with the oppressed everywhere, are instantly taught when they step upon our soil to hate and despise the Negro….Sir, the Irish-American will one day find out his mistake.” He seemed to be saying that one day they would need the assistance of African Americans.
Almost 170 years later, the descendants of the enslaved Africans whom the Irish despised elevated an Irishman to the helm of U.S. leadership. Biden was not the first Irish Catholic to be elected U.S. president but unlike John F. Kennedy, the first Irish American to be elevated to this position, can attribute his election to the voting power of African Americans who came out in numbers to assure that he won the grand prize and that the Democrats would control the Senate.
Not forgetting the important role Blacks had played in his election Biden selected Kamala Harris, a Black-Asian woman, to be his running mate. In his Inaugural Address, he was the first president to speak out explicitly about the dangers of “white supremacy” and “domestic terrorism” that face the U.S. I don’t know if it was as a result of her conviction or mere happenstance that led Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Joe Biden, who had heard Amanda Gorman at the Library of Congress literary season in 2017, to invite Gorman to recite a poem at her husband’s inauguration.
Although she is only 22 years of age, Gorman has an inspiring story. She was a youth delegate to the United Nations in 2013 and was chosen the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014. In 2015, she published a poetry book, The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough. In 2017, she became the first youth poet to open the literary session for the Library of Congress and was named the National Youth Poet Laureate at Harvard University where she received her undergraduate education. In 2018, she performed at the inauguration of Harvard’s president Larry Bacow.
Gorman brought these credentials to the table when she read her inspiring poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at Biden’s inauguration. Gorman’s challenge, as she prepared her spoken-word poem, was “to deliver an original composition that at once recognized the deep-sown racial and political divisions of the nation and imagined a potential path forward” (Hanna Krueger and Diti Kohli, Boston Globe, January 21). In researching her poem, Gorman went back to the words and works of Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.
As she itemized her nation’s challenges, she wrote: “We are striving to forge our union with purpose,/ To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters, and conditions of man./And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us./ We close the divide because we know to put our future first,/we must first put our differences aside.” She might have been writing about Trinidad and Tobago.
Although the Bidens proudly accept their Irishness, they were not particularly concerned about when their people came to America. As patriots, they accepted all of America’s history even though their forebears were some of the most virulent oppressors of Black people. Jill Biden saw a talent that she admired, wanted to encourage her, and honored her with an invitation. This is why Gorman intoned:
“Scripture tells us to envision/that everyone should sit under their own vine and fig tree/And no one shall make them afraid/ If we’re to live up to our own time/ Then victory won’t lie in the blade/But in all the bridges we’ve made./That is the promise to glade/The hill we climb/If only we dare.”
The Bidens didn’t care particularly about what they had accomplished in America or how much power their whiteness bestowed upon them. Their challenge revolved around how to open their hearts and minds to those who welcomed them into their land when they were hungry and destitute and how they could assist skinny Black boys and girls, descended from slaves and raised by single mothers, to achieve what their talents would allow them to.
Melanie Graves, one of my students, noted that Gorman’s poem “was an open lettered warning on behalf of the entire nation that we must do better and be better.” It is a message that is relevant to T&T as well. It’s a hill all of us should aspire to climb.
19 thoughts on “A Skinny Black Girl”
The daggers of hate, the rose of life
Each alongside the scary river of death.
We applaud the past, celebrate the present,
The future invites us to learn from/of the past.
All shaped in the bowels of righteousness leap,
Egos are bruised from the drifting sand of time.
Alas we draw our swords and rise to the challenges
Meeting our enemies wherever they are in life.
Bold will be our our dreams etched deep in our mind,
Can we avoid our destiny by ignoring its blights?
Yes the gaze must be inward first, our own failures examined,
Then we can file our grievances with the eyes for justice.
The label of death hangs deeply over our lives,
Time prevents its certainty ,but in a sudden twist, the end.
What message will be written on our tombstones?
Is it a life of wasted words or a life that boast the divine.
So applaud your failures but learn from it,
Laugh at your mistakes but allow it the stir you.
Amanda Gorman is an amazing person and her poem “The Hill We Climb” is an accurate and at the same time a visionary reflection on America. Bravissimo Ms. Gorman. Let me interject some prose into the mix. To understand the voting patterns in the 2020 Presidential election in America, we have to analyze the data. The New York Times gives the following data from the Edison Research exit polls: 57% of whites voted for the Republican Party ( R), 43 % of whites voted for the Democratic Party (D), 10% blacks voted for R, 90% blacks voted for D, 30% of Latinos voted R, 70% voted D, 30% Asians voted R, 70% voted D. 65% of the voting population was white, 13% was Black, 13% was Latino, 4% was Asian (both East and South Asian), 5% was other. Approximately 80 million people voted D, 75 million voted R. Total voting population approx. 155 million. 65% or 100 million were white, 20 million black, 20 million Latino, 6 million Asian (South and East), and 9 million other. That is 43million white people voted D, 18 million blacks voted D, 14 million Latinos voted D, 4.2 million Asians (South and East) voted D; 53 million whites voted R, 2 million blacks voted R, 6 million Latinos voted R, 1.8 million Asians voted R. So the idea that the voting pattern in America is similar to T&T is wrong. 43 million whites voted for the Democratic Party whilst 57 million voted for the Republican Party. 18 million blacks voted D, much less than the 42 million whites who voted D. The point is that the voting pattern in America is not split along strictly ethnic lines like in T&T, imagine if you will the UNC having 43% blacks and the PNM having 43% Indians, that would be closer to America’s voting pattern; voting in America is split instead along ideological lines with 43 % of whites in America supporting Democratic Party values and 57 % supporting Republican Party values at this time. Under the Trump administration, the Dem values appeared to be equality and democracy and Republicans, inequality and authoritarianism, indeed under Trump the ideology of the Republican Party seemed to be white supremacy.
Two important, bestselling books were published last year, one by Thomas Piketty, the other by Isabel Wilkerson, describing the ideological underpinnings of inequality. Piketty’s book, Capital and Ideology, described how ideology is used to buttress and justify inequality, Wilkerson’s book, Caste: The Origins of our Discontents, comparing the caste systems in India, Nazi Germany and America, attempts to uncover the inner workings of the ideological system that has created and ensconced inequality. She likens racism to the skin and caste to the bones of inequality. What does Wilkerson mean by this? Caste is the ideological structure of inequality. It is an immutable ascription of a person’s worth or their humanity (or lack of it) that is not dependent on reality. In other words, if a person becomes a PhD, or President or a billionaire or a Nobel laureate, that does not change his/her social worth, his/her place in the world is immutable. And in this way nothing can change his/her social worth, he/she is forever unequal. The reality of caste is different from the “real” reality. It is a mythological reality so that to persist in it, one must negate and deny reality and believe in lies that confirm this mythological reality. White supremacists have constantly used the promotion of propaganda to confirm their mythological reality. Lies are necessary to defend the mythology of superiority over the reality on the ground. In the 2020 election in America for example, the superiority of Trump over Biden was part of the accepted dogma of Republicans. That superiority would necessarily mean people would vote Trump back, he couldn’t possibly lose. Trump in other words invested the political with a mythological reality. Politics would display that reality of white supremacy. When it did not happen, Trump and his followers had to deny reality, they had to negate it and believe in lies in order to sustain the mythology. Some even thought they had to fight and die for it. Democracy and politics have been infused with the mythological; “we the people” seemed to have been put in the background, relegated to the back of the bus. That is the great danger now. Trump is gone but Trumpism remains.
“Caste: The Origins of our Discontents, comparing the caste systems in India, Nazi Germany and America, attempts to uncover the inner workings of the ideological system that has created and ensconced inequality. She likens racism to the skin and caste to the bones of inequality.” Birdie.
I never really thought about it but the author of this is on to something. The caste system is often associated with India but really there is a global skin colour base caste system. In India it has to do with Himduism, but globally it has to do with skin or hair. Unfortunately the features of skin or hair is only 5% of the human frame. And is deemed superficial because what is inside of us is the real person. However, I know how powerful that 5% can be. I remember attending a convention with 95% white people and for the first time I felt out of place, virtually ignored or it was as if I didn’t exist. Eventually I found some of my black and brown brethren and that made up for the obvious. Yes we all have experienced the caste system.
Brown and black folks find each other easily when they jump into the “white pool”. Now I am not saying those people were racist, they just could not relate to another human being of a different colour. So it behoves me to try and understand why the ethnic divide in TnT? We all deemed to be black!
Thankfully President Biden spoke about systemic racism and has made a great effort to include people of color in his administration. Trump was a more status quo 1950s make America white again. And so was his cabinet with poster boy Ben Carson speaking boldly of the greatness of Trump….
Masaba Gupta’s $1 million story – The Hindu
Sir Vivian Richards’ daughter…born and raised in india, tells of how, upon returning to india annually, from her caribbean vacations with her father, her indian brahman-ist (“Hindu”) grandfather, would hold her down and SCRUB HER OUT HER MELANIN, or as she euphemistically puts it… “tan” !!!! THAT is manusmirti inspired child abuse!!! How sick….Imagine, how a child of that type of parenting grows up viewing african people..Imagine, as an adult, and a teacher by profession is prejudiced against african children!!SICK!!! The british dispatched that mentality to T&T in 1845!!
Oddly she still go back. Seems like you stretching this “yarn”…eh inconvenient lie…
Another successful Dougla Woman brought up by a single coolie mother and coolie grandparents.
….The irish weren’t and aren’t AS obnoxious in their anti-african racism
White liberalism, Kamala Harris, and the symbols of race and status | TheHill
* The Irish’ obnoxious racism pales in comparison to indian mentality to africans*
Real Africans love Indians. Only you fake Africans from T&T are jealous of and hate Indians. Have a look at this article from the Ethiopian Ambassador to India.
Here is another article regarding Indian Movies
Are these writers lying? My view is that only the brainwashed hardcore racists PNM have a hatred for Indian people. Thankfully they are in a minority in the human race.
Er… “coolie” is not a term of race in India. It is a term of caste and occupation.
“Gupta” is a term of caste also. The gupta caste is a high one in India associated with trade and commerce. They are far from being coolies.
Therefore, to say that Masaba Gupta is a dohgla raised by “coolies” is technically wrong, moreover deceptive.
Somehow in T&T and Guyana, the term has been made into a term of disparagement, when it is not and never was that in India (and Asia more broadly) where the term originated. How that came about is an interesting study in itself.
Inconvenient Truth is doing a good job of exploding Indian myths and laying bare the wellsprings of Indian racism/casteism here in T&T and Guyana, and in the motherland also. Perhaps he can educate us on that point also.
The issue has to be Truth, however Inconvenient. That in itself is not offensive, and when acknowledged, can be healing. When denied, of course, the sickness continues its festering.
Mr Yoruba, we are getting into splitting hairs here. In the West Indies all people of East Indian ancestry are called coolies by their fellow Black countrymen whether they are a beggar or millionaire.
A little story may be a more illustrative.
My wife’s niece who is a tall fair skinned mixed race girl was told by one of her Jamaican co-workers that in Jamaica people who look like her mother (east Indian) we call coolies, in reply to the girl ,Lisa said, and in Trinidad, people who look like you we call niggers.
Interpret this incident as you wish.
Getting at TRUTH almost always requires “splitting hairs”, and making fine, but relevant distinctions. Advancing lies and deception is often an exercise in blurring relevant distinctions, whether fine or not.
In this case the relevant distinction is not at all fine. One does not have to have a high intellect to make the distinction between a term of caste or occupation, and a term of race or nationality.
Why then the LIE that has been advanced? I see Inconvenient Truth has given a good answer in that regard. The anecdote that you have related about your wife’s niece supports the point that Inconvenient Truth has made. Indians in T&T and Guyana have affected to take offense at the neutral term, “coolie”, as part of a strategy (psychological at the least, political ultimately) to place themselves above the “nigger” they found themselves among. Therefore, they took umbrage at those they viewed as a lower caste (by reason of colour) calling them by a term of low caste. I am interested in TRUTH here, I do not wish to offend.
The term “nigger” btw, –that you use as putdown in riposte,–is cognate to the word, “naga” that is part of many Indian languages; Cf. the term “Divali NAGAr”, and names such as “NAGAmootoo”.
It is a term that means “king” ultimately. It occurs in other language families, e.g. in the Ethiopian (but Hebrew-descended) term “Kebra NEGAst” meaning the “book of the kings”, that applies to the Solomon-descended line of kings that ruled in Ethiopia until Haile Selassie.
In the Hebrew, the word “NEGA” means king, referring to the line of David. Those called by this word, and its variants, NAGA/NAGO/NEGRO/NIGGER. etc. etc. are actually being identified as the people of the House of David.
That is why the Yoruba people are also more specifically called the NAGO people. They/we are the people of the king, referencing the Hebrew Israelite line specifically of the House of David. Most Yoruba people are not even aware of that. The name, Yoruba, is also actually a reference to the same thing, with the meaning of the people/house (from the suffix, BA=house, and the prefix, YORU, which is a reference to JERUsalem, properly “IYERUshalem” in the original Hebrew.)
Therefore, the attempted put-down in riposte is unavailing, and will always be unavailing when hurled at anyone who knows their true history. NIGGER is a term that seeks to take the king out of the NAGO people, and render us inferior even to the coolie. That is the even deeper TRUTH behind at lot of casteism/racism as it emerged in India, and also in the West.
TRUTH hurts I know, but it also heals.
Therefore, let Inconvenient Truth be further encouraged to enlighten us with his sources and his research. After the war for TRUTH is won, guess what, we would have a basis on which to live together in PEACE. Which is what we all should want.
Much appreciated Yoruba.
The sinister defamation of the word “coolie” in trinidad is all indian and specifically brahman-ist (“Hindu”) anti-african, maliciously revisionist history. The defamation of the term “coolie” in trinidad, has been intended to discourage any reference to indian trinidad’s origins of untouchability in india. “coolie” is a SUB-CASTE OF THE UNTOUCHABLE RACE!! In the link provided to an indian ducumentary, listen to them refer to the untouchables AS “COOLIES”…. are indians being racist to themselves by using that term in india (present day)?
India Untouched: Stories of a People Apart https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvke6ycgkL4
In order to hide and deflect this painful truth, indian trinidadians claim high “mid” or even low caste, rather than admit that they in fact had NO CASTE , as untouchables are considered BLACK (designated colour in their religion) , and outside of and BENEATH the varna hierarchy (caste system) of their religion.
In other words…”don’t call us “coolie”, that’s offensive!!!….call us brahmin!!!!!Also, an even more insidious in the motive for indian trinidadians claiming that the word “coolie” is race-ist, is with the obnoxious mindset to “compete” with african history and appropriate their social justice political culture and history of enslavement. Hence, there is the dishonest attempt to equate the word “coolie” with the word “nigger” , just as equating the seventy year period of indian free migration, (FIVE YEARS PER PERSON) to the caribbean and paid labour as official human beings with all legal rights, to the 500 year period of continuous enslavement and the chained, inhuman trafficking of africans around the globe as legal SUB-HUMAN CATTLE, with NO PAY, NO human rights, rape,torture and murder. It is pure malice, hate and a racist mind that equated the african experience in the colonies with indians other groups, while DENYING THEIR ETHNIC AND RACIAL PRIVILEDGES OVER africans!
Fellas I don’t know where you get your information and what your agenda is. Mr Inconvenient I did look at two of your cut and paste pieces, your most recent youtube post on the dalits which looks thoroughly staged, and another article on Kamala Harris (White liberalism, Kamala Harris, and the symbols of race and status | TheHill) which questioned the “authenticity” of her blackness. In fact the author uses “authentic” so many times in the article it reminds me of when my one year old son learnt the f-word and would blurt it out in the most inappropriate situations.
May I remind you that most peoples in the world experienced some sort of slavery at some time or the other in their history e.g the Jewish Nation in Egypt and Babylon, various European peoples under the Romans, Hindu slaves under the Moghuls and closer to home the Caribs and Arawaks under the Spaniards.
Of all these peoples only some fake Africans in Trinidad & Tobago like yourself feel you are entitled to special privileges because of your slave ancestry. All others have moved on are busting their buns working to earn a living to support themselves and their families.
Personally I do not give a flying fjck about what happens in India or Africa or the USA in the past, present or future, but what happens in T&T directly affects me and all other citizens of East Indian ancestry who have been subjected to persistent institutionalized discrimination and racism at the hands of successive Black Governments. No matter how much you and your side-kick Yoruba Israelite try to confuse the issue by quoting Manusmriti, Dalit, Brahminist etc ,all those who came from India to T&T and their descendents are bonded in an eternal brotherhood.
I sincerely hope that one day we can accept each other as equals and co-operate to improve our country so that every creed and race will truly find an equal place and live happily without hatred for others.
Tariqandalus the daft,
“Slave” of war between religious factions “Islam Vs. Brahman-ists (“Hindus”) was completely different to CHATTEL slavery in Trinidad, caribbean, the americas etc. The fact that you dredged for that imbecilic comparison to no avail rests my case…you are a disingenuous clown.
Pay attention to tariqandalus’ rhetoric about indians “busting their buns” as opposed to “lazy” africans?? speak plainly…let it out!
Why didn’t tariqandalus post THIS slavery narrative about india?
Slavery still exists and India has the largest number of slaves in the world
You are welcome. Keep up the good work, which I for one well appreciate.
See my reply to TariqAndalus above.
(It is ironic isn’t it that he uses as a handle the name of a Negro Moor) even as he sets about putting down the Negro in this land that gave the coolie opportunity to escape the caste that his homeland had consigned him permanently.)
I think that’s right. There is enough plausible deniability in the deception that it works against the other, yet simple enough for wink-wink acceptance amongst themselves.
It doesn’t work for them too well in India, though, for obvious reasons. I remember once on a visit to India, needing help with my bags at a train station, and looking for a porter. My Indian counterpart said to me, “call a coolie to help you!” There was no irony intended in the statement. He might as well have said, as they do in America, “call a redcap”. where the porters used to identify themselves by wearing a red cap. Many if not most of them tended to be our people.
In Jamaica, their numbers were so small in relative terms that there could be no question of mounting an insurrectionist challenge for political power, therefore the lie never grew any legs.
The same applies in S. Africa, where to this day they are referred to, without derogation, as “amaKula” (= the coolie people), as a construction parallel to, for example, “amaZulu” (= the Zulu people), or “amaKhosa” (= the Khosa people), etc.
But in T&T and Guyana, and perhaps elsewhere (Fiji?, Mauritius?) it is a, well, Inconvenient Truth.
Some of them are granted grace to acknowledge Truth. Many of them are Israelite of the seed, as are we the Negro, and have felt the sting of Untouchability so well depicted in that video link, as we have felt the sting of Slavery. Many of our people may be found in the state of Kerala, where people like Arundhati Roy abound, ready to address and speak Truth unflinchingly.
But here in T&T and Guyana, we have a depressing and deplorable parade of Liars, Deceivers and Deniers, stinking up the place. Sawh, Ramsaran, Leladharshingh… the list is seemingly endless… But we are not supposed to call them out, and castigated as being racist when we do. At the very least, if one of them accepts it as Bim, they are always quick to counter with a charge of Bam; TariqAndalus just provided an example. As if …
So continue to enlighten us with your endless supply of articles and videos illustrating the simple TRUTH of the matter. There simply is no moral equivalence in the struggle between Bim and Bam (jokingly back in the day it became Spic vs Span on the UWI campus).
But our Redeemer and Savior sees and knows all. And He requires that we speak TRUTH in His Name and without Fear. So I follow that example, and I honor your commitment to do the same.
Truth be told, once we know who is who scripturally, the entire matter falls into place. The brahminists are of the seed of Abraham-Isaac-Esau, (the term “Brahma” is allusion to Father Abraham) while we the Nega are of the seed of Abraham-Isaac-Jacob, and moreover of the tribe of Judah and the House of David. The brahminists have borne rule in India since ca. 400 AD (see Ambedkar, “The Untouchables…”). Even the exported Untouchables brought here to the Caribbean want to establish brahminist rule over the Nega in these parts. But Esau’s time is up. Those with eyes to see can see Esau’s dominion crumbling around the world, albeit with more or less furious backlash here, there and everywhere, e.g. as with the BLM movement. The Nega for his part is being raised up to rule, although two-thirds it is prophesied will go down with the Beast, blinded and misled to the last. What are we told? “Come out of her my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and receive not of her plagues” (Revelation 18:4).
Btw, Buddhist Indian tradition that looks forward to the end-times coming of a NAGAJUNA, is actually a reference to the raising back up of the Nega as a people, derided still today as “niggers” and other bywords, some of at best strained dignity, such as “African”, an anagram (and synonym at bottom) for “kaffir”. The head NEGA our King, Redeemer and Savior, is the one incorrectly called Jesus and Christ. How He came to be depicted as white, is another story, prophesied in Scripture. Another day perhaps…
P.S. Scripture at least is clear that there is no moral equivalence as between Esau and Jacob, whatever may be claimed as between Bim and Bam:
Actually Yoruba, the term “caste” is and english word that is used in the context of india and brahman-ism (“Hindu-ism”), to refernce the term Varna, which literally means race. In brahman-ism (“Hindu-ism”), brahmin, ksatria, vaisha, shudras and untouchables, are RACES. The confusion is brought about by an absence of context, as well as deliberate lies and misinformation by (“Hindu”) Nationalists a.k.a “Hindutva” (political movement). In order to simply understan the brahman-ist (“Hindu”) varna hierarchy a.k.a. “the caste system”, one only needs to look at brazil, where the portugese replicated what they learned from 15th century brahman-ist (“Hindu”) india. Mestizos, mullattos and all the hundreds of groupings of people based on colour, hair texture and facial features, are essentially distinguished as races socially. The difference with brahman-ism (“Hindu-ism”) and india, is that they’re following 1,500-2,500 year old scripture and there is a scripture based denial that they share ancestry. In brazil, everyone knows that african ancestry is shared most in the society despite the racist hierarchy. All indians that do not look like the native indian (Andaman Islands, North Sentinel island), are MIXED!!!
…. essentially mullattos and mestizos over 1,500-2,500 years old. The brahman-ist (“Hindu”) varna hierarchy aka “the caste system”, designates that brahmins are the WHITE, GENETIC descendents of the aryan gods and Untouchables are the BLACK GENETIC descendents of Rawan. These are racial categorizations in brahman-ist (“Hindu”) ideology, and are separate from western science.The confusion arises from brahmin sexual exploitation of untouchable women…. these children come out with mixed features and skin tones, BUT, with untouchability and designated as black. Its exactly the same conundrum as the plantation politics, with the addition of scripture based rules. e.g kamala Harris would be considered a black untouchable and treated as such. However, she would be treated better than the black skinned untouchables to a degree….but still marginalized with the others and denied the justice and human rights that upper-varna(caste) women haveaccess to.
Chinese workers who built the railroad in western Canada and link it to the Prairies were called coolies. Even today Chinese workers who do farm work and other laborious tasks in Canada are referred to as coolies.
The word is a legitimate, non-derogatory term according to all dictionary sources.
The negative connotations are notoriously predominant in the Caribbean. As a person of Indian descent, I have never been personally offended by its use.
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