Black History Month; Reclaiming our Identity
As we celebrate Black History Month this month, we see that black people are rising out of a pit of centuries of oppressive slavery and colonialism that has remained one of the greatest stumbling blocks in the progress of our people(all people) even in the 21st century. African people who were brought to the New World centuries ago were severely brutalized physically, but the dehumanization and the trauma that their psyche had to endure are etched out on the faces of the generations that follow. The Europeans in their quest for external power used certain ideological apparatus to condition the slave to be submissive and obedient. This apparatus by its very nature was designed to make the recipient feel inferior to his oppressors and therefore his existence would have been justifiable. The modern equivalent of this ideological apparatus i.e. Church, the Family, the Education System and the Media have played a major role not only in enslaving, degrading and oppressing Africans but also other ethnic groups, conditioning us to act in ways that belittle our identity. The oppression and suppression aimed at African people have continued up to this present day and the African mind has continually been under severe bombardment by the negative, reactionary forces of neo-colonialism.
In spite of this continuous attack against anything African, fragments of our rich heritage have been kept alive and can be seen in the Orisa traditions, Best Village Competitions and Emancipation celebrations to name a few. Our East Indian brothers, descendents of indentured workers have worked hard to keep their culture alive and they must be congratulated for realizing the value of their culture and the value of the East Indian identity. The results of their preservation of their culture can be seen in the numerous Indian music stations, numerous Indian owned businesses and the success of Hinduism as a vehicle for development of East Indians. In spite of the fact that history has shown us that Africans and Indians are brothers and are inseparately linked in their struggle against all forms of cultural degeneration , both are guilty of falling into the colonial trap. Viewing each other through the eyes of the old colonial, race has become a stumbling block rather than a stepping stone towards the collective aim of holistic national development. The implications of this continued colonial mentality that promotes divisiveness instead of unity are very serious as we look to forge our unique identity in this world where technology has greatly accelerated the movement towards Globalisation.
If we ask ourselves if our education system has made us better human beings who are not reluctant to associate with the motherland, proud of our diverse social and cultural identity and are not afraid to unite on the basis of our diverseness. The answer if answered honestly would be a resounding no. This western styled education system was not designed for us, and is not tailored to meet our specific needs as Trinidadians; rather it serves to reinforce the misinformation that Western Society disseminates. The educational system has grossly contributed towards the loss of our identity, making us ashamed of our Africaness and churning out societal misfits who are so vulnerable to the glittery conglomeration of distractions that is so prevalent in this society. The loss of our identity has meant the perpetuation of an obscene popular culture complete with expletive laced music, scantily clad women gyrating in music videos and fetes, and fast food outlets at every busy corner. It has meant the myriad importation of American values, the over importation of American food, a lot of which is genetically modified. It has meant a breakdown of the social fabric causing broken homes and communities, crime, drug abuse, domestic violence. It has also meant that we donít value our culture so we canít understand the importance of having a radio station playing local music 24 hrs a day, or a center for the arts. Our loss of identity has spawned a materialistic society, void of spirituality, separated by the invisible borders of class, where power lies in the hands of a selected few and the majority suffer, often feeling powerless in a society that offers them no justice or recourse. There are Africans who have attained high influential positions in the corporate world, in government and otherwise but most of them lack the necessary consciousness and clarity of vision to empower the people around them, so they remain unmoved, trapped in their upper class aspirations.
So where do we go from here? How do we reclaim our African identity and forge genuine unity and love among the diverse units that make up the country that is T & T? How we give our youths something more meaningful and positive than what BET, Mtv and 96.1 has to offer? How do we awaken them from their slumber and give them meaningful tools to deal with the challenges of this rapidly globalising world? How do we face the growing problems of HIV/AIDS, unemployment, injustice, illiteracy, crime and ignorance? How do we get our people to embrace their diverse heritage and cultures that are so rich and relevant to these modern technological times?
Re-education must be a top priority in our aim of reclaiming our identity and empowering our people to stand tall on the world plateau and make a meaningful and positive contribution towards humanity. We must formulate a specific educational policy specially tailored to fit our unique experiences that has depth of vision to take us forward in this 21st century. In this educational policy it is imperative that we abandon looking at ourselves and the world through the eyes of the old colonials, and seek to formulate our own vision untainted by the biases of Euro centricity. This new understanding of our history, of our culture and its important role in shaping who we are will allow us to genuinely interact and appreciate the cultures of all peoples of the world. Our rewriting of our history textbooks will teach our people that Africa has made a momentous contribution to world civilization and thus what a people has done, they can do again. This is the role of history, it must teach us our past mistakes so that we cannot make them again and inspire us to higher intellectual, social and spiritual ideals. For the liberation of our people worldwide we should draw on the intellectual heritage of the whole world, beginning, of course, with our own intellectual heritage.
These are times where boundaries are shrinking and the world is headed down a blinkered road of globalization. These are times where nation rise up against nation, people rise up against people, and it is against this background that our actions must be anchored by our common belief in the Supreme Being, the source of all consciousness.
We, as Africans, as Indians, as Trinidadians, as Caribbean citizens need to unite and represent ourselves and propagate our ideas to the World and we can never expect those filthy rich multi national corporations, and media entities like CNN and MTV to seek our interests and be mindful of our struggles against imperialistic exploitation and cultural annihilation. Taking pride in our unique identities we can construct a more loving and understanding society, and be a shining example of unity through diversity. This vision may be idealistic but it certainly is realistic.
By Tyehimba Salandy
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