Mis-education, Identity and Mischief
Posted: Wednesday, November 24, 2004
By Michael De Gale
In a letter to the editor of the Trinidad Guardian entitled "Wrong to call them Africans" 27/10/04, Dr. Chris Mahadeo referred to PhD friends of his from various countries in Africa who take umbrage with being called Africans.
Emphasizing the intellectual accomplishments of his friends, the good doctor went on to denounce Afro-Trinidadians for referring to their African heritage when identifying themselves. The argument being, that if these highly educated people born in Africa, don't identify themselves as Africans, why should Afro-Trinidadians feel compelled to make this connection? The answer can be found in a book entitled "The Mis-education of the Negro" by Carter G. Woodson, Here, Woodson spoke of the attitude of contempt that the "educated Negro" have toward his own people. "He is taught to admire the Hebrews, Greeks, and Latin et al and to despise the African.". Add Dr. Morgan Job to Dr. Mahadeo's Not-African-African PhD friends and nuff said.
Whether we like it or not, identity plays an integral role in helping us to understand who we are as a people in the Diaspora. Every ethnic group understands that they must know from whence and from whom they came. This is their source of strength. The knowledge of their history empowers them and provides the foundation they require to make positive contributions wherever they are throughout the Diaspora. Unfortunately, the history of slavery and colonisation has had a devastatingly negative effect on African people.
Consequently, today we continue to struggle to re-establish our roots by embracing our African heritage. By contrast, the Chinese, Indians, Europeans, Hispanics etc. by virtue of their names and physical appearance alone are automatically associated with a continuous history, a culture and geographic locations. They have foundations upon which they can build. These foundations, we too need to establish and upon them we can build our castles as tall as we know how.
I ask Dr. Mahadeo therefore, not to denigrate the black man for identifying himself with his African heritage. As you very well know, American law once classified black people as chattel and anyone with one ounce of black blood in their veins was considered black.
After years of being made to feel ashamed of our African selves, we now embrace this self to the fullest. We gladly accept that definition because we know of Africa's rich history. This awareness gives us courage and the dignity to project ourselves into the future with assurance and hope. It gives us the will, to perform honourably in the pageant of mankind. We no longer believe "his-story" about Africans making no contribution to the development of civilisation. We know that Africans gave civilisation to the world as one of her numerous and thankless contributions. We know and embrace "our-story". Perhaps his friends are still reading "his-story" and continue to deprecate themselves and their African heritage. For your mis-educated non-African friends born in Africa Dr. Mahadeo, allow me to once again quote Carter G. Woodson:
"When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his "proper place" and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary."
Although this book was first published in 1933, prevailing evidence as the doctor have presented suggests, that it is as relevant today as it was back then. If Dr. Mahadeo's non-African-African PhD friends are typical of educated Africans in Africa, this may add to our understanding of the turmoil in various countries on the continent particularly the ones from which his friends originated.
On the other hand, perhaps this is Dr. Mahadeo's subtle contribution to the increasing racial tension between African and Indian Trinidadians - another salvo on the broadside to sink the ship of African consciousness or to derail the train of Pan-Africanism. Whatever the objective may be, I found his letter to be offensive and objectionable. His Indian heritage has never been questioned in Trinidad or in any part of the world for that matter. I feel assured that he has never had occasion to correct anyone for calling him an Indian.
Despite the presence of Indians in Trinidad for generations, they still derive great pride from their illustrious East Indian heritage. If the good doctor does not, he should. In our efforts to identify ourselves with our African heritage, please be respectful of us as we are of you. If you must comment on the issue of identity, may I suggest you keep it within your community. Such condescending comments by people like yourself could only fan the flames of racial intolerance in the country you referred to as "sweet Trinidad". Let's try to keep it that way.
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