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'What's wrong with the Black Community?'
Posted: Monday, December 19, 2005

by Linda E. Edwards

This is an acid and vituperative response to the comments appearing in the major print newspapers in Trinidad under the headlines "Blacks Have Only Themselves To Blame" and other such nonsense.

Those who get easily miffed about this acid response will forgive it in the spirit of the holiday season- the holy days are upon us and we should think with charity. Yet today, I do not feel a lot of goodwill towards all those who analyze the "Black Community" and find them wanting.

Who in blazes is this "Black Community?" In the first case, when you call people out of their name, they do not have to answer you. There are no people called "Blacks'. Until Trinidadians of every hue and hair type ranging from silvery white lank hair to dadder head recognize that there are no people called "Blacks" we would continue to stumble around trying to find out what is wrong.

These dark hued curly headed people, some with hair so tightly curled that a strand forms a series of perfect circles no bigger than the diameter of a slim pencil, are Africans.

Are you afraid to call us that because our skins and hair stand as a reproach to the wealth the lank haired people of Europe accumulated from exploiting our free labour in the West, the islands as well as the two continents, North and South America? Are you afraid to call us Africans because it would give us a distinct identity, and make us the natural inheritors of all the greatness that was Egypt, Mali, Ancient Ghana Songhai and Zimbabwe? Are you afraid to call us Africans because we will then have a distinct place to relate to, and would daily ask ourselves if this position, highest unemployment, and all the other negatives, held by so many in Trinidad and Tobago who are African originated is a natural one, or an artificial construct engendered by continuing racial attitudes, economic deprivation, and a determination on the part of the people with economic power to keep the society so structured that a few will win and many will lose?

Are you afraid to call us Africans for fear that we demand equal place in the history books for the stories that are ours? Are you afraid that we would seek to replace the stories of European aggression against the rest of the world, culminating in the present Iraq war, with the more positive stories of African origins?

Sometimes I watch with pity and disgust the prominence given to the misdeeds of the young Africans in the society, whose continuing sense of anomie spills over into antisocial behaviour. This is portrayed in the local media; with the acrimonious condemnation that this arouses; but the almost sweeping under the rug of the terrible cases of murder within families committed by other groups, with no social analysis as to why a piece of land is worth a brother's or father's life, or why a man would kill his wife of twenty-five years and just walk away wiping his hands as if he had just slain a goat or a fractious pig.

I see this through my biases, as a continuing effort on the part of people in the society to see the worst in the people of African descent in the island, to hold it up as a model of negativity, realizing that young people will imitate any model if it is shown to be glamorous, and would identify with it if it is shown often enough.

Long, long ago, the local bad-johns were calling themselves Jack Palance and other North American movie hero names. This was before Columbian imports replaced oil as the get rich quick business to be in, before Cedros and Icacos became entry points for King Cocaine, and before European drug mules began trying to ship liquid cocaine pass the customs and immigration controls in sleepy Tobago. Those young people were looking for some heroes to imitate. We gave them nothing.

Tobago had little crime, and it was a predominantly African looking island. In the last ten years, all that has changed. Who went there, the African looking people who were already there, or those looking for a quiet peaceful people to corrupt?

All of the islands of the Lesser Antilles had very little crime, and all of the islands had almost heterogeneous communities of African looking people. Do not tell me otherwise. I worked in most of them: Barbados, Antigua, Dominica, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, St. Kitts.

If the Trinidad African population is still at the bottom of the economic ladder, the social ladder, the crime committing ladder, then responsible media must ask how come ? How come the owners of small boutiques in the airport in Antigua are of the same complexion as those of the market women in Trinidad? How much of our soul are we selling to produce a country where people of lighter hue will feel safe and wanted, and can we recover a sold soul? Who has done a survey of who among the local people are employed by all these oil companies, their spin off industries, and their suppliers working and reaping millions in Trinidad and Tobago?

If we as media fail to bring to the youth of our land positive images of people who look like them, people doing ground breaking research, people saving lives through medical work, people going to work daily and doing the things that make for peace and build up the common life, then we are failing our young people of African ancestry.

Slavery may have ended in 1838, but unless there is a shift in attitudes of the modern plantocracy- the business people, the banks, the elite school system, even the elite church system, nothing will change. When young people see no possibility of change, they do not work for it, but grab what they can get.

Have the young Africans in Trinidad gotten the feeling that change in the oil sector, the University of Trinidad and Tobago and other dreams of 2020 are for them, or are they to be left behind while a few who have acquired the status of "honorary European", settle for their positions in the society and disassociate themselves from the others?

Has any survey been done to codify who are the poorest people in the society, and to see why they are poor, even on an ethnic basis?

Perhaps we are just stumbling along with an occasional whip cracked by someone writing to the papers talking nonsense about "Blacks Only Have Themselves To Blame." This is usually followed by condemnatory letters about every unemployment scheme the government starts.( We fail to acknowledge that one of the attractions of immigrants to places like Canada is the public welfare system, and the "Milk allowance" every parent gets from the state for her children. Her Excellency Michaelle Jean, Governor General is also entitled to it.)

If African-Trinidadians can go everywhere else and get a reputation for being hard working, having good public relations, being conscientious and well educated; and being able to get along with all kinds of people, but they are not so regarded in their own society's media pages, then it is reasonable to conclude that the problem is in the vision that the media exposes.

In late 1999, I asked some American teenagers what they would do if they knew that the world would stop at midnight and not roll over into 2000. Not one of them cared about the salvation of their souls. They would grab a gun and steal the fanciest cars, best jewelry and such material things, and party into eternity. There was going to be no future, so why not.(These were children of all the three races assiduously counted by the US government)They might as well escape from poverty for one glorious hour before their deaths. I do not think young people in Trinidad, of any hue, feel very differently, but the media could check.

I would hope that in 2006, the media, print media, would seek to expose positive images of young people of African descent in the community, to inspire others, and most of all to prevent us from descending into the madness that embraced France's cities a few weeks ago when its marginalized and invisible African population (some there for three generations) finally got mad enough to try to burn the whole place down.

Racism is on the rise world-wide. Those who raped Africa for it natural wealth, including its people, are closing their borders to Africans, while continuing to go to Third World countries to extract their raw materials and live the lifestyles of Pashas. Countries like Trinidad and Tobago cannot afford to marginalize its own indigenous population of African ancestry.

Negro and Black are considered derogatory to Africans. These were names given by outsiders of Portuguese, Spanish, French and British origins. Africans name themselves by their ethnic grouping- Yoruba, Igbo, then by their country, Nigeria, Ghana, then by their continent, Africa, North America, South America.

Its time media houses in Trinidad and Tobago came on board. After all, the first modern emancipation celebrations were twenty years ago. Fostering self-hate is non-productive in every society.

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