Afro-Trinbagonias: No Longer Blinded by Our Eyes
April 01, 2000
By Selwyn R. Cudjoe
Address, National Association for the Empowerment of African People, delivered at La Joya Auditorium, St. Joseph, on March 31, 2001
Today is a very special day in the life of the National Association for the Empowerment of African People (NAEAP). Indeed, at this particular juncture of our existence, every day is important for Africans in this country for the simple reason that we are not doing as well as we ought. Everyone seems to be walking over us and only a few of us have the gall to stay: Enough is enough, "'tis not so sweet as it was before." In a week in which we celebrate fifty years of the liberation of our elders it is wise to ponder why the colonial powers, the political power at the time, found it so difficult to stomach any expression of Africanism and, within that context, whether much has changed over the years. Today, some people say you could celebrate Baptist Liberation Day but you ought not to join an organization whose very aim and objects are about the advancement and empowerment of African people and whose motto is: "Taking care of our people's business."
On Black Empowerment Day, we ought to reflect on the importance of what it means to be African in a society such as this. More specifically, we ought to ask whether our educational system has made us better human beings who are not reluctant to associate with our mother land, ashamed of our social and cultural past and afraid to come together in unity.
Today, if I were to ask any African in this land where he is going and what she hopes to accomplish I am sure her response will be utter silence. If I ask a teacher or parent in our school system what objective an education in our land is designed to accomplish or, as I like to say, what are we being educated for, she or he will be hard put to answer in a straightforward manner. Most assuredly, a lack of response or our not being very sure of the answer demonstrates a fundamental weakness in our way of thinking about our lives and demonstrates the absence of any plan to position ourselves positively in the future.
Today, some of us have brought our children with us to Black Empowerment Day and that is a correct and noble gesture. But, apart from telling them that they must go to school and be good boys and girls, do we ever tell them that they must strive to be morally responsible young people with a view to committing themselves towards the enhancement of their race and their community. I am aware that modern anthropologists argue that there is not such thing as a race.
Recent genome studies suggest "every single person on earth shares 99.99 per cent of the same genetic code with all other people. Moreover, the biological difference between individuals amount to a fraction of three billion letters in the human genome code. The unveiling of the genetic data confirms that there is no scientific basis for the concept of race." This finding certainly comes as a shock to some racists. Perhaps, it might come as a bigger shock to some of my friends on the opposite side when they realize that all of us are either Africans or just recently come out of Africa. Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany puts it this way: "From a genetic point of perspective, all humans are therefore Africans, either residing in Africa or in recent exile."
If these findings are true, what allows us define ourselves as Africans or Afro-Trinbagonians has every thing to do with our historical experiences and our cultural orientation rather than the functioning of some specific gene. I am sure that Sat Maharaj takes much delight in the fact that all the men of this earth are truly Africans since we all were derived from the bowels of Africa; at least that is what the evolutionary anthropologists are saying today. However, this sameness should not blind us to the fact that even tiny genetic variations account for serious physical and behavioral differences.
An anonymous writer in the British Independent noted that that "There are important biological differences that distinguish groups and individuals within groups. Vastly more African American men have prostate cancer than do white men; British Asians have significantly higher rates of heart disease." Entine, author of Taboo, notes "although we share a common humanity, we are different in critical ways such as our genetic susceptibility to disease. Blacks are genetically predisposed to contracting colon-rectal cancer; Eurasians whites are genetically prone to multiple-sclerosis and Asians by and large victims of neither." The fact is that although there are many similarities among us, there are still many differences.
Whatever our strengths in Trinidad and Tobago, planning and scheming are not two of our most prominent characteristics. Neither, for that matter have we given much thought as to where we wish to go as a people. Many of you gathered here today are aware of a document, produced by the Committee for Indian Triumph, that has been circulating for sometime in the African and Indian communities and which has been addressed to the "Community of Indian Voters." Some persons claim it is a fiction while others are willing to swear that it represents a true articulation of the Indian position—certainly the position of certain Indians—in Trinidad and Tobago. I do not intended to take a position one way or the other even though I am aware that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction and fiction possesses its own truth. For what it is worth, I read you the first part of this document. As I said, it is addressed to a "Community of Indian Voters"
Our people, it is our duty to inform you of this urgently formed committee. It is something that has been in the making for a very long time now, and after several discussions, we have decided to formally launch this committee. Our main men being our political leader, Mr. Basdeo Panday, Sadiq Baksh, Nizam Mohammed and Kelvin Ramnath. The main purpose for this committee is to continue to move for the Triumph of the Indians in this country. It was a move started by our forefathers who achieved quite a lot and we should now commit ourselves to the task for fulfilling their objectives that is to benefit all concerned Indians living in Trinidad and Tobago. We hope that our children will continue this move throughout the Caribbean with the help of Indians from Guyana.
Before you dismiss it outright as lies, innuendoes and falsehoods, I would like to inform you of an incident that happened three years ago when we convened our first Black Empowerment Day at this same venue on Saturday, March 28, 1998. One would have thought that ours was a simple innocuous activity whose time had come. However, unbeknownst to us, as we came together in convention, the same Sadiq Baksh mentioned in the above document, brought together several Africans in an office in Parliament building and told them to go up to La Joya, break up the meeting and call Cudjoe a racist. I understand that even Daphne Phillips, the Junior Minister who has now come up with an "Anti-No-Horn Campaign," was also present at that meeting. So, before you dismiss the letter from the Committee for Indian triumph as a hoax remember that the truth is stranger than fiction and that there is more evil in this world than some men and women dare think of. I would not be surprised if a similar group, organized by another minister, has instructed some well-meaning Africans to come up here today to disturb our proceedings. Remember it was Jack Warner who reported that a safe house existed in Tacarigua where a conspiracy was constructed to shoot up my house and me. Fortunately, the Inter American Committee on Human Rights, the largest organization in this region, did not share those views. They demanded that the Trinidad and Tobago government respond to their enquires within ten days and they did.
First of all, we would like to explain to you that the formation of the N.A.R. was a well-designed plan by Mr. Panday who discussed it with the committee who accepted it. It is not as many or our people think, that we had sold out to Robinson. Panday never did such a thing.
His plan simply derived from the fact that the only way to Triumph over the Negro is to join him and make him feel important. In our analysis, we realized that the Negro mind gives in easily to other races simple because they like to depend on the fortunes of others. After all, Creoles are simple fools.
This is only part of the indictment against African people in Trinidad and Tobago.
Whether the document to the Community of Indian Voters is fact of fiction, we ought to examine its assumptions to determine what we can extrapolate from it. In other words, how can we make sense out of non-sense, remembering that even though non-sense, after all, is just that, there is always logic behind such nonsense? This document contains several important ideas: first, it appeals to a tradition of the elders and makes certain demands on their children. However, to the most part Indo-Trinidadians believe they share a common destiny that can be achieved though meticulous and conscious planning. Can we say the same thing about Afro-Trinbagonians?
This document also suggests that Indo-Trinidadians place implicit fate in their leaders. Whether Africans think Panday is a crook, a racist or a drunk, is of little significance to them. They stand firm in the belief that he will never sell out his people. Some observers have argued that Panday is the quintessential Hindu father or head of the family whose every word is binding on the tribe. A Hindu friend told me that in a Hindu household the word of a Hindu father is never questioned. If one questions or disobeys his word (or that of the grandfather) one faces his wrath and can be made an outcast. You may despise him or love him. He remains the head of the family, the authority figure that must never be questioned. If this description is true, it lead us to ask if there are any leaders in our community to whom we pay such respect and reverence and in whom we are willing to place our fate.
The document also makes the point that "the Negro," as some of them calls us, likes to be flattered and made to feel important. How relevant is this assertion and do persons such as Wade Mark and Morgan Job wonder if these lines were written for them and how well does it capture their predicament: flatter them, tell them they are the most intelligent Africans in the world and then throw them out into the river to paddle their canoes without an oar or a prayer. What the Wade Marks and the Morgan Jobs cannot know is that the contempt Panday and his kind feel for them is imbricated within a Hindu worldview that holds blackness in utter contempt.
The Rig Veda, written in liturgical Sanskrit and said to be the oldest book in the world, reveals the origins of the Hindu caste system and the untouchable outcasts. Although no caste division was found when the Aryans invaded India about four or five thousand years ago, according to Louis Fischer, the Rig Veda "speaks of the inhabitants contemptuously as 'black-skinned,' 'noseless,' and 'malignant.'" Blackness is associated with and is the place reserved for the Sudra or the untouchables, the lowest caste that stand at the bottom of the Hindu pecking order. Indeed, the word varna, the proper term for the caste system, means color in Sanskrit and is the etymon from which the word vanish has come. Thus, whether the document from the Committee for Indian Triumph is bogus or not, it forces us to place a mirror placed before our very eyes and demands that we say, like Robert Brooke in his poem, "Not With Vain Tears," no longer shall we "be blinded by our eyes."
Today we must ask how have we found ourselves in a position where there are few visible and respected African leaders and our diminishing importance in the organization of our state. Recently, at a meeting in San Fernando, a young African asked: "how come de Indians up here and we down here?" and I was hard put to answer his question in a sentence or two. Apart from making me re-think the relative schism between the two groups, it made me think about how we perceive ourselves and our positioning in the island. Perhaps we can start with the truism that for the most part, Afro-Trinbagonians—and particularly Afro-Trinidadians—have seen themselves as Trinidadians and Tobagonians first; and Africans second or third, hence the short-hand wisdom: "All ah we is one." Whatever we do, however we say it, we have never perceived ourselves as Africans first and that has had serious implications for how we have come to understand our existentialist space in this society. I dare say, it has led to our psychic disposition towards our land.
On the other hand, Indo-Trinbagonians have always seen themselves as Indians first and Trinbagonians second or even third. To be sure this existentialist positioning has been sustained by a religion that places the pundit, the holy man and the guru at the center of their existence where there is no essential distinction exists between religion and politics; theology and everyday life. Inherent in being an Indian in Trinbago is a serious disequilibrium between one's racial and/or ethnic affiliation and one's nationality. I am sure that many of you have gone to a cricket match at the Queen's Park Oval when the West Indies was playing India or Pakistan and wondered how come so many Indians or Pakistanis managed to fly to Trinidad to support their team. The un-varnished truth is that many Indians identify strongly with their racial kin in a way that Afro-Trinbagonians find striking, further supporting of the proposition that for many Indo-Trinbagonians their Indianness come first; their Trinbagonianism a distant second or third.
But if it is true that each group positions itself differently vis a vis its perception of its land and that Indian Triumphantism is part of the Indian agenda, what are the implications of these perceptions, economically and psychically, for Africans? In the first instance if one sees oneself as tightly bound in a group, without saying it, one looks out for the other because one is part of a larger whole that shares a similar objectives. So that one buys from one's kind; one assists one's kind when one is in trouble and gives his kind a job when it comes available. Because the African sees his Africanness as secondary to his Trinbagonianism he does not feel any loyalty to his group hence his disinclination to help out his brothers and sisters when they are in want, when they need a job or even desire a minimal level of support. This one reason why I was so careful when I sought to answer the young man's question about why they are "up there and we are down here."
In fact, this is one reason why the relative position of the Afro-Trinidadian vis a vis the Indians declined even during the reign of the PNM, an African-base party that possessed political power. This decline—or disinclination to assist other Africans-- resulted from a nationalist perspective that subjugated the interest of Africans to the national interest. In other words, although the party's fundamental base is African, it never felt it necessary to speak about or to attend specifically to the needs of Africans. It remained smug in the position that what was good for the national interest, had to be good for Afro-Trinbagonians. Such a position could be described as trickle down social theory, that believed that whatever is good for the country must conduce to the interest of the African without any conscious awareness that he was losing ground even as the country prospered. Today, such a theory must be seen as a major shortcoming of PNM's thinking and one that needs to be re-visited. Today, it must determine how it can remain faithful to its goal as a national party, conscious of its diversified membership, yet sensitive to the needs of Afro-Trinidadians.
At the psychic level, the implications are even graver. If we feel that we are Trinbagonians first, it is clear that we can have little sympathy for Afro-Trinbagonians who wish to proclaim their Africanness, worship within an African framework of belief and feel that charity should begin at home. If one believes in the integrity of the group, nothing is too much to give or sacrifice for members of the group. Contra wise, if one does not believe in the integrity of the group, subscribe to its larger claims, or feels an emotional kinship the group, it becomes difficult to identity positively with the long-term interest of the group.
In fact, we have sunken so much in our own estimation that many Africans believe that "black people car do nutten." Some even exclaim: "Is as though we curse." Paradoxically, every time we utter these formulations we ensure that the stereotypes take a deeper hold on our psyche. In so doing, they assume a life of their own and, by a process of reinforcement, become an accepted definition of our group. Does anyone remember how we were defined once as shiftless and lazy? Does anyone know why these sentiments came to characterize the group? Do you realize that others still perceive us as shiftless, lazy, stupid and "simple fools" as the Community of Indians have described us? If, in our hearts, we continue to believe that "black people car do nutten" and that "we curse" how can we ever expect to get out of the quagmire of hate, low self-esteem, and underachievement?
Such thinking, I am sure, goes back to the mis-education we have received in our schools. Carter G. Woodson, a famous African-American thinker, once said that if you taught a person to use the backdoor, after a while he uses the backdoor automatically without being told to do so. The fact is we have been told so often what we cannot do, that we are not Africans and have no obligations to our group that we take it for granted that Black people cannot do anything. It makes little difference who tries to change our conception of ourselves. If we believe we are garbage, and nothing good can come out of garbage, then that is exactly where we will end up: in the garbage. We see many samples of ourselves on the streets of Port of Spain. But even those who think in those ways—and there are a lot of us who do— do not understand that even garbage has its value. It fertilizes all of our best plants.
Today, even as we talk about the need for economic empowerment, it is necessary to talk about psychological freedom and ask what concrete action must we take to raise our level of awareness and consciousness, how we can begin to see ourselves as Africans even as we continue to proclaim our Trinbagonianness, and how can we position ourselves to be more productive and responsible Africans and Trinbgagonians? Like the Committee on Indian Triumph, we must ask what demands we ask of our generation, ourselves and our children. For remember, if we do not plan for the morrow, the morrow would not plan for us. If we do not commit ourselves to our people how can they commit themselves to us. If we do not lose ourselves in our people, in whom shall we find ourselves? Today, as we seek to chart our way forward, the first thing we ought to do is to take responsibilities for our actions and ourselves. In short, how, in the future, we ought not to be blinded by our eyes.
In any conception of the future, we must pay special attention to the role of the media and how it constructs our conception of ourselves and the part it plays in our future development.
Recently, a brother wrote to tell me "black people and the media is the most important challenge we face in Trinidad and Tobago right now." I draw on his correspondence to illustrate the point. In writing to me, my brother noted that in the fifties and sixties Indo-Trinidadians had their half-hour programs on state radio through which they kept their hopes, dreams and aspirations alive and their community together.
Today, five radio stations bind them together. They used them astutely to ascend to political power for which, as he says, "they will do anything—and I mean anything—to hold on to." On the other hand, he argues, while Africans held state office from the 1950s to the 1990s, they saw themselves only as Trinidadians and took joy in the myth, "all ah we is one. As a result, the consolidation of African people never took place as a deliberate process. He goes on: "The Black Power era, notwithstanding, while Indo-Trinidadians were watching Indian movies, listening to Indian music and rallying behind their religious leadership which was also their political leadership, Africans were busy watching Westerns, war movies, Kung Fu kick ups, and so on which only hastened our cultural alienation from ourselves. With programs such as Best Village, etc., Dr. Williams tried to stem the rot but even these efforts lacked a clarity of vision. What was worse, the majority of Africans were under the mental yoke of assorted religious groups who always fight against the idea of the existence of anything African."
This paradox continues even today and is borne out by any casual examination of our newspapers. On page 27 of Friday's Newsday, (March 30) the Ministry of Human Development, Youth and Culture, devotes most of the page to salute the Spiritual Baptist Community of Trinidad and Tobago. Yet, neither the Minister of Human Development, Youth and Culture; the Minister of Infrastructure, Development and Local Government; and the Ministry of Community Empowerment could find the time to attend or to send a representative to our convention. In fact, the Ministry of Community Empowerment could only muster a phone call to let us know that the Minister could not attend. How they wish to empower Africans, only they alone can tell.
Another example. While the National Lottery gives an entire page to extend warm wishes to Spiritual Baptist Day in Newsday (March 30) it could find no monies to give us to celebrate Black Empowerment Day. Because we did not ask for a specific amount our request was not considered. In both the Express and Newsday, a charming picture of an African child, with a white head wrap, proclaims: "Make a Joyful Noise…On this joyful day." But trapped within that gaze is the paradox of our existence. Oppress us while we alive; ignore us while your attention matters and then mamaguy us and tell us how proud you are of our past struggles. However, while we are alive, they are never willing to bond with us and to support us as we struggle to change our conditions in the present.
Today, even the markers of public opinion and those who control our resources continue to demonstrate their disdain against any idea that is African and any movement that seeks to empower Africans. Just a private note: Despite of all the newfound reverence for the Spiritual Baptist, it is Calaloux, my publishing company, that published Eudora Thomas's A History of the Shouter Baptist in 1984 to which I wrote an introduction that articulates the faith's practices in Trinidad and Tobago. When we published the book we felt the same disdain from newspapers and the corporate sector that is visited upon the National Association for the Empowerment of African People.
And just to show you how racist I am, in 1985 Calaloux Publication also published Noor Kumar Mahabir's The Still Cry, Personal Accounts of East Indians in Trinidad and Tobago, 1845-1917. In an introduction to that book, I wrote that Indo-Trinidadians, "like their African counterparts," brought to Trinidad a rich cultural heritage and suffered many hardships on the way to their new home." In a footnote, I wrote as follows: It is important to understand that "the heritage of the East Indians was the heritage of all of the peoples of Trinidad and Tobago. At one level, it is the heritage of a specific group. However, because East Indians are Trinidadians and Tobagonians, their heritage must be seen as part of a larger national heritage, for it is the collectivity of the African and East Indian heritage (and that of all the other ethnic groups) that constitute Trinidad and Tobago's cultural heritage. The heritage of a people is not something one puts up for display but something one takes and integrates into one's present to create a meaningful future." Although it is now permissible to celebrate the Spiritual Baptist, many of our compatriots remain resolute against any proposition that Africans must come together in a national African association.
How then do we use the media to consolidate our position in Trinidad and Tobago? My Rasta brother writes: "The assorted problems that we face today can be solved only if conscious Africans have DIRECT ACCESS TO OUR PEOPLE so we can unite our dreams, aspirations and community in a hostile and unforgiving social environment." Comparing the DIRECT ACCESS Indo-Trinidadians have to their people, he notes that prior to the opening of the media, Africans thought the state media belonged to them, never thinking they would ever lose state power and that others would use the same state media "to alienate and destroy him politically and in other ways." In a way, it was not accidental that the first thing Prime Minister Panday did when he assumed office was to attack the media; an onslaught that has continued up until today. Today, the Attorney General merely writes the radio and television stations and reminds them that they operate on a license that always comes up for renewal.
When Africans lost power, they were unceremoniously removed from state radio and television (that is, TTT) and left to the mercies of the new rulers. Enters Power 102 that "exposed our nakedness but also gave us a glimpse of our potential, power and strength. Louis Lee Sing and others formed the new radio station and targeted the East-West corridor. African people responded overwhelmingly as they knew where their sense of community lay. In one year's time, over 180,000 persons were listening to Power 102, sixty percent of whom were Africans. With African support, Power 102 influenced country's thinking about the burning issues of the day. Necessarily, Power 102 had to be destroyed or neutralized as an effective rallying point for African interest in the society." As subsequent events show, even though the owners were not necessarily pro-African, once the forum opened up, Power 102 became a source of serious information and learning. That was too much for management, our government and our detractors. In other words, Power 102 had become too black, too strong and too conscious. It had to be destroyed or neutralized. Today, the station has been hijacked, watered down and presenters apologize before making comments and are very careful about the comments they make. "They started out well but our people were not the owners of the station and that was the tragedy of Power 102."
Meanwhile, there are five Indian stations on the air, each is controlled and organized to serve the interest of UNC and its allies. 90.5 is owned by the Clico Group of which Laurence Duprey, its chairman and CEO, is a known UNC activist and a close ally of the Prime Minister. 91.1-610 is part of the conglomerate owned by the Trinidad Publishing Company that did not find the time to publish a serious story about Black Empowerment Day. 106 is state-owned and 103 remains exclusively Indian. Sat Maharaj, Anil Mahabir, Kamal Persad, Rajnee Ramlakhan and a host of other Indian talent are always on the air interpreting the lives of their people. No such avenues exist for the expression of African views. Neither I, nor many other Africans, have ever been invited on any of these UNC stations. They are reserved exclusively for Indian concerns. Even TTT which is owned by the people serves Indian rather than national interest. You would note that not one member of NAEAP has been invited on air to explain to the nation what Black Empowerment Day was all about even though NBN made a contribution to our efforts. The only media exempt form the clutches of the UNC is Ken Gordon's CNN group and they are trying as hard as they can to intimidate and coerce that station into serving their interest. If we wait until they take over Ken Gordon's group we will eat the bread that the devil knead.
State control of the media must also be concerned about the rights of the consumer. Today, as we debate the Telecom legislation, the burning issue is whether, as we open the telecommunications in the country, the consumer—that is to say, African and Indian people--will benefit from such legislation. Some argue that if TSTT is made to compete the consumer will benefit. This, I want to submit, is not necessarily true. In his wisdom, President Robinson whom so many persons love to hate, took the bold step of opening up the media which allowed for the granting of several cable licenses. Soon that generous policy drifted back to a monopoly when the Gillettes sold their cable interest to a foreign monopoly. What is to say, they would not do the same thing once they get a cellular license. And what would that mean for local control? The fact is that these men are not concerned about our people's interest. Profit is their only motive. When there is a collision between the people's interest and their profit, the former always suffer. Power 102 remains a prime example of this kind of exploitative behavior.
Hence, the first part of the African agenda for the coming year must be DIRECT ACCESS TO OUR PEOPLE. This is the first pillar of any empowerment programme for our people. We must secure programs to serve our interest; demand that the state media allow us space to have DIRECT ACCESS TO OUR PEOPLE; and seek to start a new station so we can have DIRECT ACCESS TO OUR PEOPLE. To paraphrase Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana, in this hour of need, we must first control the media kingdom, and then all other things would be added on to us.
In outlining our direction for the next year, Afro-Trinbagonians must understand that they cannot obtain their liberation via the individualistic route. Minister Louis Farrakhan once lamented: "How can I be something when my people are nothing." But how do we cultivate habits of mind that allows us to promote the interest of the group? There are some things we can do for ourselves; there are other things only the group can do for you. An individual may be able to fend off a neighbor who attacks him; he cannot fend off a hundred villagers who attack him. That is why a country establishes a police force, an army and a navy. In fact, human progress only took place because groups came together to do what individuals could not do through their own efforts.
Therefore, it stands to reason that each Afro-Trinbagonian should be a member of a group that promotes African interests. If we are not part of a group, how can we work for the interest of the group? We hold back the progress of our people and sabotage our future when we stay within our private enclaves attached to narrow concerns. Today, I hope that you resolve to join an African group. For my part, I would hope that you become a member of NAEAP and start spreading our gospel of good work. The longest journey, they say, starts with a small step.
Supporting our Group means sharing in its financial burdens. Most members of religious organization pay tithes and offerings. Some churches demand ten percent of anything one earns. Some churches go beyond ten percent. The tithe is used to run the business of the church since church business cannot run by guess or by the manna that falls from heaven. Even the churches need money. It simply cannot proceed on autopilot. Correspondingly, an organization dedicated to the empowerment and advancement of African people needs finances to function. After all, we, at NAEAP, have to keep our secretariat going. That costs money. We have to pay our staff, for our utilities and our supplies. That cost money. If you do not tithe and if you do not support us, how can you expect us to exist in the kingdom of this world? Today, I would like to ask every Afro-Trinbagonian to contribute one hundred dollars a year to ensure that our organization work towards the enhancement of our group. Will you help us in our endeavors?
This year we also hope to open Computer School. We have been offered several computers from a firm abroad and so we need a place in which to conduct our business. We are willing to rent the appropriate space to conduct our activities but we need your help. Can anyone lead us to a proper building to carry out our affairs? Next year we would like to open our First Computer School so that we can begin to serve our people better. Hence, the second part of the African Agenda is to begin a Computer School for our students. Again, I ask you to help us in this endeavor.
As the President of NAEAP, I realize fully that if you give us your money you expect us to be accountable. Over the past three years we have tried to do that. Today, we take great pride in making available an official audit from Pannell Kerr Forster. Without going into the details of the audit, we can state that we are one of the few organizations to make our finances available for all to see, sure in the knowledge that if we are honest and truthful with you, in turn, you would be honest and truthful with us, and share in our dreams. This is the only way that an honest relationship can begin. We hope that this is the first step along a decent and caring relationship between you and ourselves; a tiny expression of belief into the possibility of our becoming a more unified and caring community, asking you to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's.
We have also had two Vacation Schools since we began. Those who were fortunate to see "The First Five Months" saw our graduation class and their presentation. Such an effort took money, creativity and hard work. We provided small stipends for our students, lunches and books. We also brought to their attention, aspect of Trinidad life, views of the African contributions to the world, studies in biology and an exposure to computer education. We can say with pride that the students of our Vacation School were one of the last audience to which the late Lord Kitchener spoke about his career as a calypsonian. Yet, to continue to do that work, we have to have your support and assistance and today. Today, we call upon you to render the same financial assistance to our last Vacation School costs us over $75,000 to run. One thousand dollars could allow us to accommodate one student. Again, if you contribute one hundred dollars a year, it will go a long way to continuing what has been a relatively successful program.
In the coming year, our most important task is to move from our present setting to a more established place of business. If we are to move forward as an organization, we must have a visible presence in the community and a place where Afro-Trinbagonians can come and be comfortable. We envisage that ii would cost us close to $5,000 per month just to procure that space and perhaps another $5,000 per month to run the office. We can also accommodate a Computer School in this building. We cannot do this without your help? After all, it is your organization and our future of which we speak. If we cannot provide a space to operate, how could we construct our schools, our cultural centers and our museums? We have started small, you must help us to continue. Hence, the third part of the African Agenda for the next year is to move into suitable quarters to conduct our work. Again, if one thousand Afro-Trinbagonians commit one hundred dollars a year to our well being, we can begin to create the bonds of unity and self-help that is so necessary to our progress.
As you can see, our goals for the year are modest. We would be pleased if you can join with us to achieve our goals. In spite of Mr. Panday's mis-statement that I "attempted unsuccessfully to organize a boycott of all businesses not owned by what he [meaning I] called 'Afro-Trinidadians,'" we will celebrate Black Solidarity Day this year at a date to be announced. As we stated, in our Retrospective, Black Solidarity Day is the one day in the year where black people will buy from other black people, talk about black people's interest and go out of their way to say hello to other Black people. Indeed, it should be one day when all other races decide to BUY BLACK in recognition that hundred of millions of BLACK dollars are transferred from Black to non-Black hands each year. After all, if we buy from others 364 days of the year, why can't they buy from us for just one day of the year. How in heaven's name can such an appeal be seen as being antithetical to the national interest? A sovereign people must make decisions that conduce to their own interest. As an African organization we intend to do precisely that.
But Panday has a very short memory and is certainly one of the last person to talk about racism and anti-nationalist sentiments. Was the prince of national unity talking race in 1995 at the Kartir Nahaan Festival when he addressed over 30,000 Indo-Trinidadians who were celebrating 150 years in Trinidad? Remember the Kartir Naahaan is a Hindu festival that involves the ritual cleansing by water of the body and spirit of polluting influences. At this cleansing ritual this is what Panday said: "We [Indo-Trinidadians] are our own worst enemies. We are too easily prepared to sell our birthright and that of our fellow [Indian] men and women for a mess of pottage from the tables of the new oligarchy. Some will sell it for a jacket and tie and a ministry, some for a wig and gown, some for a seat in the Senate, some for a little contract here and there. Our detractors say we are the victims of a curse, which like a virulent plague, threatens to engulf the entire community." Now, in his disdain, he believes that he can indict an African for asking his group to come together one day in solidarity. But what, may I ask, was the subliminal message of UNC's slogan in election 2000 when it implored: "We've come too far to turn back now?" Come too far from where and what? How does this slogan connect with the ancestral mission of the Committee for Indian Triumph which they say was discussed with Panday for the completion of the "move started by our forefathers who achieved quite a lot. [Now] we should now commit ourselves to the task of fulfilling their objectives" of re-colonizing this part of the Caribbean?
Any novice wishing to understand the hidden motives of Mr. Panday and his people only need to explore the common thread that binds the document to the Community of Indian Voters, Panday's Anniversary speech and the slogan of the 2000 election. Against a such a background, does Panday, Sat or Ramesh have any moral right to tell us what our agenda should be or what constitutes good citizenship? Only Africans can determine what's in our best interest? Never shall we submit that those whose interest is diametrically opposed to our own and whose only goal is to use, deceive us and then to discard us. To them we so much discardable rubbish, a point that Mark and Job found out to their dismay.
The last part of the African Agenda consists of our putting together a Commission on the Education of the African child. Everything in our discussion this morning tells us that we ought to conduct a systematic study to determine just where our children are in the educational system and is it doing the best for our children. Are African teachers teaching African children; are Indian teachers teaching African children; are Hindu schools teaching African children and are African children systematically being place in lowest section of the classes and are being steamed off to the junior secondary schools.
Are our parents and our children doing enough to prepare our children for the tasks that await them? Only a professional commission of educators can accomplish this end. Necessarily, this Commission would have to hold hearing throughout the island to accomplish their goals. I certainly feel that we will honor the memory of Guy Griffith if we were to put this committee together and produce a document that throws light on these conditions.
For next year, the African Agenda must be clear:
a) DIRECT ACCESS TO OUR PEOPLE; the establishment of programs for and about Afro-Trinbagonians; the pursuit of a radio station owned and controlled by African people;
b) Office space in which we can conduct our business;
c) A commitment to contribute a $100 or more to your organization;
d) A commitment to support our Vacation School;
e) The setting up of a Commission on the Education of the African Child.
The time has come when we must give serious consideration to supporting our organization and our leaders; the time has come when we must think through and implement an African Agenda; the time has come when we must privilege our Africanness even as we celebrate our Trinbagonianism. We can only move forward if we dedicate ourselves to the empowerment of African people. Today, our efforts should be geared towards fulfilling the African Agenda even as we fulfill our nationalist mission. In this age and in this time, we must gird ourselves for the struggles that await us, determined always to stand up for our interest, no matter where we find ourselves or what party is in power.
Last Tuesday an Indian scholar with whom I had been corresponding for the past three years visited my home and told me he wished to invite me to speak Jawaharlal Nehru University in India. He said that even his brother in the furthest part of India, twelve thousand miles away, read my article. When he was leaving my home he bent and touched the slippers I was wearing with his fingers and then brought it to his heart. He then informed me that this was how Indians honored their gurus. He left me with these words: "With love and humility, we can accomplish a lot."
I do not know how many of us are prepared to pay such respect to their leaders but then again ours is a different culture. Nonetheless, it seems to me that we have to think about how to respect and honor our leaders and our teachers. Today, I feel a love breeze blowing into this room. Whether we like it or not, we must love one another for only with love can ever transcend the hateful confusion that sometimes attend our undertaking. We must also be committed to taking care of our people's business. It is only in so doing can achieve the kind of unity of which and for which we strive. We cannot continue in the same old way. In every thing that we do, may God always give us the grace and courage to undertake our task noble and unbent?
Today, more than ever, we need to reflect on our condition and think of what our future holds. We look at what is happening in Guyana and are sad. Yet, it seems to me that Martin Carter, the Guyanese poet, captured our predicament when he penned these words:
This is the dark time, my love;
All around the land
Brown beetles crawl about;
The shinning sun is hidden in the sky;
Red flowers bend their heads in sorrow.
This is the dark time, my love
It is the season of oppression, dark metal,
It is the festival of guns,
The carnival of misery;
Everywhere the faces of men are strained
Who comes walking in the dark night time?
Whose boot of steel tramps down the slender grass?
It is the man of death, my love,
The strange invader,
Watching you sleep
And aiming at your dreams.
Wake up black man, the time is now. Sleep no more for the dawn breaks. There is much work to do. Would you lend a hand to a sister and a brother?
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