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Disrespecting African People

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
Posted: April 16, 2004

In retrospect, it now seems as though it were nothing but a tempest in a teapot; much ado about nothing. Meeting with the administration of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Port of Spain on Friday, Archbishop Monica Randoo, Archbishop Barbara Gray-Burke and Archbishop Amilius Marrain, "made a direct and impassioned appeal to former manager at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Klas Charles Harris to return to his job." Taking the sins of the offenders upon their heads, they pleaded: "We would be very, very hurt if you do not accept this call to return to your place of employment, and do the job that you were called to do and were dong." During the press conference, Archbishop Burke gleamed joyfully: "We have ventilated this matter in a frank discussion and we are convinced that now is the time for healing."

In response, Klas Charles Harris intoned: "People were insulted and I will always have regrets." Asked who insulted the Spiritual Baptist, Harris replied: "Sir, I guess that would be me. I am truly sorry."

It all looked and sounded so Anancy-like, reminiscent of the behavior of a bygone era when slavery prevailed. It was almost as though it were an attempt to see who could humiliate oneself the most in public, each gushing over the other to say how much the world had mistaken them; that indeed, new information had come to light that exonerated all the parties concerned. After a week of anguish, the entire incident was based on "a misunderstanding. Everything is now water under the bridge." Let's kiss and make up and show the power of God's salvific mercies.

The only problem with all of this is that the Baptists do not represent all Black people and in the year 2004 Black people should not subscribe to this kind of tomfoolery. It is almost as though after one hundred and sixty six years of slavery black people have not grown accustomed to freedom and its responsibilities. It is almost as though forty four years after national independence any persons, black or white, can insult us with impunity and all we can say is, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."

In a secular world, such attempts at forgiveness have limited validity. A black person in the employ of a white person insults a group of black people because he finds other black people contemptible in the sight of God. He realizes his fullest embodiment of his manhood only when he feels that he is doing the bidding of his master. Only a backward government, unaware of its responsibility to its people, can asks that this egregious act racist behavior be forgiven so that we all can move on.

No serious government who respects the dignity of each person in the society can allow any of its citizens to be insulted and then asks its population to move on. No serious organization can accept that a public institution, in the full glare of the public spotlight, insults its people because of its color and then, without any explanation whatsoever, decide they have the power to forgive and to welcome another to the bosom of our society with our any soul cleansing.

Africans in this land must know that people would continue to defecate upon us as long as we accept the behavior of persons such as Charles Harris. Africans in this land must know that no government can simple issue an edict that says no matter what the insult, all that is required is an apology and just by wishing the black man should be in full flight by the year 2020. As Sparrow suggested some years ago, by then, all of us would be saying, "Please, Mr. N. please." The truth is, that most of our leaders have failed to understand that a person, as well as a people, exists at the conscious and unconscious levels of their beings and that the residue of racial and racist behaviors are deeply embedded in the unconscious and reveal themselves only on occasions such as what happened at Crowne Plaza when the "real" person comes out. As Sigmund Freud notes, it is through the gaps and lacunae of conscious discourse that the real person is revealed. In 2004, no one would come up to your face and call you a "N." It is only though his action that he reveals his true repulsion and, in this instance, the community's unconscious response to black people.

A government that does not understand this is a government that lives in denial and innocence. A government that does not understand that it needs to demand an inquiry anytime an incident such as this happens to expose and root source of such unconscious bias does not know its nose from its elbows. Becoming elected does not give any person or any government instant wisdom. If it is wise, it recognizes that every instance of blatant discrimination, alleged or otherwise, must be examined to be sure that what our people have fought for over two hundred years is not reinstated in a day or is practiced in a subtle manner by those who possess the money, the influence and the power.

Both the PNM government and the leaders of the Spiritual Baptists have failed us in this matter. It is unfortunate that the government did not conduct an inquiry into this incident, demand that Mr. Charles Harris be fired and that Crowne Plaza conduct racial and cultural programs to sensitize its employees to these kinds of unconscious insults and abuses.

One can be assured if some Indians or white people were treated in a similar manner the government would be bending backwards to assure them that no harm was intended. For starters, the Indians would have ransacked the law books to discover avenues for the just recompense of their pain. If it were white people, Harris Charles would have been reprimanded and fired instantly. But then sometimes, some of us act as Anancy's children; tricksters by training; innocent by tradition; and oblivious by design. Most of us seem to be still asleep. Like Rip Van Winkle, when we awake, we might find ourselves comfortably seated at the back of the bus, happy that the driver had the compassion to even pick us up.

A people who accept such scorn deserves nothing better than the contempt of its compatriots. It is a shame that in the year 2004 Black people should be subjected to such objectionable behavior. Sometimes one is forced to ask, how, long, how long, must we cry out in this land of ours for the justice and respect we deserve?

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