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Selwyn Cudjoe's 2007 Emancipation Address

On Tuesday 31st July, 2007, NAEAP held its dinner and awards ceremony at the Centre of Excellence, Macoya and Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe delivered his Emancipation address.

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
President: National Association for the Empowerment of African People

July 31, 2007

On August 1, 2007, we celebrate two hundred years since the European slave trade was abolished. This is a cause for great celebration. May we never forget the trials and tribulations that our ancestors suffered when they were transported across the African continent as cattle and brought to these islands to serve the needs of colonialist-capitalist exploiters. However, 2007 is not 1807. Much has changed since then in these very small islands of the Caribbean. Today, we must give serious thought about how we transcend the limitations of slavery and colonialism and function in a globalized society as purposeful agents who have shed the baggage of restrictive or coercive practices. In 2007 we should seek to deepen our freedom in the land that has been bequeathed to us.

Freedom is much more than a concept. It is a constant state of becoming; a delicate balancing act between what is and what ought to be. It is a process in which one tries always to realize oneself in historical time. It is not a license to do what one wants to do; when one wants to do it; regardless of the consequences. Freedom, as Frederick Engels observed "consists in the control over ourselves and over external nature which is founded on knowledge of natural necessity. It is therefore necessarily a product of historical development."

Recently, there has been some confusion about the content of social categories such as citizenship, race, and ethnicity. The term Trinbagonian or Trinidadian and Tobagonian refers to one's citizenship. With the exception of the guests who are in our midst, all of us are Trinbagonians or Trinidadians and Tobagonians. In our Caribbean civilization, the terms "African" and "Indian" refer to one's cultural or ethnic identity, each of which is constructed in time. There is and can be no irreducible African or Indian essence upon which we can draw to make ourselves whole. Our Africanness or Indianness, to the degree that we speak of such identities, results from centuries of living in a particular place, intermingling in a specific way, and the vivacity with which we preserve historical memory, of which the slave trade and slavery are constitutive parts.

Such a framework suggests there is no contradiction between a person's assertion of his identity and his claim of a specific citizenship. "Each group," Walter Rodney reminds us, "must be built up, made conscious of their own potential, their own dignity and their own power" before their identities become mere markers in the larger fabric of the national space.

In this bicentennial year, African people do not receive the respect they deserve. We can ensure such respect by first respecting ourselves; pulling ourselves together, demonstrating the necessary self-sufficiency, and asserting a new a sense of group pride. In 1868 L. A. De Verteuil commented about the African presence in this land: "They are besides guided, in a mixed degree, by the sense of association; and the principle of combination for the common weal has been fully sustained wherever they have settled in any number. In fact, the whole Yarraba [Yoruba] race of the colony may be said to form a sort of social league for mutual support and protection."

In our nine years of existence, few Africans of means have assisted the National Association for the Empowerment of African People (NAEAP) in our mutual support effort; few persons have contributed to our school; few persons have assisted us in our efforts to speak out against the injustices that are being committed against black people in the country. While the Maha Sabha cries discrimination for not receiving a radio license, NAEAP is yet to receive a radio license for which it applied over six years ago.

Sometimes I wonder when an African statesperson will get up and say we need not be discriminated against because we are Africans. We hear of discriminatory practices against black students at the Medical School; at the University of the West Indies; and at firms that pave our roads. Yet, discrimination against Africans does not elicit the same opprobrium as discrimination against other groups. We wonder why this is so. This evening I want to challenge the African elite to become more supportive of African brothers and sisters in the society. Your silence bespeaks a certain complicity in our loss of respect among other groups. The African elite ought to take a page out of the book of Louis Lee Sing who, from the inception of our organization, has gone out of his way to support NAEAP and everything that it has done. Radio i95 is the only place where NAEAP can count on a voice over the national airwaves.

It is important that our African elite realize their obligation towards the group and participate in its liberation journey. Rodney reminds us that "the responsibility for the slave trade, as far as Africans themselves bear responsibility, lies squarely upon the shoulders of the tribal rulers and elites. They were in alliance with the European slave merchants, and it was upon the mass of people that they jointly preyed." The elite cannot continue to participate in the betrayal of the group.

The freedom of our people lies squarely on the shoulders of every responsible African in this land. We are our own liberators. Frantz Fanon affirmed: "I am my own foundation. I will initiate the cycle of my freedom." Archimedes, the Greek mathematician, averred: "Give me a place to stand and I shall move the earth." In Trinidad and Tobago, Africans have a place on which to stand. The question remains: How do we initiate that cycle of action and activity that will ensure our freedom?

The advancement of group sufficiency and ethnic consolidation resides within each of us and our capacity to give generously to the collective. Our fate is not to pull apart but to strengthen the fabric of the group; reaffirm group pride; and move towards a place where ethnic attributes become nothing but markers of our existentialist condition rather than the determinant of our destiny. Loyalty to our group, it must be emphasized, does not threaten any other group nor does it impact adversely upon our national cohesion. In 1962 Dr. Eric Williams observed there can be only one mother of the nation. No mother, he said, can love one child more than the other. Our destiny, he hinted, is to create a state in which the ethnic and the national blended into a harmonious whole.

As we strive towards that ideal, let us give to our group as much as we receive as individuals. Africans can only take their rightful place within the larger family, called the nation, if its members contribute generously to the group. Only in giving do we find our better selves; only in sharing do we enhance our presence and ensure our just due. It is only when the Master gave himself so that others may be free that He found his true ontological vocation.

We should follow in his footsteps. It is the necessary prerequisite of our transcendence.

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