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Pride in our origins

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
January 02, 2023

Two weeks ago I cautioned the Peopleís National Movement about the Prime Ministerís desire to foist Stuart Young upon the party as its next political leader. I also asked party leaders to recognise how important black people are to the sustenance of the party.

In his response, Minister Young accused the editor of the Express and me of being racist for publishing my observation. He commented: "The Express editor has taken a conscious decision to use racism as the foundation for an attack against me and I reject this... It is important at moments like this when media and others attempt to attack persons based on race, and a promotion of racism, that we, the citizens, reject them and their messaging, and I do so." (Express, December 19.)

Black Stalin, whose primary concern was the advancement of black people, left us on Wednesday to join our ancestors. Despite our shared grief, I exclaimed, "How propitious!" Here was the personification of black pride, an advocate for black dignity, one of our most enlightened griots leaving us in our suffering but providing us with a repertoire of wisdom to help us face each new day. As I contemplated his legacy, I wondered if Young and his money-class friends considered Black Stalin a racist because he celebrated his racial origins.

Mia Amor Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados and another proud black woman, captured the profundity of Black Stalinís work. She said: "Black Stalin was acutely conscious of our shared history, culture, passions and concerns, and expressed them in his songs in a way we never could ourselves.

"In the true tradition of calypso, Black Stalin was also a griot, chronicling the issues and philosophies impacting our daily lives." (Express, December 30.)

Stalin was black and proud of his blackness, hence his sobriquet, Black Stalin. He excelled at almost every facet of his art, but was at his best when he spoke about the condition of his people. Such a moment was especially poignant when he called on St Peter to allow him to bun our oppressors when they arrived at heavenís gate. Mottley reminds us: "This was a powerful reminder of the exploitation and the oppression of black people, by whoever and whatever."

The meaning here is simple. Black people have an obligation to expose our oppressors, whoever they are or wherever they happen to be. He recognised that it was a continuous struggle to which we must dedicate our lives. So when our newspapers and Facebook pages are filled with encomiums of Black Stalin, I hope that no one dares call him a racist.

Black Stalin was made by his society and the pride he felt as a black person, in spite of the oppression that he faced. He spoke about our common historical and cultural origins, convinced that a person who didnít know his/her past could never discover his/her true identity.

He reminded us that we could make it if we tried. His wife, Patsy Calliste, recalled: "He denounced racism, championed the cause of the underprivileged, and advocated for Caribbean unity."

The one thing that Young and the PNM leaders do not understand is that in spite of the progress the country has made since its independence, black people (or "the underprivileged", as his (Black Stalinís) wife has called us) are still at the bottom of the economic pile. In this context, a consciousness of our origins and our culture are indispensable weapons as we strive to overcome our "little troubles", as Bob Marley said of our fellow sufferers in Zimbabwe.

At the same time that Young was uttering his inanities, the new United States ambassador to T&T announced her arrival in the country with fierce determination and pride: "The Bond family represents a proud line of black educators, professionals and community leaders.

"Descended from slaves, our family has made meaningful contributions to the fabric of our country. Indeed, our history is a proud American story...

"My mother was an educator who served as president of the St Louis school boardĖthe first black woman to do soĖand she served on President Lyndon Johnsonís civil rights commission...

"My parents were both actively involved in the civil rights movement in the US. They were instrumental in the early days of garnering key community and business support that was crucial to getting black candidates elected to political office, to which they had never before had access." (Express, December 19.)

I hope this declaration of self doesnít make her a racist.

Eintou Pearl Springer lamented, "the seeming absence of any Ifa/Orisa representation at the recently held National Day of Prayer... Let us not forget that African spirituality was deliberately targeted for dehumanisation of the African during enslavement and colonisation... Ifa/Orisa spirituality must be represented at all national events where religious leaders are invited to speak, to pray." (Express, December 19.)

I hope she is not seen as a racist.

Black Stalin lamented the oppression of black people, Bob Marley went to Africa in solidarity with Zimbabweans, PM Mottley celebrated the achievements of this "nation builder", while Springer admonished, "Respect our spirituality.

It is incumbent upon any conscious black person to insist that we honour our own and demand that our struggles be rewarded in this life, rather than in the other.

Sometimes we create enemies when we speak up about our people, but I take comfort from Victor Hugoís observation: "You have enemies? Good. It means youíve stood up for something, sometime in your life."

Black Stalin gives us the courage to speak up about the need for black people to fight for justice and fairness, and that is not racism. It is called pride in our origins.

—Prof Cudjoeís e-mail address is scudjoe@wellesley.edu. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.

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