July 31, 2005
By Raffique Shah
WHEN Bob Marley pleaded in song with his African brethren to "emancipate yourself from mental slavery", I think he was either misunderstood by many in the diaspora, or they have chosen to ignore the message of this relentless fighter-in-verse for African freedom. A case in point is that of Professor Selwyn Cudjoe condemning Principles of Fairness committee for organising a conference that was held yesterday, saying it was insulting to the African community for this committee to host such a conference during "Emancipation Week". What's insulting about a three-hour conference of this nature on one morning of week-long-activities?
It befuddles the mind that Cudjoe -and he has since been joined by others-sees in something as innocuous as this meeting a major insult to Africans. Is it that it coincides with the arrival here of the Nigerian President, the principal invitee? Those who are invited to greet the President at Piarco (which is all he will do at that time) will have received their invitations and be at Piarco to pay their respects. Even members of the "Fairness" committee, if they have such invitations (I am writing this on Friday afternoon), will forego the meeting to attend. The majority of the people who attend the conference will not be invitees, so they will simply go to UWI for the meeting.
Where's the disrespect, the racism, in hosting this meeting?
I am a signatory to the initial statement by the "Fairness Committee", and I did so because principles outlined in it were worth pursuing at a time when the politics of the country seems to be heading down the road-of-no-recovery in so far as the polarisation of the two main races goes. It rejects discrimination of any form and promotes equality of treatment not only from government, but from all sectors of the society. Its goals are lofty, maybe even unattainable. But they are nevertheless laudable. And as long I do not see anyone trying to turn this group into another political party or a support base for any existing party, I shall continue to support its principles.
Already several signatories have been assailed for breaching the promotion of the racial harmony clause. PSA president Jennifer Baptiste was taken to task by some for her blanket statement on Labour Day that appeared to single out the Syrian community for a bashing. And at the launch Sat Maharaj faced the ire of some present because of a recent statement he had made that was seen as anti-African. I have long shed my "anti-White-lenses", which I readily admit to having worn in the run-up to the events of 1970, and for some time thereafter. My position ever since is that one does not judge a people by the utterances or actions of a few among them, but judge each individual by his or her own actions.
I should hope that others who signed the document, and those who support it, do not wear racial or religious blinkers. If they do, then they do not belong. It's as simple as that. In a society that's being torn apart by vultures who prey on race, religion, hairstyle, colour of skin and other prejudices, I don't know that the committee will ever achieve its objectives. Indeed, among the handful of signatories there are those who, in my view, harbour such prejudices.
So it pains me when I see Cudjoe making a mountain of what is not even a molehill. If anyone has thrown a divisive spanner into the Emancipation celebrations, it is he, not the Fairness Committee. I am certain that I shall be attacked for this stand, not just by Cudjoe, but by others of similar ilk. I should just like to say this to them.
From around the latter 1960s when my political consciousness heightened (and I was in my early 20s then), I was at the forefront of struggle for African liberation, I worshipped the founding fathers of the Non-Aligned Movement (Nehru, Tito, Sukarno, Nkrumah, Nyerere, Nasser and others). And I stood firm to the point where I laid my life on the line, quite literally, on behalf of the masses in this country, both African and Indian. In 1968, when Rex Lassalle and I wore dashikis, people laughed at us. Then, many who today play "more African than Africans", wore business suits. They still do leaving their Afro-garb for this one day in the year, Emancipation Day. Have they really emancipated themselves from mental slavery?
I think not. And because I don't wear dashikis today, or kurtas to proclaim my Indian ancestry, does not make me less conscious of my past than these "come-latelys". I am a proud Trini who, for some 40 of my 59 years, has stood up for my people, my country, and my brethren worldwide. Challenge that record...or shut up.