Monthly Archives: November 2011
We’re closing in on the modern era of the African nation in an effort to explain its situation in the world today. The story began in antiquity with Africa—birthplace of man—and the people who are the genetic source of all mankind. The next 7,000 years of civilisation resulted in the most culturally rich and diverse landmass on the planet with over 10,000 nations, ranging from hunter-gatherers to city states to empires, all with complex religions, governments and ways of life.
Europe arrived in the 1400s, beginning worldwide military invasions which over the next 500 years would slaughter over 500 million people, stealing resources from every inhabitable land mass. The system set up to keep the trillions of dollars in stolen wealth in the hands of the west was a global system of apartheid with legal, educational, social, religious, political, and economic laws of white privilege over brown over black.
Slavery created “the plantation”—a western institution repeated as “the reservation”, “the concentration camp”, and “the ghetto”. In the plantation hundreds of techniques of psychological manipulation were trained towards the breaking of African will by the removal of African memory, godhead, science and culture—to brainwash a new type of slave. Africans resisted: retaining culture at the threat of death; escaping to create maroon communities; and organising revolts culminating in the Haitian Revolution led by Toussaint which defeated three empires—the only successful slave revolution in human history.
During this period African labour built most of the infrastructure of the New World—clearing away forests, changing the course of rivers, planting tens of thousands of miles of cotton and sugar, building harbours, roads and cities, even innovating and inventing processes in factories, docks and domestic life. An entire hemisphere was transformed by African labour and skill. This lasted for 300 years.
African resistance, ex-slave and European emancipators, and economic competition brought about slavery’s end. But the most important note is that “there were no reparations for Africans!” There was, instead, reparations for slave owners—tens of millions of dollars. This refusal of the west to compensate or recognise 300 years of unpaid labour is the central act under-developing the African diaspora. Africans remain the only wronged people not paid reparations for genocidal acts. This stance is so ingrained that Haiti, a victorious state, paid reparations to nations it defeated! The money Haiti paid France bankrupted Haiti for the next 200 years and is the main reason for its underdevelopment.
Despite this—and the injustice of releasing an unpaid, landless ex-slave population into a hostile world —the post-slavery period featured 150 years of African accomplishment. In the first age—1830-1930—Africans acquired skills at a phenomenal rate, creating working and educated classes—laying a foundation for communal wealth. The next age, from 1930-1970, was graced by a series of African-led cultural golden ages and organised mass movements which transformed the face of the world. This whole period was characterised by a series of African “firsts” and geniuses who accomplished historic feats against relentless hostility.
The period 1830-1930 saw an entire class of African artisans, traders, politicians, businessmen, lawyers, educators and scholars emerging, trying to create a new society amidst stubborn racist structures. Just out of slavery American scholars noted with shock the sheer volume of scientific patents and inventions being registered by Africans. This is the period of “Firsts”—each of these stories is an epic in itself—first African surgeon, first African cricket captain, first African heavyweight champion, first African senator… Every gain was fought. No victory was left sacred.
The backlash against black advancement happened everywhere — in the Caribbean, in Latin and in North America—where it was particularly dread. In the 1860s in ten states, coalitions of freed slaves and progressive whites formed biracial state governments. They introduced programmes and institutions including the founding of public schools and charitable institutions.
Violent opposition emerged from a vigilante organisation—the Ku Klux Klan. The very image of black legislators was a call to arms. White conservatives called “Redeemers” regained “white-only” control—state by state —using fraud and violence.
This period ended with Jim Crow laws which enshrined second-class citizenship for Africans until the 1960s Civil Rights. Another example is Greenwood, Tulsa, Oklahoma—known as the Black Wall Street, home to prominent black businessmen including multi-millionaires. The Tulsa Race Riot occurred on June 1, 1921. All of 35 square blocks of homes and businesses were flattened by angry whites, killing men, women, and children. Over 600 successful African businesses were lost, 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30 grocery stores, two cinemas, a hospital, bank, post office, libraries, schools, law offices, six private airplanes and a bus system.
The stories of these pioneers battling institutional racism could fill several national libraries—and should. Frederick Douglass, Jack Johnson, Dr James McCune Smith, Macon Allen, Mzumbo Lazare, Bessie Coleman, Fauntleroy Julian, JJ Thomas, Ralph Bunche, Frank Worrell, Jackie Robinson, Matthew Henson, Marshal Taylor, Vivien Thomas and thousands more. Each story is heartbreaking, inspirational, and necessary to understand how much the democratic life of the modern world is built on African pioneers. Stories to be found nowhere in our mainstream history, museums, media, education, and spiritual centres. Yet this is the history of the 20th century! If African descendants knew what was sacrificed in their name they would be more careful with the life in their hands.
So many of us cannot deal with history. We are frightened to stare down the naked horror that went into the creation of this modern world. It is simple. 500 years ago Western military conquest began a process that decimated hundreds of millions of people and created unprecedented wealth for itself. This wealth was predicated on a global apartheid caste system of white over brown over black. This passed through periods of Native American and South Pacific genocide, African slavery and holocausts, and Asian occupation and indentureship. This caste apartheid was practised in legislature, education, religion, and in distribution of resources like housing and employment. The only reason it is not as brutal as before is because people fought to reform it.
We find it hard to reconcile a world of shiny iPhones, new cars, Disney World and Cable TV with systems that also delivered genocide and calculated Western advantage. We are afraid to connect the dots. So many are quick to scream ‘conspiracy theory’ when the face in the bed next to them is really called ‘historical fact’. They are only now seeing its ‘wake-up face’ without make-up. These people can accept there was something called ‘Apartheid’ with a policy of white over brown over black in South Africa. But refuse to admit that this was the same system the entire Westernised world lived under until the 1960s. Both my grandfather and father lived that reality in Trinidad. Unable to vote. And confined in terms of housing, employment, healthcare, leisure and access to civic amenities. They fought to change that and better their condition. Probably only 15 per cent of their community escaped the clutches of poverty…
What clueless commentators do not understand is that the things we called Independence movements in the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and in Latin America — and what Africans in America called the fight for Civil Rights — were in fact phases of anti-Apartheid struggles we have been fighting for 500 years… These global systems which took so long to go away have not disappeared overnight. Vested interests continue to battle for the status quo…
For some of us living middle class lives in oil rich T&T it is easy to gloss over the last 500 years and their legacy. By the accident of some dinosaurs dying under our soil we have oil- which this world deems valuable. We were fortunate that the process of its extraction from our soil has been peaceful. And so some of us have enough money to run from the worst scars of a bloody legacy. But for many others the last 500 years has had no coffee break. Speak to the over 50 million dispossessed Native Americans whose hemisphere has been stolen. Speak to the Sioux, Aztec, Comanche, Navajo, and Taino tribes and ask them why they just don’t ‘suck it up’ and ‘move on’ after having their populations decimated and ways of life destroyed. Speak to countries where resources have been extracted at the barrel of a gun.
As difficult as it may seem, there are shell-shocked communities right among us, communities that have not been insulated from the worst of history’s lashes. They live lives far removed from the ones some of us take for granted, lives closer to the one my grandfather lived. There are those who haven’t escaped the programmed tightening cycles of poverty. Many of these are the same communities seeded by the escape from the plantation…
It is a hard task emotionally to face down the last 500 years of European imperial expansion and its fruits. But stare it down we must — because its cycle may be coming to an end. We must also understand that all the madness we are witnessing in the world today is the result of the flaws within and backlash against that system. Climate change is a direct result of the West’s flawed philosophy of disrespect and over-exploitation of Nature. The Arab Revolts and the Latin American Socialist governments that have taken over in the last decade are the backlash for decades of foisting dictators on people. The right-wing Nazi movements rising in Europe are due to constituencies internalising the stereotypes and messages of Apartheid. The collapse of the Western banking and financial system is due to flawed ideas of materialism and concentration of wealth…
And the imperilled state of the African nation worldwide is the result of a legacy of plunder of a motherland, and the uncompensated enslavement and cultural disenfranchisement of a people. It is the result of the establishment of a global caste system based on colour, and a system that continually mobilises to negate African progress at the centre — with repercussions at the periphery. All these are fruits of the same tree.
The Western Empire is at a moment of crisis — its implications are being visited upon us all. This is not Mayan Prophecy. This is not conspiracy theory cum racial propaganda. It is simple historical fact. We have to find ways to solve the problems that have been created by this history together. With clarity. Without running from the truths of this history. And to the naysayers, these words from the Mahatma: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”