Black Lives Matter. Or, to be politically correct, black lives also matter. Even here in the Caribbean. While the rest of the world protests the endless injustices meted out to people of color—often by those in authority—we citizens of the Caribbean also must live with our own peculiar woes. It may not be an everyday local occurrence to be hunted down and unjustly treated for reasons that have everything to do with our skin tone, but many of us daily encounter worse. Yes, for what can be more terrible than to be endlessly at war with ourselves?
The Caribbean is a predominantly black region. Nearly two centuries after emancipation, many islands of this region still have not recovered completely from the effects of colonialism. We have moved forward in many aspects, but often our too tragic history seems a haunting presence in the thoughts, actions, and the way we live as a people. Although many would deny this truth, there remains the collateral damage. Our history has taught us to love one another. And we do—some of the time. We haven’t fully learned to accept ourselves as we are; that we come in different shades of black. We prefer instead to talk about who are the authentic sons and daughters of our soil. By our actions we would dictate who should do what about our appearance, including our hair, and what it means when some of us refuse to comply. We talk togetherness but walk a different walk.
Let’s take a peek at ourselves in the mirror: Our island home economically deprived but we boast a high level of crime. On June 6 we elected a new prime minister. Throughout the campaign that landed him in parliament, he was repeatedly referred to as undeserving of office, one of the reasons being he is the product of an English mother and light-skinned native father. Some continue to suggest he has no interest in Saint Lucians with more African characteristics. That his father has always been among the nation’s leading employers means nothing to the son’s detractors. We may have come a long way in the last 100 years but not in the area of racial relations.
Racial tension continues to hinder the region’s development. But, what are the other contributing factors? For most of us who grew up in the islands, our history books showed us just the tip of the iceberg. The slave trade originated in places some of us, even now, never heard of, let alone visited. The version of the history we were taught at our primary and secondary schools detailed just enough pain and hardship to get us thinking, but not enough to really care to know more.
Most of our history is still enveloped in darkness; it’s time some more light were shed on in it, perchance to help us heal. After all, forgiveness helps the forgiver more than it does the forgiven. There has been much talk over the years about reparations. But what exactly do we mean by reparations? Even on that we remain divided.
So where do we go from here? Well, we certainly can’t turn back the clock! There is an urgent need to find a real sense of harmony in the interactions of people of African descent and their wider communities. There is dire need for us to really learn to love another, to concentrate on the great things we share and less on the colors that make us whom we are. As I see it, we are like a well-tended garden full of flowers of different hues. We first need to recognize the harm we do ourselves when we behave like the supremacists we profess to detest, who continue to be a menace to our sisters and brothers elsewhere. We must mend our damaged selves, damaged, if you like by slavery and its fall-out. We alone can determine whether we live uselessly in the past or move into a rich future of our own making!