THE United States of America is currently in the throes of a massive uprising following the death of George Floyd. Black Americans have been struggling in America since the founding of that nation against racism and oppression. People are angry about Floyd’s death but other factors such as extra-legal violence, rampant police brutality, unemployment, school segregation and housing segregation, which has historically been state sponsored in America through policies of redlining are driving these protests.
Of course, it is important that we in Saint Lucia stand in solidarity with Black Americans. If we remain silent, we would be guilty of complicity. In the words of Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
During my time at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine campus, I was fortunate enough to participate in student activism by serving as the President of the U.W.I Afrikan Society; Vice President of the U.W.I Guild of Students; and for a time, being a member of the National Joint Action Committee’s Youth Arm. It is worth noting that the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) was founded by Chief Servant Makandal Daaga, the leader of the 1970 Black Power Revolution in Trinidad and Tobago. That Chief Servant Daaga was elected as the President of the U.W.I Guild of Students in 1967 shows that student activism is imperative for societal and political change. It is to be hoped that we will continue to speak about these issues; especially our young people who will one day lead us and are therefore entrusted with our future, but we must let a sense of balance, context and wisdom lead us.
We must express support for Black Americans but we cannot import their issues of racially motivated police brutality into our country where they do not exist. I thank our hardworking police officers for all that they do to keep us safe and I hope they continue to get the resources and support they need to do their jobs.
Some persons have suggested we are being ruled by elites and others have used words like ‘revolution’. We have elections every five years, we enjoy freedom of the press, and we have various ways to raise our voices and be heard. As a citizen and resident of Saint Lucia I urge caution. In the midst of Trinidad and Tobago’s (T&T) 1970 Black Power Revolution it had been said that truckloads of guns were taken into the hills for an overthrow of the government. It is not for me to say whether this is true or not; but what it speaks to is radicalism. That radicalism showed itself in 1990 in T&T when the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen, a radical Muslim group attempted to overthrow the government. Radicalism aside, T&T continues to be a racially divided society as a result of the ‘tribal’ or ‘race politics’ used by its politicians. Saint Lucia has not had that problem, here we are only Saint Lucians. Let us not create that problem because it will have far reaching implications that stretch decades into the future.
Our neighbour Grenada had its own revolution, led by the very charismatic and brilliant Maurice Bishop. Mr Bishop was respected, beloved, and as he said in the last speech he made in America, he was black. He came to power through the force of the Grenadian Revolution of 1979 which overthrew Eric Gairy and his administration. To Bishop’s credit Grenada was well served by his government, but he refused to hold elections, stifled the free press and the opposition.
Grenada shows us that revolutions do not always make for a better democracy or for democracy at all. I have listened to some people compare our colonial history with the Jim Crow South. I condemn the Jim Crow South and I am thankful that Saint Lucia and the English-speaking Caribbean have never pursued radical de-colonisation like Zimbabwe which violently and racially seized white-owned farms many years ago and ruined their country. This action devastated Zimbabwe’s agricultural production and helped to make the once prosperous Zimbabwe into a failed state of barren fields and starving people.
Years ago, Dr Martin Luther King Jr famously said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Dr King believed in working together with whites for racial equality and his dream was for the world to stop seeing colour and only see people. Today, we are seeing the largest numbers of people of different skin colours coming together in support of Black Americans. I believe Dr King would be touched by this. At a time when the world is coming together, it seems divisive to try to drive Saint Lucia apart based on skin colour.
We must support the Black Lives Matter Movement responsibly and I would even dare say that out of all the nations in the world Saint Lucia was the first nation to make the most powerful statement in support of Black Lives Matter when after the tragic and unlawful killing of Botham Jean, our Prime Minister joined Mr Jean’s grieving family in Dallas, Texas. Speaking to the Dallas Media, he mentioned that he had cut short his vacation and flown to Texas to assist the Jean family. The Dallas Media reported that Saint Lucia’s Prime Minister had stated that he was there to show solidarity and had attended a meeting with the city’s District Attorney. That was a powerful message to the world- that in Saint Lucia Black Lives Matter and in Saint Lucia, we stand together. We are a racially diverse society with a black majority but we are more than the colour of our skin or the texture of our hair. We are only: Saint Lucians!
We must not allow others to slice and dice our country into “them” and “us”, “we” and “them”. Out of many, we are one people and we are stronger together!