We have all watched the news in horror – Mr. George Floyd being killed by a chauvinistic white American policeman who held his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for a number of minutes. And many untold, un-sung, un-filmed and un-social-media-ed black Americans dying in such manner. Why is this; what does it mean for us in the Caribbean, for the world, and what is to be done?
It is important first to understand the differences between the experiences of Black American and the Caribbean. There are similarities, but there are also key differences.
1. African Americans endured seven decades (74 years) more slavery than the Caribbean. Slavery started in the USA in 1619 and lasted for almost two hundred and fifty years, ending only after the American Civil War (1861-1865). Slavery in the English-speaking Caribbean started in 1662 and was abolished in the English Caribbean in 1834 (a total of 172 years). In fact, the continuation of slavery was a key reason for the American Civil War, as Southern political leaders resisted attempts by Northern antislavery political forces to block the expansion and continuation of slavery. In the newer colonies such as Trinidad and Tobago, slavery was short-lived (about 50 years), picking up steam when the slave, Toussaint Louverture, led the Haitian Revolution (1791-1802), beating the French, when many French plantation owners fled to Trinidad and Tobago and New Orleans.
2. Black Americans are Not in the Majority. In the Caribbean, blacks make up the majority of the population. In the USA, whites account for almost three-quarter (71%) of the population, with blacks accounting for just over 12%. In Jamaica, by contrast, Blacks make up more than three-quarters of the population (76.3%) and whites, just 3.2%. In South Africa, blacks are in the majority (76.4%).
3. Free Education for All – Caribbean islands are so organised that free primary and secondary school education is equally available for all, irrespective of race, colour or creed. And for the best schools on the island, a merit system is in place. Even university education is virtually free in islands such as Trinidad and Tobago and many schools provide a free daily warm meal for children in need. In the USA, while education is provided for free up to twelfth grade, local property taxes provide most of the funding for public schools. Therefore, the quality of education varies according to the affluence of neighbourhoods. Not surprisingly, black neighbourhoods have access to poor education. But, as the Caribbean demonstrates, education is one of the main equalisers. When you grow up in the Caribbean and you go to school and you learn together in a classroom with Africans, Whites, Chinese, Indians, Mixed, Muslim, Hindu, Catholics, Presbyterians, Jehovah Witnesses, Anglicans and Methodists, one develops a very different perspective on race and religion. You truly learn to love your neighbour as yourself.
4. Free Medical Services – In almost all Caribbean islands, Public Health Centers and Hospitals provide FREE health care for all. Mandatory National Insurance Programmes provide compensation if one is unable to work as well as pension benefits.
5. Market-based housing – In the USA, there is a deliberate policy to avoid blacks moving into ‘good’ neighbourhoods, for fear that the prices will fall. In the Caribbean, there is no limit or restriction as to where anyone can live. Income and market prices are the main determinants of where one choses to live. Housing schemes, supported by the State, are also available for low-income households.
6. Private Prisons – Can you imagine that private businessmen and enterprises make money based on the number of people – black people! that are put in their Jails. Some Prisons are the domain of private enterprise in the USA. And prisoners provide ‘free’ labour that allow the private prisons to make money. Can you then imagine, that the more people/black people in Jail, and the longer time they spend in jails, the more money someone makes? Is this capitalism gone too far? Prisons are a public ‘good’ and should be one of the services that the state should provide. The aim should be to have less prisoners, rehabilitate offenders and create a better society for everyone. In the US, it is easier for someone who has had a prison sentence to buy a gun, than to vote. Is that OK?
7. Guns and More Guns – One of the reasons for the huge death rate among black Americans is the law (the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights) that allows any American to carry fire arms. This is why, whenever a black driver is pulled over by a policeman, it is the animal law that holds ‘kill or be killed’. The USA is one of the few places in the world in which an ordinary citizen is allowed to carry arms, and it is certainly and by far the most violent, high-income country in the world.
8. White Supremacists – How Can you Sleep? How can you sleep when the rest of us die?; When a mother (and a daughter) have no chance to say ‘Goodbye’, croons Pink in Dear Mr. President. Amidst silent sufferers there are silent beneficiaries. People, companies, neighbourhoods, communities secretly benefit while Blacks suffer. It is easy to ‘turn a blind eye’ when you are ‘benefitting’.
9. Secret Beneficiaries – When you look at oppressive societies and you wonder why they are allowed to be oppressive; and continue to be oppressive for so long (70 years of Apartheid in South Africa); why is injustice being continuously committed and normal, ‘good’ people sit back and let it happen, pretending that it is none of their business and that ‘all lives matter’; you cannot help but wonder. The answer is that, secretly, people ‘benefit’ from the oppression. Who do you think benefitted from the annihilation of 10 million Jews in Germany over 10 years? Did the German people not see what was going on; did they not notice the Jews being bundled up and sent away; why did the majority not reach out and help? Well, what do you think happened to the fine homes that the Jews once lived in; the jewellery that they owned that was not burnt in the gas chambers; the fine art that they possessed; and the millions that they held in Swiss and other banks, that could not be claimed.
Someone did ‘benefit’ from these acts of hate and injustice. So consider how white Americans benefit by keeping black Americans down – preventing black persons from moving next door to achieve higher house prices in an all-white neighbourhood; access to nice jobs, respect, higher incomes and confidence, purely because of the colour of your skin. Can you honestly sleep at night amidst such injustice?
10. Envy Makes the World go Wrong – there are many instances of hate; of the need to show that we are ‘better’ than others, from skin colour, to education, religion, gender, size, shape, etc.. Why do we create and live in societies where we constantly try to put another group down? And the reason is DEEP ENVY. Germans, deep down, envied the Jews – they were educated, wealthy and prosperous – enough reason to snuff them out. In the USA, believe it or not, Black Americans are also deeply envied. And the real FEAR is that, in reality, they may be ‘better’ able and more capable than whites. Just look at Mr. Floyd, the ‘Gentle Giant’, or the athletic Ahmaud Arbery, who was taking a jog in his neighbourhood and gunned down by a white father and son duo; or Walter McMillan who was wrongly convicted of killing a white woman in 1987; or the Tulsa Oklahoma Race Massacre of 1921 killing nearly 300 persons, leaving 8,000 homeless and a white mob destroying more than 35 square blocks of the district —at that time the wealthiest black community in the United States, known as “Black Wall Street” – just because former slaves were given land after the American Civil War (1865) and were prospering?
11. It is not a zero sum game – that the less that Blacks get/have, the more that I will have/be. This is so not true. The cake can be so much better by working together; by being more productive and by stopping snuffing out able-bodied men and women than can have a great contribution to society – as mothers, as fathers, as human beings, and generally, good people.
12. The Time is Now – In 2020 we cannot continue to carry on as if slavery did not happen and as if black lives do not matter. It is high time that we reckon with our history and (also herstory, because woman also have to tell a valuable story); to understand what made us ‘great’; and to ask for forgiveness for the crimes that we continue to commit wittingly and unwittingly. Let us take time to understand; to know and to start loving our neighbours as ourselves.
It is clear that, in the USA, there is continued systematic exploitation and under-valuation of Black Americans and a consistent strangling of economic and social opportunities. This is based on a time-worn idea of the superiority of the white race, the absurdity of which was demonstrated in the third Reich. We do not need to look far – poor health; poor education; poor housing; poor neighbourhoods; poor access to finance; poor family structure; poor circumstances; poor jobs; poor opportunities. And it is not that these have happened by chance. The treatment of Blacks in America has been systematic and systemic. Solutions must be seen in a systematic dismantling of these unjust systems. Responding to hatred, bigotry and violence in kind will not solve the problem. You have to win their hearts and minds with your actions and deeds. Similarly, in the USA, it is key to win the hearts and minds of the white population; they have to understand that it is not a zero-sum game in which you can only win by putting others (Blacks) down; that like the Caribbean, it is possible to live in peace and harmony.
So, while there have been protests as well as pledges, it is important that an agenda for action is developed. Such could include:
11. Black is Beautiful – Black is Beautiful – To truly succeed in life and embrace our unique identity and cultural heritage, it is important that we learn to understand and truly believe that black IS beautiful. To do this you need to:
B – Believe in yourself
L – Love who you are
A – Aspire and Achieve
C – Be Creative
K – Get Knowledge – It will set you free
12. Beyond Donations – While it is important to support the cause and provide aid as Facebook has done with its US$10 million donation, it is even more sustainable and responsible to promote business, entrepreneurship and trade. Here are some examples:
For people who have been born in the Caribbean, it is truly a privilege. To live in a free and democratic society, where education and health are free; where the environment is pristine; and the air is fresh. But we are not yet in the clear. Because we are unable to create enough jobs; our major export is people (the brain drain); islanders do not worship the ground we were born on, dreaming about America instead; we do not eat what grows in our backyard or in the sea (preferring Kentucky Fry Chicken instead and allowing the Chinese and Japanese to rape our waters and sea beds); and we do not love who we are, wishing we were whiter.
But the time is NOW. To re-imagine the Caribbean; to create amazing places to work and live; to treat the environment as if it mattered; to eat fresh and organic; to lead healthy lives; to spawn new and innovative (creative) industries that could generate the employment that people love.
As one of the most prosperous, progressive and pro-democratic post World War countries, that actually has dealt with its ‘black’ history, with shame, and professing to never let Hitler happen again, Germany cannot continue to sit on the fence. Germany has to make its voice heard for justice, for peace and for democracy in the free world. America is creating a great gap in world leadership that China is poised to fill. But Germany, and Europe, cannot sit by and not play its role in shaping the rapidly and radically changing world.
No one would wish, not even for their worse enemies, the fate that the Jews faced in Germany. This was a horrible and despicable crime. At the same time, the world should not close its eyes to the similar crime that the Jewish State is meeting out on the Palestinians. Just as Germans have secretly benefitted from the demise of the Jews, many Jews are secretly benefitting from the demise of the Palestinians. And we, all of us, sit by and let it happen. This is not Justice.
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