A FEW weeks ago, I gave the 12th annual Patrick Emmanuel Lecture at the University of the West Indies campus at Cave Hill, Barbados. I used the lecture to reflect on Caribbean independence as a process of becoming. In the wake of my column last week, which drew attention to the degeneration of the Guyanese society and which disturbed some Guyanese patriots, I share a short excerpt from that lecture as a means of refreshing our collective mind about the importance of keeping our eyes on our independence promise.
We Guyanese, more than others in the Caribbean, become so consumed with our narrow tribal politics that we often forget that we are part of a Region and a world and that we come from a history that should instruct us about the pitfalls of ignoring that larger world.
As the Caribbean approached independence after the Second World War, we were entering a world that was not created for us. When the big countries at the end of the Second World War got together at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, they constructed a world order for themselves. Barbados, St. Lucia, Grenada, Guyana and the Caribbean were not on their minds. So, we were becoming independent in a world that was not made for us. That was a big challenge!
But, we were coming into that world with some things that would become important for us in the Caribbean and important for the world. First, we brought a history of bondage–never forget that. Most of the history of the Caribbean has been a history of bondage. We cannot define who we are outside of that; to do so is suicidal and nonsensical. And out of that history, we were able to carve an identity and a praxis that would help us to see oppression when others failed to do so.
We also brought a history of overcoming. We often talk about slavery and colonialism, but do not often talk enough about how we overcame slavery and colonialism and we are here today. Four hundred years, and we are still here. The history of overcoming and the link between bondage and overcoming is the history of resistance. We in the Caribbean wrote the primer for resistance– always resisting and overcoming.
And if you are in bondage as I said, you are constantly thinking about freedom. So, we brought to the world a freedom instinct–an instinct for freedom. Professor Rex Nettleford reminded us that we have not built towers and pyramids and skyscrapers, but that we brought to the world what he describes as our” creative intellect” and our “creative imagination.”
When you look around the world and you see Caribbean people doing things and building the world, and informing the world and teaching the world, and sensitising the world it is no accident. It is the fertile Caribbean mind at work. It is why a Bob Marley, a little boy from rural Jamaica could speak to the world, all over the world, to all kinds of people in the world and get them to listen– in the middle of the dancehall amid their celebration, getting them to think about humanity. That was our gift to the world.
And if we are thinking about freedom, we are also thinking about democracy. Often, we think about democracy as the invention of the Greeks—that the Greeks gave us democracy. And we teach that to our students all the time. If people say that you are unequal and treat you as unequal, you are constantly struggling for equality; and if you are nurtured in an unjust space, you are constantly thinking about justice.
If you are beat down, then in order to stand up, you have got to link hands and link minds. We gave the world democracy. We too gave the world democracy. And we must own democracy. For our democracy comes out of our yearning for freedom and for equality and for justice. When our foreparents were planning to escape from the plantation, they sat around the fire, sat wherever they could find space and they planned. They were engaging in democracy. Let us not surrender these things to other people. We too are democrats.
We brought to independence a sense of integration; they enslaved us and colonised us — not just as Barbadians and Grenadians and Guyanese. It was a plantation system in these Caribbean waters. Slavery and colonialism were the epitome of what they now call globalisation. We in the Caribbean understand what globalisation is and was. We have always been globalised. Again, I borrow from Nettleford, who reminded us that what they now call globalisation is “a new designation for an old obscenity.”
So, if you are suppressed and oppressed by a global framework, you resist that suppression and that oppression with a global resistance — a resistance of integration. Integration did not start with the Federation in 1958– integration started on the plantations. As they were planning to break out of the planation, they made sure that they did not plan to escape from one plantation. They sent the message to other plantations. They were integrating, always seeking to be plural.
We brought to independence a radical instinct— getting to the roots. Not the top, not the surface, because to beat the system you had to uproot the system. Slavery was not about half slave and quarter people, or half slave and half people– you were a full slave in the eyes of the slave master; you were not a human being. And so, to beat slavery you had to get to the root. And so, we brought radicalism, a radical instinct to our independence.
And finally, we brought knowledge of the world. Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican leading the largest black mass movement, a global movement in the early part of the 20th century. Many of the leading Pan Africanists from Henry Sylvester Williams, George Padmore, Garvey himself, Frantz Fanon coming right through to Walter Rodney, they are thinking locally and globally.
They had a sense of the world. When the trade unionists came back in the early part of the century from a conference in Europe, they were not talking about Barbadian independence and Trinidadian independence. They were talking about Caribbean independence.
More of Dr. Hinds ‘writings and commentaries can be found on his YouTube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr. David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org