By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(Plain Talk, Aug. 2, 2019)
The American futurist Alvin Tofler said the “illiterates of the 21 century will not be those who cannot read. It will be those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”.
With this focus in mind and with emancipation month limping to an end, this is a good time to revisit “half steppin’ to emancipation”, a column written one year ago this August.
“Be careful not to celebrate a lie”, Oscar Allen warned listeners to the “Voices” programme last August. “Emancipation was a contrivance to halt a true advance of the people. Emancipation never came. Emancipation is yet to come.” Oscar Allen is profoundly original in thought and action. When he speaks, pay attention or you may miss the opportunity for a learning experience.
Brother Allen’s words are like a spectre. They should haunt every Vincentian concerned about the future direction of our nation. Where are we now? Where are we going? How will we get there? Allen was saying if we view Aug. 1 as freedom day, we may lose sight of the task at hand and the battles still undone.
Chatoyer is our only national hero. Last year we dubbed Rabacca Chatoyer Park, without actually building the park. Montgomery Daniel, in making the announcement, said the government will press the British to offer about $18 million dollars in reparations so that a proper park, befitting the prestige and honour of the paramount chief, can be constructed on the site. One year on, apart from a few wooden tables, Rabacca in no way, shape or form, resembled a park.
There is no real effort to build the consciousness of the people on matters of state or politics. Africa is still treated with benign neglect. Eurocentric ideas predominate among our leaders, teachers and opinion makers. Only a few among us give serious though to and internalise the wise works of historian John Henri Clarke that “only a fool gives up a continent for an island”. In SVG and across the region, a significant section of the population proudly declares, “I am not African. I am Jamaican, Lucian, Haitian or Trini.”
There is no consistent attempt to educate the citizens, the vast majority of whom are of African stock, that our history did not begin with slavery. Many among us still harbour the mistaken belief that Africa contributed little or nothing to world history. Too often, those of us with knowledge of Africa’s glorious past and its contribution to world civilisation, are laughed at.
Many people have no idea that the heavyweights of Western civilisation such as Socrates and Plato proudly and honestly declared that they spent 15 and 18 years respectively learning at the feet of African master teachers.
But here’s the 1787 account of the Frenchman Count Constantine de Volney on visiting Egypt for the first time.
“Just think that this race of Black men, today our slave and the object of our scorn, is the very race to which we owe our arts, sciences, and even the use of speech! Just imagine, finally, that it is in the midst of people, who call themselves the greatest friends of liberty and humanity that one has approved the most barbarous slavery, and questioned whether Black men have the same kind of intelligence as whites.”
Or we can take the recorded history of Aristotle, who captures the words of an Egyptian master teacher addressing a Greek official, “You Greeks are infants to us. Egyptian civilisation is hoary with age.’ Sadly, none of this is taught in schools. As a result, our people show disbelief when told that African people invented philosophy, mathematics, and engineering.
Nothing is connected to the other. So here in SVG, Labour Day and Emancipation Day were given their rightful place on the calendar, but no serious effort at mobilisation and education places Labour Day and Emancipation Day in their proper historical perspective.
Heritage Square is declared with much fanfare, but nothing of heritage is displayed there. An anti-piracy law is passed, but the onus is on the local artistes to police the pirates. Piracy continues apace as it relates to the stealing of regional and international property. We passed a seatbelt/helmet law to protect us in the event we crash, but allow drivers to use cell phones while driving. Cell phone usage distracts drivers and triggers more accidents than any other cause.
We acknowledge that the Westminster system offers too much power to the prime minister, but do nothing to wean ourselves of the excesses. We are a government of all the people, but tell ministers of government to look out for those who vote for them. We say we are for freedom and justice, yet refuse to condemn aggression against the sovereignty of our innocent sister people of Venezuela and Palestine. We profess our love for Cuba, but maintain a parasitic, one-sided relationship with our socialist cousins.
There is no doubt that we are more focused than ever before on development, but our development will be easily derailed because of lack of cadre, training and education. We won the government and lost the party. We boast of the number of party members, while party structures crumble in a state of disrepair. We embrace new friends and distance ourselves from reliable fighters for emancipation. We are for the people, but fear the critical consciousness necessary to build and sustain a real people. We make one step forward and two steps back. We are “half steppin” our way towards emancipation.
Martin Luther King, in his famous letter from the Birmingham jail, called on change agents to become non-conforming conformists when the conditions demand it. In this very spirit, we must and can be supportive of reforms without becoming reformists. It was Dr. King who also warned that if we stand for nothing, we will fall for anything.
Oscar Allen was right: emancipation never came… emancipation is yet to come. If we are serious about the liberation of the people, we must work harder at connecting with the people beyond election time.
Be warned! This emancipation business is not easy. Those who cannot or refuse to learn, unlearn and relearn, will not make it.
(Parts of this column were first published in August 2007.)
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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