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Jomo Thomas

Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (iWN file photo)

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By *Jomo Sanga Thomas

(“Plain Talk” April 15, 2022)

(First published in The Vincentian of April 13, 2016)

“A true patriot must be wary of every dream and every nation, even his own. Perhaps his own nation more than any other, precisely because it was his own.” — Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Between the World and Me”.

When did we lose our ability to question? How did this assassination of our very selves occur? We all know of the brutal honesty of children. Why do we train our children or indeed ourselves to lie?

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We are socialised through and by the many stabilising societal institutions (courts, prisons, government leaders, legislators, captains of business, churches and schools) to act in particular ways, most times against our individual or group interest once such actions put up a good face for the society in which we live.

But how do we go back to what the ancients taught “to thyself first be true”? How do we stop committing suicide by refusing to choke on our thoughts? How do we take the wise words of former Jamaican PM Michael Manley, who instruct us “to walk on our feet and not on our knees”?

We can get to this point of redemption if we embrace the wise words of Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates demands we be wary of every dream. To be mindful of every dream, we have to begin interrogating everything we hold dear. Coates commands us to be wary of all nations, even our own.

What a revolutionary and soul-searching command. We are socialised to say our nation is right or wrong. That is what we mean when we say we are one hundred pre cent Vincy as if this rock is better than Jamaica or Grenada. There is no room for the other. Are we without fault and blemish?

The answer is clearly no. So why then do we lift our leaders and our institutions and place them beyond reproach? Why do we confuse and conflate the views of our leaders with the national interest? Is it so difficult for us to conclude that our leaders could be wrong? Do we envisage a possibility that there can be friendly amendments to our views to make them more valuable and beneficial to our nation?

Our leaders should push us away from second-hand answers, even answers they believe. They must encourage the entire society to search for explanations of its own. Sometimes we may not find answers, but in asking the question, we are essentially going into our mind in search of self.

We must develop the habit where the desire to question becomes a ritual, refining an earlier thought/ question. The art of learning to question must be conceived and perceived as exploration rather than a search for certainty. Our commitment to questioning everything is destabilizing yet revolutionary.

This is what the brilliant South African revolutionary Chris Hani had in mind when he said: “True revolutionaries are never satisfied with the progress and advances that are taking place in the lives of the people. True revolutionaries only have to look at the conditions under which so many people live to be knocked into a reality of dissatisfaction. Therefore, to be satisfied is conservative, reactionary even, because satisfaction is a call for the maintenance of the status quo. And status quo is the least revolutionary position a fighter for the people can adopt or approve.”

Only the “privileged elite” who never understood what it meant to be deprived of basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter, or the politically jaundiced, who hold true to an outdated notion that every government policy or initiative must be opposed, will deny the many people-centred policies of the ULP government over the last 15 years.

But it is equally valid that too many government officials and supporters speak as though SVG is moving along swimmingly without a bother in the world. Yes, our country has reduced indigence from 1 in every 4 Vincentians to 3 in every 100, but the harsh truth is that 30% of our people still live in poverty and with little chance of getting out.

We celebrate the fact that SVG is very attractive to foreign direct investments and may become even more attractive following the completion of the Argyle International Airport, but are we at the same time willing to listen to workers who complain that at Buccament Bay Resort they work long hours and frequently fail to collect their entire pay packet when it becomes due. Are we prepared to check the records of the Labour Department or the court docket to witness the grievances of our brothers and sisters or to listen to their charges of racism meted out to them as they honestly work for their living? Are we prepared to ask for proof when opposition leaders tell us the elections were fraudulent?

How could it be counter-revolutionary to critique the weaknesses or shortcomings in the education, housing or health revolutions amidst the fantastic progress? This is why Chris Hani warned against complacency because satisfaction is a call for maintaining the status quo. And status quo is the least revolutionary position a fighter for the people can adopt or approve of.

Once we engage in the high art of self-interrogation, we will become even more convinced that a better world is not only possible but also necessary. Then we go out bravely before the world with the knowledge as Zoe Williams says: “… if you want to paint a picture of a truly different way of doing things, you won’t be able to prove that it’s realistic … You cannot fact-check the future. You cannot perform a five-point credibility test on a vision. If you don’t speak your dreams until they’re fully costed, you’ll live in someone else’s nightmare.”

Too many of us live the dreams of others. It is time we dream the dreams we can live.

*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

One reply on “Learning to question”

  1. I could not finish reading this because it appears to be written about 5 years ago, and therefore not entirely relavant. It mentions workers that are working at Buccament and mentions that the construction of the airport is not yet complete.

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