A Discussion of Race Remains Relevant in St. Lucia

A Discussion of Race Remains Relevant in St. Lucia

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It is neither surprising nor new for local politicians to evoke references to blackness and colonialism as a means to rouse  voters. The most recent manifestation of this is the SLP’s response first to the entry of Allen Chastanet into elective politics in 2010 and further with his recent election as leader of the opposition United Workers Party (UWP). There has not been a shortage of such imagery by both parties for many decades now even up till the most recent election which the SLP dubbed Liberation Day. What has generally been absent is the willingness to seriously engage the effects of this history as well as its implications in the present.

As deserving of criticism as this opportunistic and selective use to this history is, that which has been forthcoming so far has been equally superficial and present more evidence of the problem of our relationship to this past than it provides any useful perspective. In an article republished from 2010 Mr. Rick Wayne presents his take on a statement made by Mr. Phillip J Pierre, deputy leader of the SLP then in opposition. The statement by Mr. Pierre raised concern over Mr. Chastanet who in his view is the “poster boy” for the “economic class” wanting to enter the political realm as “they have decided that too many black young people are becoming educated and are controlling the political levers”. This statement became the subject of a BBC Caribbean report under the title “Race in St. Lucian Politics” following which Mr. Pierre was grilled to identify who he was referring to when he made reference to the “economic class” and to identify their colour and “ethnicity”(according to the BBC reporter).

Mr. Rick Wayne in his article entitled “How Black is Black Enough to Govern St. Lucia” goes on to make the outrageous though subtle comparisons of Mr. Pierre to Adolf Hitler. It seems totally lost on Mr. Wayne that there was a very real institutionalized relationship between race and class in St. Lucia as with other plantation colonies which were established and run based on racist ideology and white privilege; that being so, there is nothing farfetched about making a connection between race and class. Beyond the direct economic benefit accrued by plantation owners, the privilege accorded whiteness in societies such as ours would have generally benefitted whites relative to blacks and Indians whether or not these whites participated in the ownership of plantations.

To return to Mr. Pierre’s statement however it is easy to see the root of his frustration and that of his party. Given where their ambitions lie both parties have directed the population to look for their liberation primarily in elective politics and the personal economic or academic achievements of a relative few; generally superficial changes for the general populace. The pervasive and ingrained prejudices of the society from our racist colonial past were deemphasized and brought to the foreground only when deemed useful for rallying support. Despite economic and academic achievement, many continue to demonstrate the attachment to Eurocentric biases in beauty standards, views of history and elsewhere. Therefore simply achieving economic success or excelling in largely Eurocentric education proves grossly inadequate in addressing fundamental issues of our society and people’s liberation of themselves.

The reality is that our society is still very much influenced by its racist foundations. Whereas the overt expressions have receded, as they did in most areas of the world, many of these prejudices continue to persist in the society through internalized biases of the general population and in the institutions developed as part and parcel of the colonial project. While much focus is placed on countries like Jamaica for the problem of bleaching, colourism (discrimination within the race  based on complexion and other physical features) and the associated privileging of lighter skin, remains as rampant in our society as there and among Africans and other non-white people throughout the world whether colonized directly by Europeans or by their media. There is a tendency, especially among those who benefit from these biases(but also among the darker skinned who don’t), to dismiss the relevance of engaging them seriously or even superficially as in this case. The rare occasions where issues such as these are raised they are dismissed or trivialized and ridiculed.

Stemming from the false notion that Africans are indebted to Europeans for so-called civilization, medicine, science, religion and other areas, many of our leaders continue to seek solutions to our issues primarily from Europe and European dominated countries. As Europe refuses to acknowledge, apologize and make reparations for their enslavement and exploitations of Africans, they continue to deal with our countries with the notion that we are merely unfortunate countries in need of their charity. This of course is echoed by our leaders. It is only recently after the issue of reparations was raised before CARICOM that our government shows any interest in the issue after years of ignoring ones like Ras Wisely and others of the Rastafari community who championed this cause.

Our media largely takes their cue from American media and therefore, apart from failing to provide much useful programming which can encourage useful discussion regarding such issues and a more accurate view of history, actually perpetuates many of the stereotypes which perpetuate white and light skinned privilege. Much of the news of the wider world in our media are merely echoes of the interpretation and perspective of the Western media and their perceived interest.

Despite this persons remain instinctively aware and personally experience the vestiges of our racist colonial past and its present day consequences although many remain unconscious of many of the historical connections. It is because of this that politicians can get mileage from using such references. Persons should seek to become more consciously aware of this history and its present day manifestations so that politicians do not get a pass with the distortion, superficiality and lip service they occasionally give these issues. There are many things which need to be reasoned out within our society which will permit persons to recognize their potential to truly liberate themselves and to address the issues which pervade our society. This cannot be done without examining not only the recent history of colonialism and the wider issue of white and light skin privilege (likewise male privilege) but by examining the more ancient origins of the ideas and circumstances which shape our lives on a personal and collective level. Persons also need to understand what accounts for the differences in physical features among persons as well as the origin of differences in ideas of beauty, ideas of God and religion, language and culture. As ideas of superiority and inferiority are often linked with apparent success and greatness it will also be important for persons to understand the factors which account for such apparent differences both in the past and present as well.

While politicians seek to make cheap mileage on very serious issues and the media cowers from engaging these issues seriously, there is much persons could do to get better informed. Websites such as www.raceandhistory.com, www.amonhotep.com are useful resources on world history and the origin and impact of our various differences. In addition there are many scholars, some of whose material can be found on the internet in various formats. Dr. Theophile Obenga and Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop from the African continent as well as Dr. Yosef ben Jochannan, Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Dr. Ivan Van Sertima and Dr. Marimba Ani from the Caribbean and United States are some useful sources. There are also some European scholars who are also useful in this regard such as Merlin Stone, Dr. Martin Bernal and Basil Davidson, the latter of which produced a number of books on the continent as well as a useful documentary series available on youtube.

Originally published in the St Lucia Voice Newspaper:

http://www.thevoiceslu.com/let_and_op/2013/september/05_09_13/A_Discussion.htm

Some slight editing has been done to this version.

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~ by iandiyanola on September 6, 2013.

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