The University of the West Indies’ decision to remove the name of Lord Milner, one of the principal architects of apartheid in South Africa and an avowed racist, came with the expected celebrations from conscious citizens and of course the people of the Cross Rhodes Freedom Project who spearheaded the drive to address the valorising of historical figures of questionable character.
Equally swift were the voices of the defeatist/detractor classes – those wonderful people for whom nothing must be done because nothing can be done. On cue they chimed in with their negativity; indeed, one of the earliest questions posed in the comments section of this wired868 article that reported the decision to change the name, was the oft-asked question “accomplishing what exactly?”
Now, the question could be dismissed as just another self-loathing detractor attempting to diminish the importance of what this name-change signifies – in fact, that is how I see it most of the time. But the spirit of such questions, like that of Milner Hall chair Dayteon Mitchell’s “If not for colonialism, where would we be today?”, is what is important and worthy of careful consideration.
The fact is there are indeed more visible issues that are serious enough to tear this society apart. We have corrupt, collapsing institutions, cultures of criminal impunity – starting with the “small-per cent” white collars who often are behind the more noticeable blue-collar gangsters. We have a precarious economy twinned with a rote-oriented, “education” system that’s anchored in an alienating reward model (whew, what a mouthful). And wha ‘appen to the health care and de flooding; why Shabaka and dem eh deal with that?
But they are; this drive to rename Milner Hall, remove Columbus’s statue and the names of Lord Harris, Picton, Lopinot, et al is part of a process – I don’t know why this has to be explained….and usually to those most successful in the “90% and over” group Prof. Ramesh Deosaran speaks of in his book “Inequality, Crime and Education in Trinidad and Tobago.” And this process first requires the awakened consciousness of as many people as can be mustered. Think back to the house meetings of TAPIA and NJAC, people.
Actions begin with ideas. Those ideas are fed by one’s consciousness (or lack thereof). What irritates me about Michael Anthony, Besson, and all those who speak against the erasing of history, is that they almost never acknowledge that agitators like the CRFP are confronting the glorification of those who came from a cultural position that they and they alone have a history. Do they even understand what this does and has done to the collective psyche of marginalised people?
It has always said that we have all the skilled minds we need to solve our many issues right here in Trinbago. I will go further and state that a huge percentage of those minds are to be found in the Beetham, John-John, Toco, Laventille, Felicity, Endeavour, Woodland and other marginalised communities. They may not be “lettered” or have those superficial social graces that make some people so comfortable, but they know about “scrunting” and how to make the most of what they have without necessarily wasting.
But their voices are often ignored unless tyres are burning in the road. These are the people who need to know that they matter; they are the ones who must understand that they too have philosophies, that they can create works of art, poetry, engineering and economics – remember where the steel pan came from; it wasn’t some concert hall by a “classically” trained musician – which they cannot do as effectively, if at all, if they do not see themselves and what they do as art, poetry, engineering and seamanship (Morne Diable fishing depot, until a couple years ago, had no working lights, yet the fishermen there could find that depot and bring their boats in at 3 in the morning. You, who went to QRC, Bishop’s and UWI, try it nah).
Even more serious, is that many of them are unwilling to make their contributions because they are intimidated into silence. I’m talking about the person in “Train Line”, Marabella whose whole life was rough, the women who have four children for three fathers and so on. They know they will be judged by the racist, sexist, elitist, hypocritical standards of neo-“Victorianism” that still holds in this society.
And this is why I see what the CRFP, like the Emancipation Support Committee as so important, for all their flaws and shortcomings we so like to expand upon so as to drag down. What they are doing is more than just the superficial removal of Columbus’ statue or the name of Milner, who called himself a “British race patriot” or Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts who reportedly said:
The stupid inertness of the puzzled negro is duller than that of an oxen; a dog would grasp your meaning in one half the time. ‘Men and brothers’! They may be brothers, but they certainly are not men.
What the CRFP is attempting to confront is the ways in which these racist ideas exist in our society and are expressed each and every time Africa and Africans are presented as possessing nothing of value, contributed nothing, invented nothing and developed nothing that is useful to advancing society. It’s expressed every time there is no mention that in the late 1400s Moorish libraries in Spain had up to 500,000 books of all scientific, philosophical and artistic discipline from West and North Africa to as far east as Indonesia, south China while the Christian libraries never crossed 1000 books. It’s the invisibilising of traditional forms of conflict resolution in Africa where elderly women were the peacemakers. It’s the projection of capitalistic forms of food production as the model of growth and development despite its contribution to soil depletion, water contamination and drought while African, Indian, and indigenous farming practices are not just invisibilised, but increasingly criminalised. It’s the continuing narrative that presents as lazy and lawless the African labourers who moved off plantation estates in Trinidad, set up small-scale farming communities and engaged in entrepreneurial activities that benefitted themselves instead of parasitic elites who, according to historians like Howard Zinn and Sir Richard Evans, set up social structures and institutions in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean in such ways as to exempt themselves from manual labour since no “good” Englishman would stoop to such levels. Keep that in mind the next time you put on a suit and tie in a hot, sweltering tropical environment.
What I am speaking about is the re-examination of different forms of knowledge production outside of that which emanates from the West. In his latest book “Thoughts Along the Kaiso Road” Dr Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool recounts how Dr Eric Williams sent a large contingent of panmen and calypsonians to Jamaica, which was in the midst of inter-party violence, to jump start Carifesta and to help pacify some of the violence. He also remembers a conversation he had with calypsonian Viper who told him were it not for calypso and Carnival, our murder rate would be double what is has been. Music and mas has always in some form or another been useful in dealing with conflicts in depressed communities while an old TAPIA article informs us that cricket and football has been an excellent outlet for masculine violence in depressed communities. So could someone please explain why there had to be a big macco conference on crime and security in the Hyatt with consultants from the US Special Forces?!
African, indigenous and Indian people in this country come from cultures with very long histories of innovation. We need to build the confidence in ourselves to tap into that the same way as you read this major corporations are right now in Eastern Africa exploring ancient African languages in order to further develop advances in Artificial Intelligence. Confronting the racist figures like Milner and others we were made to honour and the cultural values that accompanied them is only one step. Time for more.