Let’s put together our own list of Black historical personalities

By Carlton Joseph

Carlton Joseph

Looking at various lists of Black History Month celebrations and the celebrated here in the United States, I was concerned that Black history had become the history of Black people in the United States of America (US).  Reviewing a list of Famous Black and African- American figures from the past and present, only Nelson Mandela and Marcus Garvey made the list of Movers and Shakers from outside the US.  Bob Marley, Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte made the list of Entertainers.  Desmond Tutu, Haile Selassie and Francis Arinze made the list of Religious figures.  In the categories of Science and Technology, People in the News, Writers, and Athletes, there was no mention of any famous Black people outside of the US.  Not even Usain Bolt, the Jamaican three-time Olympic gold medalist, was on the list of athletes.

I do not know who compiled this list but  it informs me as a person from the Caribbean, that our Black brothers and sisters in the US are totally misinformed  about Black history.  I understand that it is difficult to develop the list and I applaud the creators for trying. But is this really their best effort?  How can you develop such a list and not mention Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution?  Haitians led the only slave uprising that resulted in the founding of a state, which was both free from slavery, and ruled by non-whites and former captives.  How can one omit Eric Williams’ Capitalism and Slavery? Published in 1944, years ahead of its time, his profound critique  is an important work in the study of imperialism and economic development.  Fidel Castro and Ernesto Che Guevara of the Cuban Revolution were not mentioned.

Black people from the Caribbean, Africa and anywhere in the Diaspora must begin to compile and publish a list of their own Black historical personalities, with biographies.   US Black history is a part of our history – not the totality of it.

During this month,  Black people, especially in Canada and the US, need to evaluate the conditions in their adopted homeland.  Migrants have one major goal – to provide a better life for themselves, their family and give their children access to opportunities that might not be available in their homeland.

A  study in 2013 revealed that while African-Canadians make up three per cent of the Canadian population, they account for 10 per cent of the federal prison population. The report also indicates that while in prison, Black inmates are overrepresented in segregation, and that they are subject to nearly 15 per cent of all use-of-force incidents.  In another study released in 2014 on the Black inmate experience, the office of the correctional investigator points out that “despite being rated as a population having a lower risk to re-offend and lower need overall, Black inmates are more likely to be placed in maximum security institutions.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 2,266,800 adults were incarcerated in U.S. federal and state prisons, making it the country with the largest prison population in the world.   Studies show a large disparity between incarceration rates for African-American, whites and Hispanics.  In 2016, BJS   imprisonment statistics show 1,408,000 African-Americans, 378,000 Hispanics and 275,000 Whites,  were incarcerated,  even though African Americans made up approximately 13 per cent  of the US population and Hispanics about 16 per cent.  Afro Caribbean and other migrating black people need to ask themselves: Have we migrated from our birth countries in search of “a better life” only to end up exposing our children to a criminal justice system that seek to incarcerate them?

A review of the Caribbean reveals that crime is on the rise.  I was shocked when I looked at the Crime Index for Countries 2018.   Trinidad and Tobago ranked at 5 and Jamaica , 11.  One of the main contributors to this rise in crime is that the US has deported thousands of convicted criminals to the Caribbean annually since 1996, when Congress mandated that every non-citizen sentenced to a year or more in prison be kicked out of the country upon release.

In the last ten years, Trinidad and Tobago received 6,000 deportees.  Wayne Chance, founder of Vision with a Mission, an organization in Trinidad which works with deportees, confirmed that some of them have military training in firearms, weapons, and other high-tech skills and techniques useful in crimes. Wayne recalls that in 2004-2005, “Special Branch officers would come, monitor and check on them(deportees), and call us periodically to find out how they were going, but we haven’t seen that in the last seven or eight years.”

More than 45,000 Jamaicans were deported between 2000 and 2014, primarily from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.  Recently, Jamaican Prime Minister, Andrew Holness, declared a state of emergency in St. James Parish as a result of an increase of murders and shootings in the area.

In the 1960’s and ’70’s, black people were focused on eradicating racism and promoting human rights, civil rights and economic development.  Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokley Carmichael and many other Black people were going to jail for these lofty goals. Today our youths are so caught up in capitalistic materialism, selfishness, and greed that they kill and rob each other, in order to get money.  Money is the new God.

During this Black History month, black people should assess our status in the world and understand that racism is not dead because the US had a black President.  Black people must understand that as long as we allow religion, language and other instruments of division to keep us divided ,we will be never be free.

We must realize that as long as we remain fragmented as small non-viable states we will be easily manipulated and will remain underdeveloped and dominated by the people that enslaved and colonized us.

We need to understand that trade with Africa is critical to Africa’s development and our own development and freedom.  As long as Africa is fragmented and underdeveloped, her natural resources will be exploited by the Western powers and she will remain underdeveloped.  Worst, black people will not be able to assist in the development of the resources of Africa for the development of all black people in the Diaspora.  We must develop a Pan African world view and understand that for us to be free and thrive Africa must be developed for Africans.

Caucasians have decided that the US would be the engine of growth for the Western democracies and they meet regularly to discuss strategies to maintain economic power and world dominance. Recent pronouncements by some racist Americans that America was built by White people for White people should inform us.   African people and people of color must begin to organize and plan for their material and spiritual development.  We are at a crossroads; we must choose a path that will serve our interests.

 (Trinidad-born Carlton Joseph who lives in Washington DC, is a close observer of political developments in the  United States.)