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Fifty years after the African slaves secured their release from bondage in the United States of America, a descendant of the Manumitted Africans, Dr. Carter Woodson initiated the process to educate people in that Continent and beyond about the consequences of the TransAtlantic slave trade.
Over the years, the intention was and still is to share the horrors of the TransAtlantic slave trade but also to help people everywhere to recognize the massive damage done to the psyche of black people who live in North America and the Caribbean in particular.
The principal purpose was to help people and leaders everywhere to get rid of inherited prejudices anchored on a belief that somehow people with melanin and wooly hair were created as inferior beings by the one God, we all claim to serve.
This week we begin the celebrations of Black History Month. It’s an opportunity for all of us irrespective of race, color or creed to study and benefit from the many useful lessons that black history offers.
In Guyana and elsewhere as we seek to benefit from the history of the so-called six races of Guyana, it must be in the pursuit to heal and not peel. A mere few generations after the events of slavery in North America and the Caribbean, the examination of the truth may often be uncomfortable if not painful to both the victims of slavery and those who benefitted from the slave trade and slave labour.
In the State of Florida and other parts of the United States, this examination is already creating conditions of hostility and vitriol. Books written by black and white authors have been banned for use in the educational system where the extreme ultra-white are claiming some of the revelations about slavery are not education but indoctrination. For history to be promotional, for history to secure peace, we must be unafraid to recount past events. It is this examination, which allows all of us to avoid mis-steps and mis-deeds committed earlier.
If we attempt to hide our failings, our foibles, and our prejudices, we are likely to repeat them.
In Guyana, armed with a number of Advisors we had our Head of State while addressing Indian Arrival Day said we all came for betterment. That we certainly could not include those who are tricked, kidnapped and enslaved on our plantations.
When the absurdity of this Statement was made there was a correction, but the old folks say your first word stands in Court.
There is evidence that in some theaters where authority resides that there appears to be an anxiety to practice the old techniques of our erstwhile masters, that is, to preach equality but practice inequality using as black history has shown some of the victims as the tools philosophy of superiority.
The state now in control of massive funds will not take the opportunity to ignore those who can speak from the heart on behalf of the African community, and that the opportunity will not be taken to create a compliant class of descendants of manumitted Africans who wittingly or unwittingly carry out the biddings of the new master with control of money.
We need to remember that this year also marks the end of the bicentenary of the 1823 Uprising. An uprising that failed because, let us call him Sammy, a slave, but living in the quarters of the Master, learning of the plan’s uprising, quickly informed the Master allowing the latter to take brutal action to put down the 1823 Uprising. History has a puckish way of repeating itself and Black History Month should allow us to ponder and should allow us to bring forth the strength and spirit of the African who survived the worst form of brutality known in recent history.
A recurring challenge as we look at Black History is that in the mind of some, they came to accept that the crumbs from the master’s table were just what they deserve.
History must direct us to the grave and to be courageous, to examine the efforts from Accabre to Cuffy, from Marcus Garvey to Nkrumah, from the Mandingos to Martin Luther King (Jnr.) to Mandela.
A few days ago, we observed what is termed as the Jewish holocaust and we have seen around the globe people obtaining reparation in one form or the other, but there is insufficient enthusiasm when the issue of black reparation is raised. The Anglican churches, the Government of the Netherlands among others have publicly acknowledged the horrors of slavery and have accepted the need of forms of reparation.
As we celebrated 150 years of Emancipation, speaking to a group in Guyana, Professor Ali Mazrui noting how others have benefitted from the experiences of their fore-parents noted that Blacks have neither sacralised their suffering into a sacred doctrine nor exploited it as a political fund.
As we observe Black History Month, those whose descendants’ bones are at the bottom of the Atlantic rattling for justice, peace and the right to share honorably in the enormous wealth must not give up the quest and regard this month and every other month as the continuation of a struggle to educate our young people irrespective of race, color or creed, that we should use our history as a tool to unlock ignorance, folly, which has helped to dismember the fabric of our society.
To those who are sitting around the table I ask them to remember the lesson of Esau selling his birthright for a mess of pottage found in one of the Holy Books, Black History Month must be used as a catalyst for a better Guyana.
Black History month must be used by a caring government to share knowledge from the cradle throughout our educational system so that as a people we can be truly liberated.
Now that we have an abundance of money no pain should be spared to share knowledge and the truth of our pre-independence and post-independence experiences and this should not be perceived as setting aside those organisations, who have for some time now represented people of African descent.