E no good fu stay eena white man country too long.
Breathes there the man with soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on a foreign strand?
– Sir Walter Scott
As we write, today, Thursday, August 17th, 2017, is the 130th birthday of Marcus Mosiah Garvey (1887-1940). Two of the reasons Garvey comes to mind for us are the white supremacist incidents in Charlottesville, Virginia, last Sunday, and the tabling of a marijuana decriminalization bill in the Belize House of Representatives tomorrow, Friday, August 18.
Marcus Garvey was a black nationalist who was born in Jamaica but reached the peak of his power and fame when he led the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) from headquarters in Harlem, New York City in the 1920s.
The British Empire abolished the African slave trade in 1807 and emancipated its slaves in 1838. The United States of America freed its African slaves in 1863, and Western Hemisphere countries like Brazil and Cuba did the same in 1888, fifty years after the British.
Garvey’s movement represented the first international black solidarity, Pan-African movement in the post-slavery era, and Garvey shook the world. The UNIA became so powerful and wealthy that the United States federal government began to consider Garvey dangerous, and framed him on a mail fraud charge. After imprisoning Garvey in the Atlanta State Penitentiary between 1925 and 1927, the U.S. deported him to Jamaica. During Garvey’s time in jail, charlatans took over the UNIA and ended up benefitting from massive donations and bequests, such as the fabulous Isaiah Morter estate in British Honduras which Morter had willed to the UNIA for the cause of “African redemption” before his death in 1923.
Liberation movements amongst African Americans which were inspired by Marcus Garvey included the Hon. Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, which produced Malcolm X and Minister Louis Farrakhan. African Americans comprise between 10 and 12 percent of the population in the United States of America, a white supremacist nation/state which is the most powerful in the world. Heroic, painful agitation by African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s led to the passing of various civil rights laws to legislate equality between whites and blacks. An African American was actually elected President of the United States in 2008, winning a second term in 2012, but Barack Obama was succeeded by Donald Trump in January of this year. Trump’s election is now considered a backlash by the white supremacist element in America, and President Trump was reluctant to condemn the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who gathered in Charlottesville last Sunday and behaved so violently.
The white racist mood in the United States since Trump’s election has become very disturbing for African Americans, whose ranks now essentially include many Belizeans, whose migration to the U.S. speeded up dramatically after Hurricane Hattie in 1961. The irony of black Belizeans’ situation in America is that they were the clear majority of our population when Belize achieved self-government in January of 1964, and we chose to migrate to a nation where the Hon. Elijah Muhammad had been calling for land to set up a separate black state because he believed that African Americans would never achieve true freedom, justice, and equality in the United States.
It is for sure that African Americans represent the financial and technological elite of the black world, but they are forever condemned to minority status in the United States. Black Belizeans gave up their majority status in an emerging new nation in Central America and joined the ranks of the black minority in America. On Sunday the most dramatic evidence yet of a white supremacist backlash in the United States must have given some black Belizeans in the American diaspora reason to pause and consider.
We move to the marijuana decriminalization matter. After Garvey was deported to Jamaica and his movement began to crumble, a new, strange movement of black Jamaicans began in the mountains of the island in the early 1930s. These were years of intense suffering in colonial Jamaica, exacerbated by the American stock market crash in October of 1929. This new, strange movement had serious, sober religious dogmas, and it grew into what we now know as Rastafarianism. The scholars have explained that Rastafarianism had its roots in Garveyism.
Jamaica’s Rastas made the smoking of the herb cannabis (ganja or marijuana) a sacred, sacramental aspect of their religious rites. The British rulers of Jamaica had declared the smoking of marijuana illegal, so the Rastas were social outlaws from foundation. The thing is, respectable Christianity itself uses wine, an alcoholic beverage, as part of its religious rites. We would argue that there is not much difference between alcohol and marijuana with respect to their effect on human beings, except that alcohol was arbitrarily declared legal while marijuana was arbitrarily declared illegal by the white supremacist power structures in Great Britain and the United States. (Marijuana smokers will disagree with that “not much difference between alcohol and marijuana” phrase, because marijuana smokers consider drunkards to be uncivilized. We’re just saying that there was never any scientific reason to ban weed while blessing alcohol.)
In conclusion, we’d like to return to our consideration of Belizeans in the diaspora, whom we always conceived of as potentially Belize’s greatest weapon in our fight against the Guatemalan claim. Belizeans in the diaspora are strategically placed to neutralize the dangerous influence of Guatemala’s business lobby in the United States Congress and Senate in Washington, D.C. But Belizeans have not organized themselves, and they have not done so because they are not politically educated where nationalism is concerned and where the implications of nation/statehood are involved. Too many Belizeans still think they are Americans or Canadians; some Belizeans think they are Mexicans; and some Belizeans prefer to consider themselves part of a larger Garifuna nation. This is real.
From 1969 to 1977, this newspaper could have been considered black nationalist. In late 1977, we specifically and explicitly gave up black nationalism in order to espouse Belizean nationalism, a more vital nationalism in 1977. In order to enable black nationalism, Belize first had to become a nation, and Belize achieved that in September of 1981. Now, Belize has to defend our nationhood and territorial integrity from adventurist attorneys and opportunistic politicians.
This newspaper has always, stridently, warned you about white supremacy in its various forms. In Charlottesville on Sunday, white supremacy emerged to expose and glorify its ugly, deadly nature. Charlottesville has to be a wakeup call for black Belizeans in the diaspora. You have a home, a native land. You should start defending that home before it’s too late. Remember the Biblical story of Esau. Study the tragedy of the Palestinians. There is nothing as important as your birthright. There is nothing as precious as a homeland. Some of you are spending a lot of time on the LGBT agenda. Belizeans, at home and abroad, we have bigger fish to fry.
Power to the people.