As a Belizean of mixed ancestry, I have ancestors who were slaves and ancestors who were slavemasters. Previous to the UBAD revolution of 1969, most families in Belize of mixed African and European ancestry sought to position themselves as near to their European side as they possibly could. The most dramatic of such “positioning themselves” involved parents’ promoting lighter-skinned mate choices for their children. “Lightening yu color” was a really big deal. In our daily lives in British Honduras, we tried not to talk “broad”: we wanted our speech to be as clipped and British as possible. This is how we were taught in school. Where literature, music, dress, and so on were concerned, again it was all about aiming at European ideals, British ideals.
The British here, and European colonialists all over Africa and the Americas and the Caribbean, had convinced our people that we were descended from savages and cannibals. As a result of this programming, some of us began to hate ourselves. We despised those of our characteristics which were not European-like and which identified us as having African genetics.
In British Honduras, and most of the Caribbean, which included British, French, and Spanish colonies, the majority of the populations were clearly of African ancestry, and majority African energy rose from beneath the surface to explode in this region, and indeed the world, during the spectacular time of Marcus Garvey. For argument’s sake, let us say that the time of Marcus Garvey was between 1915 and 1925. Garvey made three trips to British Honduras, which was very black during this period, and he found a large and enthusiastic following here.
Marcus Garvey exalted Africa and African ancestry. Garveyism represented a massive counter-reaction to “lightening yu color.” Marcus Garvey became the most powerful black man we saw in the twentieth century. More money was pouring into his Harlem, New York headquarters in his heyday than Garvey could manage.
One question is, how many European realities/flavors were retained in daily Garveyism and how many Africanisms were being retrieved? As an example of “European realities/flavors” and “Africanisms,” I would look at clothing. Garveyites basically continued to dress in European-style clothing. When they marched in Harlem, Garveyites did not wear loin cloths or brandish spears, which are considered traditional Africanisms.
With the imprisonment of Marcus Garvey in Atlanta State Penitentiary in 1925, formal Garveyism went into decline. But by the early 1930s, Garveyism gave birth to Rastafarianism in the land of Garvey’s birth – Jamaica. Forty years later, Rastafarianism became as international as Garveyism had been, with Robert Nesta Marley becoming international Rasta’s greatest Messenger.
I think it is fair to say that at its peak in the early 1920s, Garveyism constituted a business empire, while in its infancy in the early 1930s, Rastafarianism was a religious cult. How we went from Marcus to Marley over a half century period is a long and sensational ride. That tale is mysterious, it is mesmerizing, and it is so anti-lineal as to be downright inexplicable.
Now one of the methods white supremacy has always utilized is the creation of bogus black personalities to engender leadership uncertainty amongst the masses. The rise of Garveyism was so sudden, unexpected, and unprecedented, that the white power structure was briefly overwhelmed. Once they managed to imprison Garvey, however, the white power structure promoted an alternative leadership cadre in the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), the organization which Marcus Garvey had almost single-handedly established, and used this new and bogus UNIA to crush Garvey himself on his release from prison and deny him the Isaiah Morter inheritance. This is another long and sensational tale.
It is for sure that the first black revolution in the New World, the Haitian Revolution of 1791, was very much an African one. Whereas, the second black revolution in the New World, the Cuban Revolution of 1959, in some of its externalities, comes off as quite European. The Cuban Revolution of 1959, however, insofar as the benefits that it has provided for the black population of Cuba and the support it has always received from said black Cuban population, can and should be considered a black revolution.
What is the point of today’s discourse? The point is that African people in the New World, since our displacement from the motherland three, four and five centuries ago, have gone through experiences which were not only traumatic, but which were designed to make it difficult for us to achieve the unity which is a prerequisite for successful rebellion. Slavery and colonialism fractured our collective psyche, such as it had existed.
More than a half century ago, the great Frantz Fanon (1925-1961) wrote of Black Skin, White Masks. It would take me a while to tell you of Frantz Fanon, a psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary, and writer. Those of you who are cyber-capable should, at the minimum, do Google research on him. Fanon was a revolutionary guru for us in the 1960s. He was a native of Martinique, a French island colony in the Caribbean, who fought for France in World War II and later became a part of the Algerian Revolution.
In Belize today, there is such an animal as the “black British.” The essence of Black Skin, White Masks, is that the European power structure can penetrate the psyche of an African person and convince that person to behave in certain ways which are beneficial to the power structure. You have people who have black skin who have become shameless apologists for the same power structure which has been so hostile and damaging to black people. Five hundred years of white supremacy, then, have led to our becoming our own enemies.
Look, we roots Belizeans can’t aspire to European theories and concepts of progress and success, because, unlike the Europeans, we have no one to oppress and exploit. Oppression and exploitation over the last five centuries have been integral parts of European progress and success. No lie.
In our own quest for liberation and the New Jerusalem, we seek a world, unlike the European world, which is not built on oppression and exploitation. It was such a world of liberation that the brilliant Leroy Taegar taught us to conceptualize. For this, he must be held in the highest of esteem and the greatest of respect.
Power to the people.