We African people in the diaspora have come a long way from three, four centuries ago when the various Europeans chained us in the bottoms of ships and sailed us across the Atlantic Ocean to slavery in North, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. Then, we had become absolutely nothing; we were human flotsam and jetsam.
And one of the worst aspects of it all was that we were isolated from each other psychologically and spiritually; we saw the hell we were experiencing as a lonely torture. Me against the world. We had been violently ripped away from our families, our tribes, our villages in West Africa, and we were separated from the other slaves to whom we were chained and on whom we were vomiting and defecating, and who were in turn vomiting and defecating upon us, we were separated from them by language, religion, history, and so on.
In the case of us Belizean Africans, say, the sense of community took a while developing after we were first landed in Jamaica, then transported to Belize. The most important tool we created on the road to community was the Creole dialect, which enabled us to start communicating with each other and at the same time keep the masters in the dark somewhat. When the Garifuna people, on the other hand, landed in Belize in the early part of the nineteenth century, they brought strong community ties to each other. There were different reasons for that. But the Creole people were definitely not a community when we landed here, and it took us generations to develop any kind of community.
You must understand that community feelings amongst slaves and colonials were, by definition, dangerous for the masters. Resistance amongst the enslaved and oppressed was easily contained once it was individual or isolated. Masters were threatened once community developed amongst the oppressed, community being a necessary preliminary to a more dangerous concept – unity.
The most significant and only successful slave rebellion in our region began in 1791 in Haiti. The success of the slaves led by Toussaint L’Ouverture frightened slavemasters in nearby Jamaica and Cuba, and later Belize. News traveled very slowly those days, because news only moved from one place to another by sailing ships. By 1804, the former slaves had established Haiti as a black republic, and the largest group of white slavemasters terrified by the Haitian Revolution were the slaveholders in the Southern states of the United States. The United States, a racist construct, refused to recognize Haiti.
So then, just a few hundred miles from where hundreds of thousands of African slaves toiled from sunrise to sunset to grow cotton for Massa in the American South, Africans were ruling themselves after a military victory and the consolidation of freedom in Haiti. In the U. S. states which would become the Confederacy fighting to uphold slavery in the American Civil War between 1861 and 1865, whites became more fearful of their slaves, and more vicious in the oppression and punishment of those slaves.
I’ve been trying to draw a quick historical sketch of this region before the Cuban Revolution in 1959. The Cuban Revolution took place only ninety miles away from Florida and other segregationist states of the American South, the Cuban Revolution was fundamentally black in texture, and the Cuban Revolution declared a communist system of sociology, politics, and economics. There was one very big reason why the white supremacist United States simply had to oppose and seek to crush the Cuban Revolution: a black, communist system only ninety miles away had the potential of inspiring the oppressed black masses of the American South to think of an alternative to Uncle Sam’s violent, segregationist policies.
In 2015, we Africans in the Western Hemisphere have an idea of the many different areas our people inhabit in North, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. This was not so just a few decades ago. In the regional sense, we are still separated by language, religion, and culture, but from time to time there are conferences where our various socio-cultural and politico-economic representatives meet each other. Two or three decades ago, we Belizeans had little consciousness of how many people who look just like us, live in Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Coiombia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, and so on. (We had learned of Brazil in the late 1950s through Pele and Garrincha, and we knew something about Panama before that.) Remember, it was always the white slavemasters’ intention to keep us as separate from each other as possible, at the micro level and at the macro level. We have a long way to go, African people, but we have come a long, long way since them slave ships.
In fact, many of our people have actually found their way back to Africa, and even located their ancestral tribes and villages. We have made the trip back across the Atlantic, and whereas we came across the Atlantic centuries ago as slaves, when we travel back to Africa today to reclaim our lost identities, we do so as free human beings.
My great great great great great grandmother was a Mandingo slave from the Niger who had been given the name of “Eve Broaster” by her slavemaster. When I achieved consciousness of self and kind as a young adult, I added the “X” to the name the slavemasters had given me in order to recognize those of my African ancestors whose names have been lost because of deliberate obliteration by European slavemasters.
To this day, wherever I go, whenever I announce the “X” part of my name, it causes a stir. To this day, Europeans do not want for us Africans in the diaspora to emphasize the fact that we know our history and are conscious of our heritage. They are disturbed by such manifestations of self and kind as the “X”, because “X” is an indirect call for community. Community is preliminary to unity, and unity would mean power. Power.
Power to the people.