“What became of the Black people of Sumer?” the traveler asked the old man, “for ancient records show that the people of Sumer were Black. What happened to them?”
“Ah,” the old man sighed. “They lost their history, so they died.”
– A Sumer legend
In the sixth grade one of our teachers, Miss Alice Crossland, helped me to become a sales agent for the CRISIS and the NORFOLK JOURNAL AND GUIDE. This was like turning on the floodlights of heaven; for the books on our race, listed on the back pages of the CRISIS, started me off on their never-ending search, raising more questions as I progressed through school, questions whose answers were even more perplexing. For, having read everything about the African race that I could get my hands on, I knew even before leaving high school that (1) THE LAND OF THE BLACKS was not only the “cradle of civilization” itself but that the Blacks were once the leading people on earth; (2) that Egypt once was not only all-black, but the very name “Egypt” was derived from the Blacks; (3) and that the Blacks were the pioneers in the sciences, medicine, architecture, writing, and were the first builders in stone, etc.
The big unanswered question, then, was what had happened? How was this highly advanced Black Civilization so completely destroyed that its people, in our times and for some centuries past, have found themselves not only behind the other peoples of the world, but as well, the color of their skin a sign of inferiority, bad luck, and the badge of the slave whether bond or free?
– pg. 18, THE DESTRUCTION OF BLACK CIVILIZATION, by Chancellor Williams, Third World Press, 1987
When we describe a Black person as an Uncle Tom (the original “Uncle Tom” being a character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin), we mean that that person willingly submits to white supremacy, may actually collaborate with white supremacy, without any public show of regret or reluctance. (In the United States, the feminine equivalent of an Uncle Tom is described as an “Aunt Jemima.”)
Over the 49-year history of Amandala (and Monday, August 13, is our 49th anniversary, incidentally,) I have written some things which at the time could have justifiably been described as “radical.” In August of 2018, however, I do not believe that it would be radical to describe a Black person who insists on rejecting the teaching of African and Mayan history to Belize’s children as an Uncle Tom.
Belizeans who were educators during the era of British colonial rule here can not be condemned for their ignorance of self. The colonial education system was absolutely Eurocentric. Those of us African and Mayan children who entered the colony’s church-state schools were expected, even if only implicitly, to shed all our native cultures and practices, and to absorb as much of British culture and practices as we could. The operations Michael Jackson had performed on his nose in order to change the appearance of that feature of his anatomy from an African to a Caucasian one, were being performed on our minds in the primary and high schools of British Honduras.
Very, very few people in British Honduras would have willingly accepted a description of themselves as “African” in those days, no matter how dark-skinned that person was. The little we thought we knew about Africa had us imbued with the perception that this was a dark and frightening continent, savage, pagan, ignorant, brutal, subhuman, violent, ugly, cannibal – every single thing from which a human being would want to recoil.
When it came to the Mayans, these were seen as subordinate, submissive refugees from the Caste War, so much so that there were actually Black British Hondurans, in the employ of the British and in the daily flow of rejecting their own African-ness, who felt comfortable in viewing Mayans as inferior Belizeans.
British Honduras was a place of ignorance. Personally, I went to school here from 1952 to 1965, and I was taught zilch about the Caste War, a phenomenon which is vitally important to any understanding of our Northern Districts. A knowledge of the Caste War is indispensable if we are to build a strong, unified, cohesive nation-state. But, the British surely did not intend for us native Belizeans to build any such nation-state: we were to be “British subjects” as long as our labor generated wealth for London and Buckingham Palace.
When the Rt. Hon. George Price, as a nationalist leader, began talking publicly about Belize’s “Mayan past,” we Creole youth in the population center in the early/middle 1960s, in complete ignorance of what he was talking about, began to feel that we were being discriminated against in some way. When we organized the United Black Association for Development (UBAD) in February of 1969, I myself knew very, very little about Mayan civilization. So that, when Mr. Price’s government charged me with sedition in early 1970, I referred to Mr. Price as a “Mayan racist” in The Crowd Called UBAD.
I don’t know that Mr. Price himself, though the son of a Mayan lady, knew that much about Mayan history and civilizations. He was probably trying to learn as much as he could. The Mayan hieroglyphic writings on their monuments were not deciphered by modern scholars until around 1972 or so. When people like the American explorer, John L. Stephens, viewed all the magnificent buildings, statues, and carvings in places like Coban and Palenque in 1840, this was a time when no one knew which advanced civilization was responsible for these sophisticated creations. It was not thought possible that ancestors of the oppressed “Indian” populations of Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize could have built the monuments, because the Indians appeared to be so backward in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
But, this is 2018, brothers and sisters, and we Belizeans, a country with a majority African and Mayan population, have been independent and sovereign for 37 years. Why is it that the ruling political party here has not embraced the studies of our ancestors’ societies and civilizations? Who is it that our leaders are afraid of antagonizing? Are these legislators themselves ignorant of the truth? Do they still believe all the distortions and lies which the Europeans forced upon our parents and grandparents as truths?
The British never had to explain to any of us why they kept our people ignorant about the history of our ancestors before European invasion. The British were our colonial masters. They never had to explain anything to any of us. And, as I wrote in the third paragraph of this essay, the natives who qualified as educators in British Honduras cannot be condemned for their ignorance.
Our political leaders in 2018, however, should be roundly condemned for theirs, ignorance, that is. The thing is, this is not really a case of ignorance: what this is, is a severe case of Uncle Tom-ism. It is so sad.
Because I was educated at St. John’s College at the high school and sixth form levels, my first UBAD targets were the Roman Catholics where the absence of African and Mayan history from our school curricula was concerned. As fate would have it, it was the Roman Catholics who first introduced African and Mayan history into their leading school. I can’t say what is the matter with the Anglicans and the Methodists. I can’t believe that they continue refusing to accept the truth.
Power to the people.