Lately at this editorial desk, we have found ourselves being drawn into a discourse we felt we had moved beyond in 1977, the year when we explicitly committed to Belizean nationalism as opposed to black nationalism. Post-1977, we maintained a special concern for the black community, of course, but the circumstances which had caused the division in, and dissolution of, the UBAD Party in 1973 and 1974, respectively, made it so that we were marginalized in the Southside.
The Southside of Belize City became a stronghold of the United Democratic Party (UDP), but that same Southside has become a bloody battleground over the last quarter century and more, a period during which the UDP has won four different terms of office. Since 2008, in fact, the UDP has won three consecutive general elections. How does one explain the continuing carnage involving our young men murdering each other at civil war levels, while the most powerful of Cabinet politicians are theoretically representing them in government?
Please be assured that this essay is not about simplistic, name-calling UDP and PUP party politics. The UDP as such is not to blame for the Southside tragedies. There is a historical landscape which is responsible for the fact that we Belizeans have not been able to achieve national liberation. We have not even come close to doing so. Let us now consider that historical landscape.
Even before slavery was abolished in Belize in 1838, “respectable” families had emerged in the settlement. In fact, the archives of the 1798 Battle of St. George’s Caye era, four decades before 1838, specifically referred to “free black” and “free colored” families. Through the course of the nineteenth century, as these individual families strove mightily to improve their lot, their efforts were taking place within the oppressive context of white supremacy – racism, colonialism and imperialism. (Incidentally, Belize’s respectable native families were those who began the celebration of the Battle of St. George’s Caye in 1898 – the hallowed Centenary.)
There were different reasons why roots families were not keeping pace with their respectable brethren and sistren. One of the main reasons was the fact that families with European ancestry had gotten a major head start on African families. In any case, a gulf between the respectables and the roots grew wider as British Honduras entered the twentieth century, and that gulf helps to explain the 1919 Ex-Servicemen’s rebellion and the Antonio Soberanis-led Unemployed uprising in 1934.
The gulf between a minority elite and the struggling masses is a feature of societies all over the world: Belize is not exceptional in this regard. The one thing is that Belize is so small, the respectables and the roots are often related to each other in some way. It should be less difficult in tiny Belize for there to be “cool runnings” between the respectables and the roots.
Our thesis in this essay is that the respectables have gone rogue on the roots, and have used the political power they achieved to enrich themselves inordinately. After all the many years of family success, the respectables felt wealth and power were their due, and they apparently felt no guilt. In the respectables’ minds, where the roots are presently, murdering each other on the Southside, must be where they want and deserve to be: the respectables in Belize have become callous in their indifference.
One importance of Malcolm X’s autobiography lay in the fact that he testified that great talent amongst the roots had been crushed by the system of white supremacy. Malcolm was speaking about the United States, but his analysis is relevant to Belize. There are notable mediocrities amongst the dominant respectables, while there are gifted youth amongst the struggling masses. For us at this newspaper, national liberation would involve making opportunities available for the talent amongst the masses to emerge. This, we thought, was the possibility which the attaining of The Jewel’s political independence offered in 1981. It hasn’t worked out that way.
Amidst all our problems, including the fearsome Guatemalan claim, a burst of fresh air and bright sunlight hit Belize in the last four months, and it came from amongst the respectables. Perhaps we use the description loosely, but the fact that they achieved educational status possibly qualifies the teachers as respectables. When the teachers took to the streets in October of last year, then, it may be seen as a case of respectables going roots. And the teachers went roots precisely because the established, elitist element of the respectables had gone rogue.
Colonialism and imperialism were expensive processes for the Europeans in the occupied territories, and that is why the Europeans trained a small cadre of natives to administrate along with them and in their place. This took place all over the colonial world, and the native respectables chosen by the Europeans began to consider themselves superior, entitled, and indispensable. These are the types of Belizeans who are in power today.
They have tried to brand the teachers as political stooges. We don’t think that propaganda has worked. We would, however, advise the people of Belize that support for the teachers is vital. The roots people of Belize often do not have enough formal training to express themselves adequately, and so they tend to become frustrated and angry. In October of 2016, the teachers of Belize began to speak for the roots. This was a remarkable and revolutionary development. Respect the teachers.
Power to the people.