Next Monday, October 9, will be celebrated as a holiday in honor of the resistance of the various Indigenous peoples to the entry and behavior of Christopher Columbus and subsequent Europeans in this so-called New World. Columbus had reached the Caribbean on October 12, 1492.
The purpose of this column is to elaborate on the concept of power in light of our history as Western Hemisphere people of color. The Europeans entered the New World with power—military and naval—and in the centuries afterwards wrote the history of their brutal oppression of our ancestors. That oppression and genocide became “interaction,” so to speak.
The day when the oppression and genocide began, October 12, 1492, became a holiday, a cause for celebration. In the United States, the day, so-called Columbus Day, is still celebrated, one reason being that Columbus, although financed by the King and Queen of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, was an Italian.
One Wikipedia page notes that Columbus Day was unofficially celebrated in a number of American cities and states as early as the 18th century, but did not become a federal holiday until 1937. Columbus Day arose, stated that Wikipedia page, out of a late 19th century movement to honor Italian immigrants who faced persecution in the U.S. Extreme white racists in the U.S. did not consider Italians to be white because the territory had been conquered by the North African warrior/king, Hannibal, way back when.
Our generation of Belizeans, born after World War II (1939-1945) in British Honduras, met October 12 each year as Columbus Day and a holiday in the British colony. The raw power of our British colonial masters had dictated the reality of the holiday.
A worldwide movement to expose the wicked truth about Columbus, those who were with him, and those who came after him, surfaced in 1992, which was the quincentennial of the Italian’s arrival in our part of the world. As a result of that movement, we Belizeans no longer honor Columbus on October 12; we recall the resistance of our Indigenous ancestors.
So, you understand what power is and what power does. Power said to us as children that this is Columbus Day, and you British subjects will honor him.
There was a power shift in the world after World War II, when the Europeans had been fighting among themselves. Europe’s colonies, led by India in 1947, began to agitate for self-rule all over the world. Former colonial peoples, in other words, began to seek power.
My first black American political hero was the late Stokely Carmichael, who introduced the slogan of “black power” in Mississippi in the winter/spring of 1966. Stokely visited the college campus in New Hampshire where I had begun university studies in September of 1965. He was tall, dark, handsome, articulate, and bold.
The previous black American hero had been Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist preacher who led the so-called civil rights movement from 1955 into the 1960s, until Stokely changed the language of the movement.
Malcolm X had been a striking black personality/leader, and his approach was more confrontational than Dr. King’s, who preached Christian non-violence. Malcolm called for black self-defence, “by any means necessary.” But Malcolm was assassinated in February of 1965. Malcolm was killed before I reached America in August of 1965.
So, Stokely was my first black American political hero. There was a leader by the name of Floyd McKissick, whose rhetoric I really liked, who was an official of a group called CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) in 1965 when I reached the States.
But, Stokely was my guy. He actually came to my school. But the point of this short essay is that Stokely was the first black American to talk about “power.”
Malcolm and Stokely were the inspiration for the Black Panther Party, led by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, and organized in Oakland, California in 1967. Stokely was given a national post by the armed Panthers, who became headline news in the late 1960s, but then Stokely married a famous African singer, Miriam Makeba, and went to live in Guinea, which is in West Africa.
I was sure that Stokely would be killed if he remained in America and stayed with the Panthers, and the marriage thing contributed to my thinking that perhaps my hero had chickened out. I believe I was unfair. In West Africa, Stokely became a socialist and an internationalist.
He visited Belize in 1986, I believe, at the invitation of SPEAR, but SPEAR was still PUP-linked, to my mind, and the PUP and I had been fighting from the time of the Heads of Agreement in 1981. I think someone told Stokely that I had given up the struggle, so to speak. We never met, but he did meet with the Belizean BREDAA brothers in Los Angeles.
The point of all this is that the white power structure in America jumped when Stokely came out with the “black power” slogan. The people who rule in America know that power is the name of the game, not prayers.
We Belizeans are about to learn something new with this Sarstoon situation and the International Court of Justice drama. Guatemala is now beginning to speak and behave from a position of power, forty times the size of Belize.
We used to go to sleep in The Jewel knowing that the British were protecting us. But we now know for sure that we are not the Falklands. Somehow, the British extricated themselves from the Guatemalan claim pickle. So now, we Belizeans better start figuring out our way out of this problem. The name of the game out there is power, not prayers. Trust me.