A letter to President Goodluck Jonathan

I went down to Nigeria House this morning. No official protest, just me and my friend of more years than I care to count and her daughter, all of 16 and a half months of Nina awesomeness. We stood there with our little placards just the three of us, people passing by looking at us in that special way that is reserved for crazy people who think that standing up at the side of the road in the cold is a good idea.
Eventually we tried to give them the letter. They sent us from one entrance to the next until finally one man came out and told us that he isn’t authorised to receive letters for the President and that we should send it via Registered Mail. So it’s been sent registered mail and it will also be sent to this email address provided by the Nigerian High Commission in Trinidad nigeria.portofspain@fma.gov.ng 

Dear Sir
We are concerned mothers, sisters, aunts, daughters of various nationalities. We are writing to you to express our deep concern on the disappearance of the 234 school girls in Chibok, Borno.
We are writing to ask that you treat the issue of the missing girls with a bit more urgency.
The history of Nigeria, the ethnic, political and social realities that gave rise to this tragic situation are all areas in which we have limited knowledge. It does not help that we continue to get distorted versions of these stories from international media sources, that neither understand nor care to explain these contemporary and historical problems, nor how colonial powers were and continue to be involved in the instability of countries all over the global south.
Our concerns are for girl children around the world. We cannot imagine our lives without the girls who surround us.
We imagine that if our own children were to go missing we would want the world to come to a standstill and help us find them. We stand in solidarity with the families of the missing girls and ask that you use everything in your power to return them to their rightful place.
We also ask that as the leader of the largest democracy in Africa you consider why so often women’s bodies become the battlefields upon which wars are fought. And why young women continue to be scarred by battles that do not not concern them. We echo the concerns of the relatives of these young women, the future of Nigeria, the world.
We echo their concerns because we too are surrounded by young women who are under threat in different, but similar ways. This is not a problem that involves a small town in Nigeria, this involves all girls everywhere.
We hope that you feel neither shame nor pride in calling on the help and support of those who have the concerns of these girls at heart.
The real shame would be for them to live scarred lives or worse for their innocent blood to be on your hands.

All tied up

All tied up

I’ve worn head ties all my life, experimenting with shapes and colours and not just on bad hair days, haha!
In my teen years I was often laughed at for my head ties (the laughers were always as black as me) another manifestation of my outsiderness. The sting of derisive laughter has worn off but I remember it and I know the fear that those who laughed were harbouring.
In Nigeria I submit myself to the superior head wrapping skills of women who are artists of the cloth. Actually there’s a kind of effortless sense of style and awareness of the body that I admired in women both in Naija and Ghana.
But the body confidence exists alongside a paradoxical loathing of dark skin and natural hair. It weirds me out that this self-schism exists and I’ve been thinking of the ways that this affects me as a black woman living in the west.
It’s complicated and part of the uncomfortable conversation we need to keep having. When you see your reflection, are you seeing you or an amalgamation of your racial, historical and social complications?
Style is both personal and political and the negotiations black women constantly have to make are not always what you want to confront when you wake up to get dressed in the morning.

This time next week, I’ll be in the midst of the bacchanal that is Jouvay. Jouvay is truth in a way that nothing else can be.
So as I get my heart and mind ready for this week, I’m reflecting on my Jouvay truths. My love for Trinidad and Carnival and art.

What Caricom did next….

It is especially repugnant that the ruling ignores the 2005 judgement made by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR) that the Dominican Republic adapt its immigration laws and practices in accordance with the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights. The ruling also violates the Dominican Republic’s international human rights obligations. Furthermore, the ruling has created an environment where, with the abrogation of rights that flow from citizenship, arbitrariness can flourish as illustrated by recent media reports of the forced deportation to Haiti of persons claiming to be Dominican and with no linguistic or familial ties to that country.

 – Caricom Statement on Dominican Republic’s citizenship ruling.

Last night I attended an impromptu audience with Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves who was in Trinidad for the Heads of Government Meeting at which they finally made their statement condemning the shocking and racist court ruling in the Dominican Republic against Haitian descended Dominicans.

The meeting was hosted by Jouvay Ayiti – a Trinidad based collective dedicated to addressing the question of Haiti through what Rawle Gibbons described last night as the ‘mechanism of mas’.

Jouvay – the opening of Carnival celebrated in several islands across the Caribbean- has always been a point of protest and social commentary in Trinidad.

So the choice to use mas as a means of confronting our past, present and future engagement with Haiti is not only valid it is vital.

Jouvay Ayiti first responded to the DR question on November 6, with a mas action in Port of Spain. This was followed up with a petition sent to Caricom.

Meanwhile it’s taken over two months for a statement to come from Caricom and it is largely, I am inclined to believe after last night’s audience with the SVG PM, due to his agitations. He even joked about the similarity in the language of the Caricom’s statement and the letters he sent to the DR’s  on October 11 and another on November 11 (neither of which has received a response to date).

As Angelique V Nixon points out in her article on Groundation Grenada, Haitians are also regularly discriminated against and deported from the Bahamas.

The Bahamas — somewhat like the DR’s new ruling — also denies rights to the children of migrants, the difference being that children of migrants do have access to birth citizenship rights, which they have to apply for at 18. However, this process can take years, especially if one does not have access to legal assistance. Unlike the DR, Haitian Bahamians do have the right to stay in the country until they turn 18. However, many Haitian Bahamians remain stateless after 18 because of the difficulty in securing their status. On top of the legal challenges that Haitians and Haitian Bahamians deal with, they are socially stigmatized — from slurs and stereotypes to poor treatment at public clinics and hospitals, Haitian people bear much blame for a variety of social ills in Bahamian society. When times are rough, tourism is down, crime is on the rise, or people get laid off, Haitians are the scapegoats for everyone’s troubles and strapped resources. This resonates eerily with what has happened in the Dominican Republic, and I offer this comparison to remind us of the vulnerable position in which many Haitian migrants find themselves — not only in the DR but also elsewhere in the region.

Gonsalves openly stated last night that he disagreed with Caricom’s ‘quiet diplomacy’ approach. He read the two strongly worded letters he sent to Medina and also the letter he sent to Venezuela’s  Maduro, calling on him to consider suspending them from the Petrocaribe agreement.

So aside from threats of suspension from Cariforum and CELAC, the Petrocaribe issue is probably going to be a defining factor in the outcome of this regional embarrassment.

Money talks, after all.

And in as much as I am glad that Caricom has finally found  voice and interest enough to make a statement (Norman Girvan in introducing Gonsalves last night said it was the first time he could feel proud of the Community) I’m still concerned about issues of free movement in the Caribbean. 

Since the issuing of this statement, the planned talks between Haitiian President Michel Martelly and a high profile team of officials from the Dominican Republic have fallen through.

So what comes next? Aside from the threat of sanctions and diplomatic snubbing how are we really going to start to address institutional and other types of racism in the Caribbean between nations?

It brings me again back to my concerns with regards to the reparations issue – what is Caricom’s policy position on the complexities of our ethnic and racial interactions?

How are we engaging with these complexities at the level of education, at the level of policy, at the level of government initiatives?

 

Because let’s face it, the reason for our lack of action on Haiti is the fact that in 1804 a bunch of enslaved Africans had the audacity to fight against the French, win and then declare themselves a Republic.

And the question of blackness and/or African ancestry is still a point of shame for far too many Caribbean people of African descent, despite the fact that we have given the world some of the leading luminaries of Pan Africanism (Henry Sylvestre Williams, Marcus Garvey, CLR James, George Padmore, to name a few). And of course one of the major issues plaguing our relationship with Haiti is the continued fear and loathing of African spiritual traditions

One of Gonsalves’ closing observations was the virtual non-existence of any critical thought or action coming from the University of the West Indies.  This is something that has bothered me for years. I’m watching and waiting but I’m not terribly hopeful.

Gonsalves started his speech talking about his days as a student at the University of the West Indies Mona campus when he organised the protest against the banning of the late great Walter Rodney who dared go into the ghettoes of Kingston to ground with his brothers. 

45 years later the issues we are afraid to confront are similar if not exactly the same.  

Today is the 30th Anniversary of Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop being placed under house arrest.

Image

On October 14th 1983, the Bernard Coard led faction of the New Jewel Movement placed Prime Minister Maurice Bishop under house arrest because he had refused their calls for joint leadership of the NJM.

In an Extraordinary Meeting of the Central Committee of September 16 a joint leadership between Bishop and Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard was first formally proposed.

Central Committee member Liam James proposed Coard a joint leader, saying that Bishop lacked ‘a Leninist level of organisation and discipline.. ideological clarity.. [and] brilliance in strategy and tactics’.  

On September 25th, 1983 the faction further advanced the idea of the NJM being transformed into a formal Marxist-Leninist Party.

Word of Bishop’s arrest caused massive protests.

What unfolded in the following days was a horror that we are still coming to terms with.

 

Look out for more posts this week on Grenada and the Revolution.

‘Nutting’ Hill Carnival – a lament for Claudia Jones

Image

Notting Hill Carnival is on this weekend. Whatever the festival reflects and represents now (party and bullshit and party and bullshit) I’d just like to take a moment to remember and celebrate Claudia Jones, who gave England its first taste of Caribbean Carnival in 1959 in response to the Notting Hill race riots of the previous year.

She was born in Belmont, Trinidad in 1915 and moved to the US at age 9 but was deported in 1955 for her involvement in workers rights and the Communist Party.

She was given asylum in England and it was here that she organized the first London Caribbean Carnival and an Afro-Asian Caribbean Conference which then led to the formation of Committee of Afro-Asian and Caribbean Organisations.

She also founded the West Indian Gazette which later became West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News.

She was a journalist, activist, trouble maker, public speaker and allround badass.

She was also the original Jouvayist because she understood the transformative power of culture and the role that Carnival, the carnival of the masses played in defying the boundaries set by a system designed to make migrants invisible and sub-human.

That first Carnival event she organized in January 1959 in Pancras Town Hall featured the Boscoe Holder Dance troupe, the legendary Fitzroy Coleman and Cleo Laine. It was broadcast on the BBC and funds raised from the event went towards court fees and fines of convicted young black men.

I wonder if a penny from any fete, boat cruise, mas band this weekend is going towards addressing any of the many issues in the Black British community….

It’s unfashionable these days to be critical of Carnival. We have earned the right to wine up ourselves in the streets. To pay ridiculous amounts of money to wear the same costume every year. To dress up and go to fete and adopt postures of freedom and wild abandon.

I love to wine as much as anybody else, but I’m looking at least for a bit of irony, for an undertone of menace for even the shadow of a threat. We don’t even understand the significance of all these English in the street essentially giving thanks for the protests and sacrifice of the generations of Africans and Indians who worked to make this country wealthy and then came here after the World Wars as part of the rebuilding effort. 

The ConDem government is telling people to go home  even as we find out just how much David Cameron’s family got in reparations after Emancipation.

I guess it’s the lack of irony that upsets me the most. The total and complete lack of consciousness at how powerful Carnival could be if we weren’t so busy trying to forget the very things that ensured that we have it in the first place.

Image

The end of Me and Mr. Sabga Newsletter.

I’ve been trying since Wednesday to find the words to say to make sense of this Guardian folly.
I’ve never felt like the Guardian was the bastion of free press, I’ve read enough of its archive to know that since its 19 Century inception, through Independence through to 1970, the Guardian guards not democracy but the status quo, the elite power structures that keep some of us as masters and the rest of us as slaves.
The key to running a morally and socially bankrupt society is to ensure that you have certain people and institutions that keep people in their place.
People like me find a space in newspapers like the Guardian, because it fits their profile to appear to fair and balanced.
Yet I’ve had several occasions during my time as a columnist when I have had my right to fair comment compromised or threatened.
I had a public spat at a media briefing organized by ALCOA with Anthony Wilson who accused me of being unethical for writing about the smelter issue while I was involved as an activist.
And then in 2009 when Obama was coming for the Fifth Summit of the Americas, I got a call from the then Public Affairs editor Arthur Dash saying that he had been advised to let me know that there was no space for my column the following day. It was only after I made a scene on social media that they miraculously found space for my column again.
I’ve kept my column because I feel like I have things to say about Trinidad, about who we are and who we hope to become.
Few of us have a clear agenda. And that’s okay because it’s only through open discussion and constructive criticism that we’ll start to refine what that agenda is.
But I’m not sure all the voices in the conversation are focused on creating a better country.
The media needs a lot of scrutiny. As much if not more than the government.
A free press and a functional government go hand in hand and it is becoming more and more obvious that we have neither.
And MATT is not the watchdog it should be. If it was, this country would have been shut down the moment Sheila Rampersad, Denyse Renne and Anika Sandiford-Gumbs decided to pick up their jahaaji bundle and ride out. Or when Fazeer Mohammed got removed from First Up. Or when Uncle Jack threatened Denyse Renne and Asha Javeed.
But I guess MATT and the media are made up of citizens like the rest of us. You know, who have a mortgage. And 2.5 children. And long hard days. And hours in traffic.
And if nobody else is willing to, why should journalists sacrifice themselves for the nation’s entertainment?
Just like the public sector and the private sector and the unions and the churches and mosques and temples and the education system, some of my colleagues put their political affiliations before country. And some of us eating a food like the same ones we want to point fingers at. And some of us just looking for bacchanal. And some of us have allegiance to nothing.
Selfishness has us where we are and selfishness will take us where we’re going: nowhere.
The question of who stays and who goes is not the question. The question is who is keeping all of us accountable to each other? And if one person falls on their sword who is going to put up money to make sure they can buy groceries at the end of the month?
The stress and confusion and the lack of the full story created in the last couple days has exactly the desired effect of distracting us what from is really happening and that is the looting not just of the Treasury but our bank of collective responsibility.
They, (and by they I mean we), are trying to keep us in a state of fear and self-revulsion and we are obliging them.
Fear sells papers. And security services. And burglar proof. Fear is big business and the state is acting like a corporate entity peddling garbage and treating its workers like animals.
Once at the beginning of my time as a reporter an editor told me my only role was to fill space and meet deadlines.
I couldn’t reconcile that with what I imagined a journalist to be. I’m reminded of that ridiculous speech when I hear Gabriel Faria, followed by the about turn by MATT three days after they claimed that freedom of the press was under seige.
What we are watching is a freakshow where freedom and excellence are trotted out and flogged by clowns like Mr. Faria the mouthpiece of ‘establishment’ who I’ve never heard in a media context until a couple days ago. I want to know if he ever get a boof from George John. He has neither the professional nor moral authority to have anything to say about journalism.
He and the rest of the GML/AnsaMcAL massas wouldn’t know what excellence is to a journalist if somebody hit them with a Thesaurus. But they get to shout jump and the newsroom must start to levitate.
A journalist is no use without an audience. A newspaper can’t sell without journalists. They need us as much as we need them but somehow the power relationship is skewed and the journalists end up feeling like media owners are doing them a favour.
I’d rather not write for a paper that makes me or my colleagues unsure of who is going to make you bend to their will or wine for your supper.
I have nothing to trade with the world but words. Words and my reputation. My reputation is that I say and do what I think is right. I have a conscience and this is what it has been shouting at me since Wednesday: No compromise. They are threatening people’s livelihoods and that is not just madness it is criminal.
No compromise. This is war and if all citizens aren’t prepared to fight we might as well lie down and dead.

Election bell ring, Ms. Democracy

Dem a di don, to di biz we av di key
put di don to di key and turn him inna donkey
—Ting a Ling, Shabba Ranks

The election bell ring. It wake up Democracy from a deep drunken sleep. She sit up and watch the clock and steups. A long watery one. The kind of special steups you save for when you in government office for an hour trying to do something that should take five minutes.
Democracy put on the radio to see who else dead in the night. She listen to the bacchanal. She switch and listen to the fearmongers.
She smile and shake her head at the callers. Near hysterics with the latest piece of stupidness that just get revealed.
She wonder if nothing else going on in this forceripe little island except for badjohns with guns and badjohns with seats in Parliament.
They coming for her just now. They coming to dress her up pretty and loud for a few weeks and parade her about like a trophy wife.
Democracy wish she could say half the things that in her head and heart to say. That could turn things around and make a difference to the lives of those who need it the most.
The ones who depending on the government or the opposition to actually represent them and engage them in creating a brighter future.
Democracy take a sip of her coffee watching the clouds gather on the hills. This is a sweet time of the day when the light is perfect.
The hills used to be so green. But is development, nah. Is development and the need for housing that have less trees on the hills and rivers on mud running down her street.
It had a time when she used to try and make a difference. She used to talk.
They say she is a trouble aker. They say she trying to make confusion. They say she trying to stop people from eating a food.
Democracy, hush yuh firetrucking mouth so I could make a lil kickback.
They don’t know who is me or what? Like they forget the meaning of my name. Like they forget that is because of me they reach anywhere in the first place.
She give up on fighting them now. She give up because the licks starting to take a toll. The emotional abuse starting to make her forget the meaning of her own name.
Democracy is good at hiding the bruises now. She learn how to do that long time. She eat so much licks in her time that she know how to turn her face so that when the lash pass it wouldn’t leave too big a mark. Not too bad.
Democracy go on Facebook. She watch her newsfeed and roll her eyes at the political blogs. She not really sure why she following them in the first place.
A set of idlers who like to hide behind they computer and pontificate about what wrong with Trinidad.
But if she were to call them and ask them to come and help her out, they woulda start to stutter and well, ahm in her ears and tell her how it eh really have nothing she could do.
See? We’re so free here. We give you a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea and you should be grateful for that.
She going to spend the next few weeks wining for rum and roti.
Democracy watch herself long and hard in the mirror. She not looking too bad. She could still smile and convince people that she is beautiful. She could still make a show that she matters and is of value.
The money they paying her to show up, well she could make a good living on that. She could go away every now and again. She could buy nice things and go on the Avenue and lime.
Democracy figure is compensation enough for her pains.
They coming for her just now. They coming to show her off in the papers. On the hustings. She getting some good gigs for the next few weeks.
Is like Carnival time when they does play local music on the radio.
After elections she going to disappear just like soca. Until next time.
The rain falling again.
The sky weeping tears on her behalf. Endless tears. The sky have more water than Wasa, that’s for sure. She can’t cry now. She smile at her face in the mirror. She skin her teeth and practise kissing babies. She swallow hard to get rid of the lump in her throat.
Now that the election bell ring. How it go look if Democracy looking bad?

From Home to Home

lookbeyond

Ah went away
Ah leave and ah forward home
Ah forward to stay
Ah must see mih way
—Forward Home, Andre Tanker

You know that move? The one when the pressure from the drumming gets to be too much. When you feeling like your spirit might separate from your body. You ketch the power of the rhythm and it’s like your spine can no longer keep your body upright. You are water and fire and moving air. You are one in a crowd heaving like jouvay morning when you on that Savannah stage and the sun coming up over your Laventille hills.

Your knees buckle and you dip. Your arms end up on top your head—you can feel all your chakras open and the kundalini rising like smoke from some sacred fire burning inside you. Your feet do steps you never knew you knew. Your bottom is a republic.

I am outside the palace of the Asantehene in Kumasi dancing with a couple hundred other people I have never seen before. It is the day before the funeral of someone I do not know. I was passing by and heard the music and the combination of a riddim section and sweet brass was too much to resist. It’s a telling moment in this my first visit to Africa. I submit to a bigger force that has drawn me here. I submit to what Africa has done to consolidate itself not just in a vague way in my imagination but in the front of my mind.

I’ve seen a few different Africas in the past three weeks. I’ve seen the Africa you see on television. The one they want us to believe is the only one that exists. I’ve seen the Africa that made me want to plead with the gods of personal hygiene and promise to never take indoor plumbing for granted again.

I’ve seen the Africa of my imagination. The one that looks like home. That feels like I belong here. That I blend into and don’t feel like an outsider. And people who don’t question why a little black girl like me should be interested in the things that I am interested in. I have seen more Christian churches than I can count. And the fear on the face of the woman who accompanies me to witness a roadside ceremony that marks the death of a powerful traditional priest.

I have seen the kind of wealth that would make my uptown London friends feel like paupers. And discovered another level of pan-Africanism that we forgot that out little T&T that has given the world. Speak the names George Padmore and Henry Sylvester Williams and CLR James and Kwame Ture in some quarters and the air starts to vibrate with the memory of the contributions.

I have met Ghanaians who want to know what scenes Trinis really on. They want to know how come the T&T Government acted so shady in signing the gas deal that eventually went to the Chinese. They want to know if Trinis don’t want to deal with Africans, if they really believe the fiction that black people not good at business.

They want to know if we know that it is because their past President Gerry Rawlings came to Trinidad for Emancipation that the Door of No Return at Cape Coast castle was reopened and that every year people come from all over the diaspora to walk through that door.

Ghanaians pick at their wounds too. We talk politics into the wee hours. E-mailgate rubs up against a court hearing on irregularities in their recently held general election. We laugh on the outside at the colossal stupidity of politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. But weep on the inside. At how we are still confronting the same post-colonial monsters.

We commiserate with the African Americans who have only recently discovered what we have known for 50 years—that because your leader looks like you it doesn’t mean that he or she has your best interests at heart.

I wish I could bring a few people from T&T to meet all the little black boys and girls I was hanging out with. The highly educated ones. The ones who do not feel the need to apologise for their blackness or don’t feel like you curse their mother if you call them African. Who understand that being sure of who you are isn’t a threat to anyone else’s identity. In fact, your surety puts you in a better position to contribute to forward movement.

When I regain control of my body and the music is just an echo, my spirit is dancing still. To the music of possibility. I wash off the last remnants of doubt on that same coast where my ancestors were taken away in ships. I left home to come home. And they welcomed me like I had never left. When I leave home to go back home, I hope the welcome will be as warm.

eintouandmecoast

In the Dungeon

When you enter the final dungeon in Elmina Castle the stench is unbearable, as is the noise of millions of ancestors who died in agony or made their final journey out of Africa there. I felt like my head would explode so Eintou gave me guinea pepper and white rum to stabilize my Ori. The doorways are so very narrow, the final insult for those who survive the horrendous conditions to make the crossing is that you have to bend, practically crawl into the last dungeon. Even me with my less than fat self, had to hunch my shoulders in and turn a little sideways to get through the Door of No Return. The sea roared. Yemoja wailing across centuries. Through my tears I notice how much Elmina looks like Manzanilla.