COLUMN – Enter people of African descent!
I have a very important message for the black or African people of Barbados and the Caribbean, and it is that the International Decade For People Of African Descent has started!
You see, the United Nations (UN) organization has declared an International Decade For People Of African Descent to run from January 1, 2015, to December 31, 2024. And the UN has directed the international community to pay special attention to issues relating to people of African descent during this ten-year period, with a view to making appreciable progress in completing the still unfinished Black Agenda of liberation, cultural and psychological rehabilitation, and development.
I also wish Barbadians to know that the UN has charged the Government of Barbados with the three-tiered responsibility of launching the International Decade in Barbados; informing and educating Barbadians about the International Decade; and developing a national programme of action to make full use of this ten-year opportunity for advancing the fortunes of black Barbadians.
Needless to say, we Barbadian people have heard absolutely nothing from our Government about the International Decade For People Of African Descent! But this should not surprise any of us, for we seem to be afflicted by one of the most indifferent Governmental administrations!
And so, it would not make sense for us to sit back and wait for our Government to take up the opportunities provided by the existence of this International Decade. Rather, the civil society organizations of Barbados must bestir themselves and put forward concrete action-oriented projects that are designed to advance the interests of the African-descended people of Barbados.
The theme of the International Decade is People Of African Descent: Recognition, Justice And Development –– and the UN General Assembly has directed Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to set aside funds from the regular budget of the United Nations, as well as extra-budgetary funds, to help finance relevant projects. In addition, the General Assembly has mandated the UN’s High Commissioner For Human Rights to assume the role of “facilitator” of the International Decade’s programme of activities.
Black Barbadians should pay special attention to the fact that the UN has acknowledged that people of African descent have suffered from, and been held back by, centuries of enslavement and colonial domination. As a result, the United Nations has explicitly stated that the International Decade shall focus on the following three specific objectives:
1. To strengthen national, regional and international action and cooperation in relation to the full enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights by people of African descent, and their full and equal participation in all aspects of society;
2. To promote a greater knowledge of and respect for the heritage, culture and contribution of people of African descent to the development of societies; and
3. To adopt and strengthen national, regional and international legal frameworks in accordance with the Declaration And Programme Of Action that emanated from the UN World Conference Against Racism and to ensure their full and effective implementation.
There can be no doubt that Barbados and the Barbadian people need to make full use of this UN Decade For People Of African Descent. Just last week, for example, we had the bewildering spectacle of a black secondary school principal (who wears her hair in a straightened or Europeanized fashion) objecting to the natural hairstyles of a number of her young black female students! Surely, this should bring home to us that we still have a long way to go in fostering “knowledge of and respect for the heritage, culture and contribution of people of African descent”.
In my capacity as chairman of the Caribbean Pan-African Network (CPAN) –– a region-wide organization that is involved in a working relationship with the “African Union”, it is my duty to ensure that all the relevant sectors and organizations of Barbadian society know about and, hopefully, participate in the International Decade For People Of African Descent.
All of the relevant sectors and organizations of our society should give some thought to our still unfinished Black Agenda of liberation, cultural and psychological rehabilitation, and development –– what the concrete things are that we need to do to advance our black Barbadian population in the spheres of economics, business, religion , education, workers rights, women’s rights, cultural development, social advancement, and the list goes on.
What other concrete projects can our churches, trade unions, women’s organizations, youth organizations, educators, black business people, media practitioners, scholars, artistes and so forth come up with to advance and complete the unfinished Black Agenda over the next ten years?
I have noted, for example, that the recently formed Non-State Actors Reparations Commission has developed a project in which it is taking issue with the traditional portrayal of a white Jesus Christ in the iconography and theology of the churches of Barbados, and are challenging the Barbadian Church to embrace an alternative and psychologically liberating black Christ.
This is the type of relevant project that fits into the scope and mandate of the International Decade, and that should attract support, and perhaps even funding, from the UN and other relevant agencies.
I am of the view that this decade provides us with a wonderful opportunity to rid ourselves of the individual and collective shame that we feel (whether some of us know it or not) as a result of the continued existence of such demeaning and unacceptable hangovers from our slavery and colonial past as a white foreign Queen as our Head of State; a national economic structure characterized by white elite ownership of our big businesses and major land resources; racially exclusive gated communities and recreational clubs; an education system that marginalizes African studies; a mass media culture suffused with the values of white priority and supremacy; a national development strategy based on the maintenance of a dependency relationship with white nations; and the list goes on.
It is against this background, therefore, that I would like to issue a call to such national organizations as the Congress of Trade Unions, Barbados Workers’ Union, National Organization of Women, Barbados Christian Council, Small Business Association, Barbados Credit Union League, Barbados Association of Journalists, Barbados Bar Association, Guild of Students, Barbados Union of Teachers, Council for the Advancement of Rastafari, National Cultural Foundation, Caribbean Policy Development Centre, National Council of Parent-Teacher Associations, and all the various pan-Africanist organizations to develop projects in their particular spheres of interest designed to tackle these race-based social pathologies.
Needless to say, there is a whole lot of an unfinished Black Agenda to go around!
The International Decade should also be embraced by the National Task Force On Reparations and all the reparations activists as a ten-year window of opportunity in which to structure, pursue and win the battle for reparations!
Let me conclude by saying that I am prepared to make myself available to any organization in Barbados that wishes to consult about the International Decade For People Of African Descent. The United Nations has placed a very important and potent instrument in our hands. Let us recognize the valuableness of this ten-year opportunity and make full use of it!
(David A. Comissiong, an attorney-at-law, is president of the Clement Payne Movement.)