Saturday, May 10, 2008

Africans are not "foreigners" (but racists are racists even if they are Caribs)

For a decade now I have personally known about the racial views of today's Chief of the Dominica Carib Territory, Charles Williams, and was quite willing to keep debates and discussions that we had in private, until I saw the Associated Press possibly tarnishing the image of all Dominica's Caribs among those who might mistakenly think that the Chief speaks for all Caribs.

Chief Williams, who does have Internet access and an email account, is very welcome to post his response on this blog, and I commit myself to publishing it. Again, I wish to reiterate that the views expressed below are entirely my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of my fellow CAC editors.

I believe that the most respectful way to behave, as an anthropologist, is to speak frankly and directly (as I did in person back in 1998), and to even argue with one's hosts and collaborators, rather than write about them behind their backs, which I have not done and am not doing now. I will reiterate what I said in 1998, in what was otherwise a very warm gathering at which Carib senator Kelly Graneau, James Frederick, and Irvince Auguiste (a former chief) were also present.

I do so, quite plainly, to distance myself from views that I think are completely reprehensible: the Caribbean does not need any more racism, and it especially does not need any racism to be reinforced by those who suffered some of its worst effects for the longest.

Africans in the Caribbean, in Dominica, are not "foreigners."

Africans did not choose to be in the Caribbean, they are not tourists, they are not invaders. Africans were stolen from their homes, and would most likely never have chosen to be in the Caribbean, or to remain, were it not for the fact that their homes were destroyed and return proved impossible.

Africans literally spilled their blood on Caribbean soil, labouring, toiling, and fighting for freedom. They have a place in the Caribbean not just because they have been born there for generations, but because they have earned that place like few other people anywhere on Earth can claim.

Africans and Caribs, who merged to form the people we know today as the Garifuna, the last speakers of the Island Carib language (not spoken in Dominica), have long had mutually supportive relationships, have long intermarried, have shared their cultures, have adopted each other's customs and practices, and have fought together for freedom.

One does not turn one's back on such a history in the name of anything--not in the name of a quick buck made by selling baskets to tourists, not in the name of possibly seeking to boot families out of the Carib Territory, and certainly not in the name of "racial purity."

I ask that Chief Williams reflect on the destructive impact of his messages, that he reconsider, and that he publicly apologize for seeking such odious legislation and withdraw his comments.

No comments: