Friday, September 26, 2014

AMERINDIAN HERITAGE MONTH IN GUYANA

Guyana is an Amerindian word which means Land of many waters. September is Amerindian Heritage Month in Guyana and has been officially recognized as such since 1995. The word Amerindian is a combination of the words American Indian. This is the name that was given to the indigenous people of the Americas, the Caribbean and the Guianas by the European colonizers who arrived in this part of the world on the heels of “explorer” Christopher Columbus and others of his ilk. We know that Columbus did not “discover” any new lands when he arrived in this part of the world since these lands were already populated. What many people surprisingly still do not know is that Columbus was lost when he happened upon these shores. He was on his way to India and with the arrogance of Europeans, on landing and deciding that he was in India named the people he met “Indians.” The name obviously stuck and more than five hundred year later the indigenous people of the “Americas” remain “Indians.”
Guyana formerly “British Guiana” also fondly known as “BG” or sarcastically sometimes referred to as “Bookers Guiana” in days of yore is the only English speaking country on the South American continent. Guyana is also home to nine groups of Amerindians who mostly live in Guyana’s interior area of rainforests and savannah land. The Guyana census of 2002 puts the Amerindian population at 9% of the country’s inhabitants. The vast majority of other Guyanese (90%) live on the narrow coastland. Guyana’s 83,000 square miles is home to less than 800,000 people, the 2012 census puts the number at 795,369. The petroglyphs found near Kurupukari in the Iwokrama rainforest in Guyana prove that Guyana’s indigenous people (Arawaks, Arecunas, Akawaios, Caribs, Macushis, Patamonas, Wapisianas, Warraus and Wai-Wais) have lived on the South American continent since at least 5000 BCE.
As a child attending Primary School (Elementary/Grade School) in Guyana we read about the Arawaks in our “reading books.” Those “Caribbean Reader” books were a series which began from the Preparatory Division A (Grade one) with Mr. Joe a farmer and his animals Miss Tibs (a cat) Mother Hen and her chick Percy, Mr. Dan (a dog) Master Willy (a pig) Mr. Grumps (a goat) Miss Peg (a donkey) and Mrs. Cuddy (a cow.) In Book 2 which we read in Standard 2 (Grade 4) we read the story of Rainstorm – an Arawak story explaining the reasons for rainfall. The story told of an Arawak woman who became stuck between the sky and earth and when it rained she was crying because she could not return to the sky or come down to earth. In the series of Caribbean Readers there were other stories about some of the indigenous people of the Caribbean and South America (the Arawaks and Caribs.) These stories did not include the other native people of Guyana (Arecunas, Akawaios, Macushis, Patamonas, Wapisianas, Warraus and Wai-Wais) who I did not know about until my father (a police officer) was transferred to the Rupununi. In the Rupununi Savannahs where we lived for several years we met several groups of Amerindian people and learned of their culture and their history.
In the Rupununi which was somewhat isolated from the mainland of Guyana, the Amerindian people frequently crossed the border which Guyana shares with Brazil because families lived in both countries and spoke English, Portuguese and their native languages. Amerindians and their culture thrived in the Rupununi where every year at Easter while Guyanese on the coastland celebrated with kite flying the Amerindians celebrated with a rodeo. The vaqueros (cowboys) who worked on the various ranches scattered across the Rupununi would display their skills at staying seated on a bucking bronco, fastening a lasso on a wild bull and riding same, milking wild cows, racing and subduing greasy pigs and many other entertaining activities. The Rupununi Rodeo was the highlight of the year for everyone living the region. The staple food for the Amerindians was farine and tasso. Farine is made from grated cassava the after the cassava juice has been squeezed out; what is left is sifted and then parched in a heated flat pan leaving grains which is eaten with tasso (dried beef.) The Amerindian culture was also expressed through dance performances and language. In 1977 African Guyanese linguist Dr. Walter F. Edwards now a professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, did a study of the Akawaio and Arecuna languages through the University of Guyana. Together with another African Guyanese linguist Dr. Kean Gibson who is now a professor of Linguistics and Anthropology at the University of the West Indies they published An introduction to the Akawaio and Arekuna peoples of Guyana.
Interest in Guyana’s indigenous people and their inclusion in the Guyanese society also led to the Guyana government including the Amerindian word Mashramani as the celebration of Guyana’s Republic Day on February 23. Mashramani means "the celebration of a job well done." Timehri which means “paintings and drawings on the rock” was the name of Guyana’s national airport (named by the then Guyanese government to honour the indigenous people of Guyana, changed from Atkinson in 1969) until 1997 when the new Guyana government elected in 1992 made another name change eliminating the Amerindian name.
In 1972 the Umana Yana which means "Meeting place of the people" was commissioned by then Prime Minister of Guyana Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham. The Umana Yana was built by a team of about 60 members of the Wai-Wai people. The famous benab which was modelled on the traditional home of the Wai-Wai people was located on Main Street, Kingston in Georgetown, Guyana’s capital city. This historic landmark stood 55 feet (16.78 metres) high and was made from thatched allibanna and manicole palm leaves and wallaba posts lashed together with mukru, turu and nibbi vines. There were no ladders, nails or hammers used in the construction of the Umana Yana and when it was finished it occupied an area of 460 square metres, which made it the largest benab in Guyana. The Umana Yana was specially constructed to serve as a V.I.P. lounge and recreation spot during the Non-Aligned Foreign Ministers Conference held in Georgetown in August 1972. Over the 42 years that the Umana Yana stood in majestic splendour and a testament to the skill and representing the recognition of Amerindian culture in Guyana, it was used as an exhibition and conference centre.
Unfortunately the historic Umana Yana is no longer standing in pride of place in Georgetown. In the midst of celebrating Amerindian Heritage Month in Guyana the historic building was which was a testament to the high regard in which Guyana’s Amerindian people and their culture are held, was destroyed by a mysterious fire. On September 9 the building burned reportedly with 15 minutes. There is of course great hope and anticipation that the Umana Yana will be rebuilt. Representatives from the Peoples National Congress Reform which is the political party of the late LFS Burnham who commissioned the construction of the Umana Yana issued a statement following the destruction of the historic building: “The PNCR has a proud association with this historic landmark, which was commissioned by our Founder Leader Forbes Burnham in 1972 and was erected by a team of about sixty Wai–Wai Amerindians, one of the nine indigenous tribes of Guyana. Everything must be done to ensure that this historic and iconic landmark is rebuilt as soon as possible.”
The Guyana government has promised to rebuild the Umana Yana. A representative speaking on behalf of the Guyana government is quoted as saying: “We are happy that no one was injured and we will be working along with the fire service to determine the cause of the fire…we have to include this in next year’s budget because this is an important heritage building for us and we would want to see it erected back as fast as possible.”

SOUTH AFRICA 1992 SEPTEMBER - 2014 SEPTEMBER

On September 25, 1992 several newspapers scattered across US cities (including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia and Washington) carried articles about a movie portraying the African experience in apartheid South Africa. Even Roger Ebert America’s best known film critic had an article published in the “Chicago Sun-Times” on September 25, 1992 about the movie “Sarafina.” The movie was an adaptation of the musical based on the lived experience of an African school girl, “Sarafina” during the brutal apartheid era. Sarafina is set in Soweto a township in South Africa which became internationally known on June 16, 1976 when White police opened fire on a group of African students during a demonstration. The demonstration was organized to protest the decision of the apartheid regime to force African students to learn Afrikaans. The compulsory teaching of Afrikaans which was the Dutch derived dialect used as the language of choice of the descendants of the Dutch settler/colonizer class living in South Africa was resisted by the African students. Africans already forced to speak a European language (English) did not look kindly on being forced to speak a European dialect (not surprisingly Afrikaans is now considered a language) borrowed from Dutch with a sprinkling of German and Portuguese.
The result of the Soweto demonstration/protest of African students was brutal police retaliation with reportedly two African students killed and many injured. The photograph of a wounded and dying 13 year old Hector Pieterson carried in the arms of another student Mbuyisa Makhubo as Hector's obviously distressed 17 year old sister Antoinette Sithole ran alongside them went viral. That photograph became the symbol of the White police brutality against African students in South Africa in much the same way as the brutally beaten and disfigured body of 14 year old Emmett Till became the image of White supremacy and brutality during the Civil Rights era in the USA. Today the body of Michael Brown lying uncovered for hours on a street in Ferguson, Missouri after being killed by a White police officer stands right alongside that of Emmett Till.
The deadly savagery of the White police attack against demonstrating African students in Soweto gave rise to more protests from African students and international condemnation of the White minority apartheid regime. The brutal crackdown including the killing and injuring of African school children by White police led to more protests across South Africa which resulted in approximately 1,000 African students killed by White police. The “Bantu education” sought to not only force African students to learn Afrikaans but also to mis-educate African students so that they could only aspire to work in menial jobs that would benefit White people living in South Africa. The “Bantu Education Act No 47” authored by Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd (then Minister of Native Affairs, later Prime Minister) is described on the South African History Online (SAHO) website: “Its stated aim was to prevent Africans receiving an education that would lead them to aspire to positions they wouldn't be allowed to hold in society. Instead Africans were to receive an education designed to provide them with skills to serve their own people in the Bantustan ‘homelands’ or to work in manual labour jobs under white control. This legislation was condemned and rejected as inferior from the time of its introduction. This cornerstone of apartheid ideology-in-practice wreaked havoc on the education of black people in South Africa, and deprived and disadvantaged millions for decades. Its devastating personal, political and economic effects continue to be felt and wrestled with today.” The Act is also described as: “A pillar of the apartheid project, this legislation was intended to separate black South Africans from the main, comparatively very well-resourced education system for whites.”
The musical “Sarafina” was first presented in June 1987 at “The Market Theatre” in Johannesburg, South Africa. Sarafina premiered on Broadway on January 28, 1989 at the Cort Theatre and closed on 2 July 1989 following 597 performances and 11 previews. The movie Sarafina starring Whoopi Goldberg as an African teacher in Soweto opened in American cinemas in September 1992. The movie brought the South African student protests of 1976 to Americans in 1992 the same year Nelson Mandela was negotiating with Frederik Willem de Klerk in an attempt to steer South Africa into becoming a democracy where the African majority would for the first time have the right to vote and enjoy other Human rights.
On September 26, 1992 a “Record of Understanding” was signed at a meeting between F W de Klerk the “State President of the Republic of South Africa” and Nelson Mandela the President of the African National Congress (ANC) held at the Kempton Park World Trade Centre in South Africa. The signing of this important document resulted in a commitment to a multiparty system of government and to the writing of a new Constitution for a democratic South Africa. Almost 2 years later over a 4 day period from April 26-29, 1944 South Africa held its first democratic elections where all citizens 18 and older regardless of race had an opportunity to vote. The ANC with Mandela as its leader won the election and South Africa had its first democratically elected government and President (Mandela.)
On September 25, South Africa's parliament elected Kgalema Motlanthe a former trade unionist, freedom fighter and deputy leader of the ANC as interim President when South Africa’s second democratically elected President Thabo Mbeki resigned just 9 months before the end of his presidency. In 2014 as South Africa celebrates 20 years of democracy there is an entire generation of African students for whom the term “Bantu education” are words in their history or social studies/social science books.

HUMAN RIGHTS 1947-2014

"It is not Russia that threatens the United States so much as Mississippi; not Stalin and Molotov but Bilbo and Rankin; internal injustice done to one’s brothers is far more dangerous than the aggression of strangers from abroad.”
Excerpt from "An Appeal to the World" presented to the United Nations on October 23, 1947 by William Edward Burghardt "W.E.B" Dubois
The more than 100 page "Appeal" from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was co-written by W. E. B. Du Bois. On October 23, 1947 when Du Bois presented the "Appeal" to the General Assembly of the UN he did so over the objections of former "First Lady" Eleanor Roosevelt who was an American delegate to the UN. Roosevelt who sat on the board of the NAACP and supposedly a "friend to the Negro" was not prepared to support "the Negro" in their fight to bring international attention to the White supremacist culture of America under which they suffered untold abuse. Almost 6 years later Roosevelt documented what a great friend she was to "the Negro" in the February 1953 edition of Ebony Magazine (http://newdeal.feri.org/er/er09.htm) in an article entitled "Some of My Best Friends are Negro." After reading this excerpt from Roosevelt's article about her good "Negro friends" I am not surprised that she did not support NAACP and Du Bois in bringing the "Appeal" to the UN: "It is a bit odd, perhaps, that I came to know Negroes and find among them many good friends, after I had first had contacts with foreigners. From my earliest childhood I had literary contacts with Negroes, but no personal contacts with them. Reading about Negroes came about this way: On Saturdays we visited my great aunt Mrs. James King Gracie, who had been born and brought up on a Georgia plantation. She would read to us from the Brer Rabbit books and tell us about life on the plantation. This was my very first introduction to Negroes in any way." I am just surprised that she did not mention how much she enjoyed seeing them dancing with all that natural rhythm they possessed. In his 2008 published book "The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a Post-racial America" African American professor Christopher J. Metzler confirms: "The nail in the coffin for black human rights in America was driven by the 'friend of the Negro' and NAACP board member Eleanor Roosevelt."
Roosevelt and her husband (President Franklin Delano Roosevelt) were members of the Democratic Party which in modern times is viewed as "the party" that supports and is supported by African Americans. However the beginning of the Democratic Party was far from friendly to African Americans. The Democratic Party opposed the emancipation of enslaved Africans and supported the extension of slavery. It was the party of Jim Crow supporting segregation and the lynching of Africans in the southern US. "Bilbo and Rankin" mentioned in the October 23, 1957 "Appeal to the World" were both White supremacist politicians in Mississippi and members of the Democratic Party. The names of both men, John Elliott Rankin (March 29, 1882 – November 26, 1960) and Theodore Gilmore Bilbo (October 13, 1877 – August 21, 1947) are synonymous with White supremacy. Both men supported the actions described by Du Bois in his September 23, 1947 "Appeal" to the UN: “At first [the American Negro] was driven from the polls in the South by mobs and violence; and then he was openly cheated; finally by a ‘Gentlemen’s agreement’ with the North, that Negro was disfranchised in the South by a series of laws, methods of administration, court decisions, and general public policy, so that today, three-fourths of the Negro population of the nation is deprived of the right to vote by open and declared policy.”
With the election of the first African American President many people thought that the White supremacist American culture was a thing of the past. There was much trumpeting of a post-racial society where Jim Crow had been relegated to a distant and dusty past. However it seems Jim Crow has morphed to suit the 21st century. The frequent extrajudicial killing of African Americans caught on tape, the frequent brutalizing of African Americans also caught on tape and the many incidents of White Americans in positions of power expressing White supremacist thoughts speak to the continued devaluing of African American lives and Civil Rights.
Incidents of White supremacist actions and thoughts are not as publicized here in the Great White North where we dwell but they do occur. Here in Canada we face a mostly polite and subtle form of White supremacy which is just as vicious in its impact on our psyche. On September 6 the African Canadian Legal Clinic (ACLC) hosted Dr. Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, Commissioner and Rapporteur on the Rights of Afro-Descendants and Against Racial Discrimination at a “Human Rights Forum on the State of African Descendants in Canada.” The documentary “Crisis of Distrust: Police and Community in Toronto” by the Policing Literacy Initiative (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u627BsqA5BM) was screened which gives some idea of the state of over-policing experienced by African Canadians. Over the years there have been countless studies done about racial profiling of African Canadians by police. The resulting reports sit on dusty shelves in various places until a spate of police brutality stories force another study. Nothing changes; from the time of police killing of Buddy Evans, Albert Johnson and Lester Donaldson which led to the founding of the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) in 1988 police continue to stop, question and in many cases brutalize African Canadians. These incidents occur arbitrarily against African Canadians who are doing nothing except “living.”
Beginning in October 2002 the Toronto Star a White daily newspaper published a series of articles highlighting racial profiling. According to the definition on the website of the Ontario Human Rights Commission: “Racial Profiling happens when you take action because you’re worried about safety, for security reasons or for the public’s protection, and your decision is based on stereotypes about a person’s race, colour, ethnicity, ancestry, religion or place of origin.” The Toronto Star used information from the police database (http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/knowntopolice/singled-out.html) The reaction from the various police services has been denial that they engage in racial profiling in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Following the 2002 series on racial profiling there was a flurry of denial from police and White politicians. The Chief of Police declared: “We do not do racial profiling...There is no racism. We don’t look at, nor do we consider race or ethnicity, or any of that, as factors of how we dispose of cases...” The President of the Police Association stated: “No racial profiling has ever been conducted by the Toronto Police Service.” Even the then Mayor of Toronto weighed in: “I don’t believe that the Toronto police engage in racial profiling in any way, shape or form. Quite the opposite, they’re very sensitive to our different communities” This was the same Mayor who had in 2001 infamously said that he would not go to Mombasa, Kenya to support Toronto’s bid to host the 2008 Olympics because he was afraid of being consumed by cannibals. “What the hell would I want to go to a place like Mombasa. I just see myself in a pot of boiling water with all these natives dancing around me.”
In the USA following the police killing of unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown even Amnesty International has recognized the human rights violation of African Americans. On August 19, ten days after a White police officer killed Michael Brown, Amnesty International tweeted: “US can't tell other countries to improve their records on policing and peaceful assembly if it won't clean up its own human rights record.” When Du Bois attempted to have the UN address the lynching and brutalization of African Americans on October 23, 1947 he was unsuccessful because of the intervention of Eleanor Roosevelt. In 2014 the U N Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) said after examining the U.S. record of racism against African Americans: "Racial and ethnic discrimination remains a serious and persistent problem in all areas of life from de facto school segregation, access to health care and housing. The excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against racial and ethnic minorities is an ongoing issue of concern and particularly in light of the shooting of Michael Brown. This is not an isolated event and illustrates a bigger problem in the United States, such as racial bias among law enforcement officials, the lack of proper implementation of rules and regulations governing the use of force, and the inadequacy of training of law enforcement officials."
It will be interesting to read the report of the “Commissioner and Rapporteur on the Rights of Afro-Descendants and Against Racial Discrimination” after her September 2014 visit to Canada.

ENKUTATASH (SEPTEMBER 11) ETHIOPIAN NEW YEAR

On Thursday, September 11 Ethiopians and members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church will celebrate “Enkutatash” (New Year.) Ethiopians and members of the Church celebrated the new Millennium (2000) in 2007 so according to the Ethiopian calendar this year (2014) is 2007. Ethiopians use the calendar of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria which reportedly did not change “when the rest of Christendom revised its estimate of the date of the birth of Christ” in the 16th Century. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church was administratively part of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria until July 13, 1948. On July 13, 1948 the Coptic Church of Alexandria and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church reached an agreement. In 1950, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church was granted “autocephaly” (self-government/independence) by Pope Joseph II of Alexandria, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Five bishops were consecrated by the Coptic Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa, empowered to elect a new Patriarch for their church and the successor to the last Coptic Bishop/Abuna Qerellos IV, who would have the power to consecrate new bishops. This process was completed on 14 January 1951 when the Coptic Orthodox Pope Joseph II consecrated the first Ethiopian Archbishop, 60 year old Abuna Basilios (born Gebre Giyorgis Wolde Tsadik on April 23, 1891.)
“Enkutatash” is the Ethiopian New Year and means “gift of jewels” in the Amharic language which is the main Ethiopian language. The celebration of “Enkutatash” is both religious and secular. The word comes from an event that happened approximately 3,000 years ago when the Queen of Sheba of ancient Ethiopia returned to Ethiopia after visiting King Solomon of Israel in Jerusalem. The visit is chronicled in the Bible in I Kings chapter 10 and II Chronicles chapter 9. There are several versions of the Bible including the “English Standard Version” where the visit is described: “She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices and very much gold and precious stones.” Another version of the Bible “The New Living Translation” further describes the gifts: “Then she gave the king a gift of 9,000 pounds of gold, great quantities of spices, and precious jewels. Never again were so many spices brought in as those the Queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.” Whatever version of the Bible is read the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Jerusalem describes that she gifted Solomon enormous amounts of gold, spices and precious stone; so much that it is noteworthy that such an amount had not been seen before or after her visit. When the Queen returned to Ethiopia her chiefs welcomed her with “enku” or jewels to replenish her treasury.
Ethiopia has captured the imagination of Africans in the Diaspora in various ways. The country is one of two African countries mentioned in the Bible. Since enslaved Africans were coerced into abandoning their indigenous beliefs and were “Christianized” by their enslavers; the Bible became an important part of their acculturation. The mention of an African nation in this very important book probably brought some sense of pride (definitely hidden) to a people who were brutalized daily by their enslavers.
Ethiopia also captured the imagination of Africans worldwide when the Ethiopian army defeated the covetous Italians at the battle of Adwa in 1896. This historic battle raged at the height of the European “Scramble for Africa” when White men and women were stampeding through the African continent greedily grabbing and exploiting the land and the Africans.
From November 15, 1884 to February 26, 1885 a group of White men representing 14 nations made decisions that continue to affect the lives of Africans into the 21st century. These men sat around a table and carved up the African continent on paper parcelling off portions among themselves. There were no African voices no African presence at these meetings. Such was the arrogance of these White men whose ancestors had already caused untold damage to the African continent for more than 400 years through the slave trade. After carving up the continent on paper these people set about colonizing the continent by force, murdering, torturing, imprisoning and/or exiling any African who resisted including the royal family of the Ashanti of Ghana. Ethiopia was the beacon of hope that all was not lost since it remained the sole African nation to have escaped the ravening White men and women from Europe.
In the 2005 published book “The Battle of Adwa: Reflections on Ethiopia’s Historic Victory against European Colonialism” White American professor of political science and international studies Theodore M. Vestal writes: “In 1896, Italy, a late-comer to the family of nations and a slow-footed scrambler for colonial spoils in Africa, made her move to conquer Ethiopia, the only remaining prize on the continent unclaimed by Europeans. Expansionist leaders of the recently unified Kingdom of Italy dreamed of a second Roman Empire, stretching from the Alps to the Equator, and it was assumed that a show of military would quickly bring ‘barbarian’ lands and riches into an African Orientale Italiana. The Italian dream was turned into a nightmare, however, in the mountain passes and valleys near the northern Ethiopian city of Adwa by the knockout punch by the mailed fist by a unified Greater Ethiopia. The Italians retreated, humiliated.”
Writing about “The Significance of Adwa” Ethiopian professor of International Studies at Morgan State University and co-editor of “The Battle of Adwa” Dr. Getachew Metaferia explains: “The battle of Adwa sent two messages, one to the European colonialists and the second to Africans on the continent and in the diaspora. To the European colonialists, it signalled that Africans could effectively challenge their power. To Africans on the continent and in the diaspora, it conveyed a message of hope that subjugation, be it in the form of colonialism, slavery, or other forms of social, political, and economic exploitation, can be overcome through effective organization, consensus-building leadership, and concerted effort.”
On the back cover of “The Battle of Adwa” a description sums up the importance of this battle and helps to explain why my grandparents had large framed photographs of the Ethiopian royal family displayed in their living room 100 years after the battle of Adwa. “In the 19th-century “Scramble for Africa,” when the Europeans carved up an entire continent for exploitation, Africans won a solitary, shocking, glorious victory at Adwa (Ethiopia). The most celebrated military operation involving the Africans and the Europeans since the time of Hannibal, this emblematic victory still resounds in the minds of Africans and the African diaspora as promise of potential and an illustration of the dictum, “strength in unity.” For the victors it was decisive; for the vanquished, catastrophic. The Italian colonialist soldiers were crushed. Their casualty figure was 70%; all their artillery pieces were captured, one out of four of their generals was taken prisoner and two of the remaining as well as almost half of their staff officers were killed on the battlefield. The Ethiopian victory at the Battle of Adwa has remained a very important event in the shared recollection of the entire African people. It is the only secular episode in the whole history of Africa that has been celebrated for more than a century with unabated popular enthusiasm.”
Ethiopia as the sole African country to defeat a European colonizing army caused such shock and trauma to the European White supremacist psyche that some news reports tried to make the Ethiopians White. Writing of this “about face” White American professor Harold Golden Marcus commented: “Now, Europeans had to rationalize Menelik’s victory, and they turned inevitably to the alternate discourse without abandoning notions of racism, since such an admission would conflict with the teleology of modern European imperialism. Instead they characterized Ethiopians as White, and they found several convenient observations upon which to build a new Ethiopian typology.”
The history of Ethiopia as the proven cradle of the human race has also captured the imagination in more modern times. In his 2002 published book “Ethiopia, the Unknown Land: A Cultural and Historical Guide” although some of his writing about Ethiopia is not very flattering, White British author Stuart Christopher Munro-Hay conceded that: “Ethiopia can claim to be the cradle of the human race, after the discovery at several sites there of the earliest hominid remains yet to be revealed by archaeology.” In 1974 the more than 3 million year old skeleton of Dinqinesh “Lucy” was found at Hadar nearly 200 miles northeast of Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. In 1996 about 5 miles from where the skeleton of Dinqinesh was found the earliest known stone tools were found (approximately 2.5 million years old.)
The Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey considered the father of the modern Pan-African Movement and a prophet of Rastafari is said to have prophesied the crowning of Emperor Haile Selassie I and given rise to Rastafari. In “The Rastafarians” published in 1988 African Jamaican historian Leonard E. Barrett, Sr. wrote of the effect on Garvey’s followers in Jamaica when Ras Tafari Makonnen was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia with the titles King of King, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah and Elect of God on November 2, 1930. “In Jamaica an almost forgotten statement of Garvey, who on the eve of his departure to the United States was supposed to have said ‘Look to Africa for the crowning of a Black King; he shall be the redeemer,’ came echoing like the voice of God.”
“Melkam Addis Amet” (Happy New Year) to Ethiopians and members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church celebrating Enkutatash.

Monday, September 8, 2014

LITTLE ROCK NINE 1957-2014

"You're filled with hatred. Hate can destroy you, Daisy. Don't hate white people just because they're white. If you hate, make it count for something. Hate the humiliations we are living under in the South. Hate the discrimination that eats away at the South. Hate the discrimination that eats away at the soul of every black man and woman. Hate the insults hurled at us by white scum-and then try to do something about it, or your hate won't spell a thing."
From: “The Long Shadow of Little Rock! A Memoir” published in 1962 by Daisy Bates.
On Wednesday September 4, 1957 a group of 9 African American high school students attempted to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Little Rock Nine as they would eventually become known were supported by Civil Rights activist Daisy Bates and her husband newspaper (Arkansas State Press) editor and owner Lucius Christopher Bates. Daisy Lee Gatson-Bates was born on November 11, 1914 during a time when African American women in the southern United States were routinely raped by White men and if the African American women resisted they were brutally killed by the White rapists. When Daisy Bates was only a few months old her mother was kidnapped, raped and murdered by three White men. Like many African Americans whose loved ones were brutalized or lynched by their White compatriots, her father was forced to flee his home or be murdered by his wife’s murderers. It was common practice among White southerners to attack and kill the relatives of any of their African American victims. Daisy Bates was told of her parents’ fate when she was 8 years old and for the next 7 years she thought constantly about finding and punishing the men who had raped and murdered her mother. When she was 15 years old her adoptive father pleaded with her to let go of the hatred she felt for the people who had killed her mother and forced her father to flee his home leaving his infant daughter to be raised by a childless couple. Gatson-Bates’ life changed after that conversation with her adoptive father who transitioned later the same day. In her autobiography “The Long Shadow of Little Rock” she writes that she experienced a “rebirth” after that “death bed” conversation with her adoptive father.
After marrying L.C Bates and moving to Little Rock, Arkansas the couple launched their weekly newspaper. Using the newspaper (Arkansas State Press) as a medium to draw attention to the inequities African Americans were subjected to by the White supremacist culture in which they lived. Articles and editorials about Civil Rights were often published on the front page. Throughout its 18 year existence (1941-1959) the “Arkansas State Press” was the largest African American newspaper in Arkansas and its uncompromising stance in favour of Civil Rights made it unique in Arkansas. As a Civil Rights activist Gatson-Bates was also involved in several organizations including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP.) She was elected President of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP in 1952. As President of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP Gatson-Bates played a crucial role in the desegregation of the school system in Arkansas. In 1954 the Supreme Court of the United States decided that segregation was unconstitutional in the USA with their ruling in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education. Even after that ruling, African American students who attempted to attend White schools were refused entry throughout the south including Arkansas. Gatson-Bates and her husband documented/published these incidents of non-compliance with the law in the “Arkansas State Press.”
The Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education to desegregate public schools in the US was handed down in May 1954 yet most schools in the Southern US were segregated along racial lines 3 years later. On September 4, 1957 when the 9 African American students in Little Rock, Arkansas attempted to enter Central High School governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus in a move that was clearly illegal, called out the National Guard to prevent the African American students from enrolling in Central High School. Gatson-Bates was the driving force in the desegregation effort in Little Rock, Arkansas on September 4, 1957.
As President of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP Gatson-Bates contributed to the legal challenge against the Arkansas School Board for its reluctance to desegregate schools. In February 1956, 33 children, represented by the NAACP with Gatson-Bates as President filed suit in the federal court for the Eastern District of Arkansas because the school board was denying African American children their constitutional rights by maintaining segregated schools. The African American community had tried to get the government to build schools for African American students that were on par with those attended by White students. Failing that African Americans demanded access to the schools that White children attended. The schools African American children attended were woefully inadequate. Many of the schools were housed in little more than falling down shacks where the children had to gather around pot-bellied stoves to stay warm in the winter. Schools attended by White children were in many cases majestic buildings with state of the art equipment to which African American taxpayer money contributed. Gatson-Bates gained the attention and hatred of White Arkansas during the desegregation court case when she challenged the school board’s White lawyer’s use of her first name. It was unheard of for any African American man or woman to challenge a White person’s right to call them any name including “boy” and “gal.” After the board lawyer questioned her on the stand Gatson-Bates reportedly said: “You addressed me several times this morning by my first name. That is something that is reserved for my intimate friends and my husband. You will refrain from calling me Daisy.” This sent shock waves through the White community and not surprisingly there was retaliation in the form of death threats. A rock thrown through a window shattering the glass and delivering a message to cease and desist the challenge to White authority. The note attached to the rock that shattered the window read: “Stone this time. Dynamite next.” Gatson-Bates was not deterred and continued her advocacy to desegregate Little Rock schools as the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education stated. On a mission she recruited African American students who were up for the challenge of desegregating the schools of Little Rock, Arkansas. The chosen students had to be high achieving and willing to accept abuse without complaining or reacting. These children and their parents knew the risks they were taking by going against the White supremacist culture of the USA especially the “Bible Belt” south. These were the same kind of people who had lynched a 14 year old African American youth for allegedly whistling at a White woman. And they did not disappoint! Arkansas governor Orval Faubus promised: "blood will run in the streets" if African American students tried to enter Central High School. On September 4, 1957 Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to block the entrance of the African American students.
On September 4, 1957 when 15 year old Elizabeth Eckford arrived at the Central High School on her own and attempted to enter she was blocked by armed National Guards. Then the traumatised child was terrorized by a White mob shouting “Lynch her, lynch her” as she fled for her life. Eckford did not have a telephone and was not notified of the last minute change of plans that the students would go to school as a group escorted by African American adults including Gatson-Bates. The White violence to which the group of 8 was subjected forced them to retreat and return to the home of their mentor Gatson-Bates to startegize.
It was a traumatic and horrific time for the Bates husband and wife team as well as the students and their parents. The sacrifices that were made at that time is almost unimaginable in terms of the resulting physical injury, spirit injury and emotional injury from which many continue to suffer. In this 21st century many of our children are emotionally and spiritually injured in a White supremacist culture where they and their history and culture are not valued and there is the dreaded school to prison pipeline. Some of our children manage to cope regardless while many others are pushed out because of racial profiling in its myriad forms. As our children return to schools in this Great White North where many of them continue to suffer emotional and spirit injury which manifests itself in their reactions and behaviour in and out of school we need to remain vigilant.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

REMEMBERING EMMETT TILL 59 YEARS LATER! AUGUST 28 - 1955 - AUGUST 28 - 2014

“Over fifty two years ago, on August 28, 1955, 14–year–old Emmett Till was kidnapped in the middle of the night from his uncle’s home near Money, Mississippi, by at least two men, one from Leflore County and one from Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. Till, a black youth from Chicago visiting family in Mississippi, was kidnapped and murdered, and his body thrown into the Tallahatchie River. He had been accused of whistling at a white woman in Money. His badly beaten body was found days later in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. We the citizens of Tallahatchie County recognize that the Emmett Till case was a terrible miscarriage of justice. We state candidly and with deep regret the failure to effectively pursue justice. We wish to say to the family of Emmett Till that we are profoundly sorry for what was done in this community to your loved one. We the citizens of Tallahatchie County acknowledge the horrific nature of this crime. Its legacy has haunted our community. We need to understand the system that encouraged these events and others like them to occur so that we can ensure that it never happens again. Working together, we have the power now to fulfill the promise of “liberty and justice for all.”
Excerpt from the 2007 official apology to the family of Emmett Till from Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. (http://www.etmctallahatchie.com/images/resolution.gif)
On Sunday, August 28, 1955 at 2:30 a.m. the family of African American tenant farmer Moses Wright of East Money, Mississippi was rudely awakened to the sound of loud banging on their front door. When 64 year old Moses Wright opened his door he was confronted by 2 armed White men, 24 year old Roy Bryant and his 36 year old half brother John William “JW” Milam. The White men demanded entry into Wright’s home to search for his 14 year old great nephew Emmett Till who they accused of “whistling” at a White woman. Apparently the 14 year old Till from Chicago did not know that even “looking White people in the eye” was a capital offence for which African Americans in the southern states were routinely lynched. Emmett Till affectionately called “Bobo” or “Bo” by family and friends born July 25, 1941 in Chicago, Illinois the only child of Mamie Till had celebrated his 14th birthday barely 4 weeks before the horrific unfolding of August 28, 1955.
In spite of the desperate entreaty of Moses Wright and his wife to spare the child’s life the 2 White men entered the bedroom where the 14 year old Till was sleeping and using a large flash light searched the room waking the occupants. They demanded that Till get dressed before kidnapping him at gunpoint (colt .45 automatic) and bundling him into a car where he was identified by 21 year old Carol Bryant as the “offender” who had “whistled” at her 4 days before on August 24, 1955.
On August 31, 1955, three days after the 14 year old was kidnapped from his great uncle’s house, Till’s horribly disfigured nude body with a 70 pound industrial fan fastened around his neck with barbed wire was taken out of the Tallahatchie River. The 14 year old had been so brutally beaten and tortured that his face was unrecognizable where he had been shot above the right ear, his nose broken and his right eye gouged out. Surprisingly for that time and place there was a trial where not surprisingly Bryant and Milam were acquitted of the murder of Till. A few months later both murderers gave an interview published in Look Magazine (January 24, 1956) where they boasted of committing the heinous crime against Till. The article entitled “The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi” was written by White American journalist William Bradford Huie.
In the 2004 published book “Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America” Mamie Till Mobley wrote this about the morning of that fateful Sunday August 28, 1955: “That call. Early Sunday morning. August 28, 1955. I can never forget that call. And I had so many questions to ask. What men? Why had they come? Where had they taken my boy? What was being done about it? Emmett was missing. Missing in Mississippi. Oh my God. Oh, dear Lord, no. Please no. Don’t let this be happening. The thing I feared most, the thing that had made me take so long to even think about letting Bo make the trip, the thing that kept me immobilized all week long, the most horrible thing any mother could possibly imagine was becoming a reality. I tried to fight back all the things, all the visions that were playing out in my mind. I tried to deny all the things that I could not allow myself to accept.” (http://www.biography.com/people/emmett-till-507515#synopsis)
I first saw the photograph of the horrifically mutilated face of Emmett Till in an old Ebony Magazine when I was a small child. As a child it made no sense to me looking at the smiling face of the 14 year old and the grotesquely mutilated face in the coffin that it was the same person or that he was tortured and killed for whistling at someone. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAemBpFM1NI) As an adult I have often wondered if the Bryant/Milam folks went to church right after that savagely murderous attack on a defenseless, unarmed 14 year old or did they go home and change clothes first. After all this lynching did take place in Mississippi right in the heart of White America’s “Bible Belt” where White people prided themselves on their adherence to the Christian faith. It was Sunday so as God fearing Christians at some point they would have gone to church. The news would have spread swiftly in Money, Mississippi so everyone would know that the “uppity Negro” from Chicago had been taken care of. Were the Bryant/Milam clan welcomed in church with smiles and congratulations on a job well done accompanied by much back slapping?
It was Mamie Till’s determination that prevented her son’s body being buried in Mississippi where no one would have seen the evidence of the savage, barbaric White supremacist culture which permitted and condoned his murder. Instead she fought the system including the sheriff and other Mississippi politicians insisting that her son’s body be returned to Chicago where the world could see what Bryant, Milam and White supremacy had done to her child. In an interview just before she transitioned in 2003 Till Mobley spoke about the day she saw her child’s body: "I looked at the bridge of his nose and it looked like someone had taken a meat chopper and chopped it. And I looked at his teeth because I took so much pride in his teeth. His teeth were the prettiest things I'd ever seen in my life, I thought. And I only saw two. Well, where are the rest of them? They had just been knocked out. And I was looking at his ears, and that's when I discovered a hole about here and I could see daylight on the other side. I said, 'Now, was it necessary to shoot him?'" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1fBwUzcqa0)
In many circles the lynching of 14 year old Till is considered the spark that lit the Civil Rights Movement. When Rosa Parks refuted the story that she was tired on December 1, 1955 as the reason she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus she said: “I thought of Emmett Till, and when the bus driver ordered me to move to the back, I just couldn’t move.” This quote is immortalized on a marker that was erected in remembrance of Till on May 18, 2011 in front of the store where Till allegedly whistled at a White woman. In 2014 there is America’s first African American President who must be very cognizant of the fact that if he had been born in 1950s Mississippi as an African American male he could have suffered the same fate as Emmett Till. On August 9, 2014 with the killing of Michael Brown the President must be considering himself very fortunate that he lives in the White House and not in Ferguson, Missouri. Maybe that is why he has not yet visited that beleaguered community where White police seem to be reliving the pre- Civil Rights days!

Monday, August 25, 2014

WHITE SUPREMACIST POLICING IN NORTH AMERICA

Fred Hampton was born on August 30, 1948 and was only 21 years old when he was assassinated by agents of the American government including the Chicago Police Department. Hampton was an African-American activist and deputy chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP.) On December 4, 1969 he was sleeping in his apartment when a tactical unit of the Cook County, Illinois State's Attorney's Office together with the Chicago Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) invaded his home at about 4:45 a.m. Jeffrey Haas a White American lawyer has written about the invasion of Hampton’s home and the subsequent attempt to “cover up” the extrajudicial killing of Hampton and Mark Clark another member of the Black Panther Party in that early morning home invasion by American government forces. Haas’ 2009 published “The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther” documents the murder and the investigation that uncovered the role of the FBI and its undercover agent that had infiltrated the movement.
In an interview with Amy Goodman and Ralph Gonzalez of Democracy Now on December 4, 2009 (http://www.democracynow.org/2009/12/4/the_assassination_of_fred_hampton_how) Haas spoke of the attempted cover up by the American government agents: “And when we gathered all the evidence, it turned out that the police had fired ninety shots into the apartment with a submachine gun, shotguns, pistols and a rifle. There was only one outgoing shot, and that came from a Panther who had been fatally wounded, and it was a vertical shot, after he was hit himself. So, Hanrahan, who was — the police were assigned to the state’s attorney, a politically ambitious law-and-order prosecutor who wanted to get the political advantage of having attacked and taken out the Panthers, was on the TV that morning saying the Panthers opened fire. It turned out, we proved, that, quite to the contrary, it was a shoot-in, not a shootout.”
The Black Panther Party (BPP) originally the Black Panther Party for Self defense was founded in 1966 and was considered a threat to White supremacy in the USA. Edgar Hoover the infamous Director of the FBI was on a mission to destroy the BPP and used a paid informant William O'Neal to great advantage. Just as he had done a few generations before with the character assassination of the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Hoover used every underhanded tactic his devious imagination could dredge up. The machinations of the FBI included the development of COINTELPRO to be used as a tool to undermine Civil Rights organizations and/or anyone who sought to improve the lives and fortunes of African Americans. The Nation of Islam (NOI) which has been a target of the FBI and COINTELPRO describes the organization on its website: “COINTELPRO (an acronym for Counter Intelligence Program) was a series of covert, and often illegal, projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic organizations deemed “subversive”. On March 8, 1971, a group of anonymous activists broke into the small, two-man office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Media, Pa., and stole more than 1,000 FBI documents that revealed years of systematic wiretapping, infiltration and media manipulation designed to suppress dissent. The Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, as the group called itself, forced its way in at night with a crowbar while much of the country was watching the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight. When agents arrived for work the next morning, they found the file cabinets virtually emptied. Within a few weeks, the documents began to show up — mailed anonymously in manila envelopes with no return address — in the newsrooms of major American newspapers. COINTELPRO tactics included discrediting targets through psychological warfare, planting false reports in the media, smearing through forged letters, harassment, wrongful imprisonment, extralegal violence and assassination. Covert operations under COINTELPRO took place between 1956 and 1971, however the FBI has used covert operations against domestic political groups since its inception.”
Speaking of the vicious attack on the members of the BPP, the attempted cover-up of the assassination of Hampton and the attempt to vilify the BPP in 1968 Haas said: “What we uncovered years later — we also filed a civil rights suit after the charges were dropped against the Panthers. And in addition to proving, as I said, that it was a one-sided raid, that the police came in firing, the evidence also showed that Fred Hampton was in fact killed with two bullets, parallel bullets, fired into his head at point-blank range. He wasn’t killed with the bullets through the walls. But what we uncovered was that the FBI had obtained a floor plan of Fred Hampton’s apartment. That floor plan was complete with all the furniture, including the bedroom where Hampton and Johnson slept and a rectangle showing the bed. And it turned out that this FBI informant, William O’Neal, and his control took that floor plan and gave it to Hanrahan’s raiders before the raid, so that they came in knowing the layout, knowing where Fred would be sleeping. And when we looked at the directions of the bullets, in fact, they converged on the bed where Fred Hampton was sleeping that morning.” The recent spate of extrajudicial killing of African Americans and the attempts to white wash the White police perpetrators and vilify the victims as criminals is reminiscent of the struggles of the 1960s. The fact that the first African American President of the United States seems to be muzzled even though he cannot seek re-election speaks volumes about how much “not much has changed” in the lives of most African Americans.
On July 17, 2014 an African American man Eric Garner was a victim of extrajudicial killing when a member of the NYPD wrapped his arm around Garner’s neck in an illegal and lethal chokehold. There was a rush by the authorities to demonize Garner. On August 9, 2014 unarmed 18 year old African American Michael Brown was gunned down by police in Missouri and left to lie on the street for hours. Five days after the extrajudicial killing of Brown the smear campaign to impugn his character began. The tried and true propaganda machine that proved so useful to the FBI in their COINTELPRO operation remains in use. Gullible television viewers become convinced that accusations of selling loose cigarettes, stealing cigarettes or running from police are all (hanging offences) death penalty crimes with the murderous police as judge, jury and executioner. The grieving family members seem compelled to react on television and newspaper with interviews that their murdered loved ones were “good people.” It seems that African American lives have no value and those who are charged with the responsibility to “serve and protect” do not consider that African Americans fall under that purview.
In America there are at least some national organizations that will publicize and make an attempt to hold the killer police accountable. Here in Canada there are no such organizations and there have been several extrajudicial police killing of African Canadians. When police in Canada brutalize, maim or kill African Canadians there is hardly any outcry and the police are never held accountable. On July 19, 1952, Clarence Clemons, a 52 year old African Canadian longshoreman, was so brutally beaten by White police officers in Vancouver, British Columbia that he slipped into a coma and died 5 months later on December 24, 1952. Since then there have been several cases of White police killing African Canadians and no police has ever been convicted of killing an African Canadian. These are only some of the documented incidents of White police killing African Canadians: On August 9, 1978 Buddy Evans was killed by John Clark at a nightclub on King Street West in Toronto. August 26, 1979, 35-year-old Albert Johnson was killed in his apartment by William Inglis and Walter Cargnelli. November 11, 1987, 19-year-old Anthony Griffins was killed by Allan Gosset in a Montreal police station parking lot. August 9, 1988, 44-year-old Lester Donaldson was killed in his home by David Deviney. December 8, 1988, 17-year-old Michael Wade Lawson was killed by Anthony Lelaragni and Darren Longpre in Mississauga. April 20, 1993, 21-year-old Ian Clifford Coley was killed by Rick Shank, from 41 Division. March 30, 1997, Shank killed another African Canadian 31 year old Hugh Dawson. June 11, 1996, 24-year-old Wayne Rick Williams was killed by Kenneth Harrison and Gordon Hayford. The most recent were: On September 29, 2010, 26 year old Eric Osawe was killed by David Cavanagh. August 29, 2010, 25-year-old Reyal Jensen Jardine-Douglas was killed by a police officer whose name has never been released.
As we read about the killing of Trayvon Martin, Ramarley Graham, Eric Garner and Michael Brown in the “home of the brave and the land of the free” we are not much better off in this Great White North where racial profiling is practiced by police forces across this country. We need to read and watch critically and be aware of the propaganda.