Sunday, January 30, 2011


Where ignorance is bliss, it's folly to be wise
But is a dumb boy and a parrot open my eyes

From the calypso Dumb Boy and Parrot by Lord Cristo

Recent conversations and correspondence made me remember the words of this popular calypso from my childhood. Thinking about the calypso also reminded me that until 2003 I did not know what the parrot meant when he said to the protagonist (possibly Lord Cristo himself?): "Look something pointed growing out from your forehead." I had never heard the term “getting horn” used in Guyana where instead the term would be “getting blow.” Ken Marlon Charles’ (KMC) 2003 soca hit I Don’t Want To Know If I Getting Horn wised me up. However, I am digressing; that would be a subject for some other discussion.

For those readers who may right now be thinking: "But that quote 'Where ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise' is not an original Lord Cristo quote, it was originally Thomas Gray, 18th century English poet who wrote those words in “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College.”

I know that, but I prefer Calypso to 18th century English poetry. So back to the correspondence I received that set me on this path. A self identified “white woman” wrote me an e-mail expressing her disappointment that I occasionally choose to write about the history of African people complete with the inclusion of the role white people have played in the oppression of Africans. Her reason for advising me to cease writing about our story is that she feels it is old history and we now live in a post racial society so we need to “let it go.” The proof she advanced to convince that we live in a post racial society is the election of America’s first African president. I am not sure how that proves we live in a post racial society in Canada. It is possible that she is one of those Americans who think that America won the War of 1812 and Canada is an American state. If this woman is not a misguided American who mistakenly thinks that Canada is part of the USA; obviously ignorance is bliss or this woman would have checked her facts and realised that there is no equivalent of Barack Obama on the Canadian political scene. She would have checked the levels of government and realised (if she lives in Toronto) there is one African at the city level of elected officials; one at the (Ontario) provincial level and one at the federal level.

Whether she is an American or a Canadian ignorance is definitely bliss for this woman because she has not been reading, listening to or watching the news in the USA or here in Canada. She would not be blissfully ignorant if she had been reading about the viciously racist behaviour and comments of white American Tea Party members directed to the American President and his wife.

I am recommending one of numerous sources for anyone who thinks that we are in a post racial society anywhere in the Americas. The February issue of Ebony Magazine has six interesting and thought provoking articles in their Race and Politics section which would certainly give the lie to any suggestions of this time being “post racial.”

Here are some quotes from the Ebony Magazine articles. Kevin Chappell senior editor: “racist undertones from groups including the Birthers, the Tea Party and numerous red-faced U.S. congressmen indicate to many that some Whites still have a palpable fear of losing power. Mob lynchings have been replaced by character assassinations.” From Jill Nelson, author and journalist (former professor of Journalism at the City College of New York): “Welcome to the New Confederacy. Other than the period of Reconstruction, it is difficult, if not impossible, to identify a time in American history when a White-supremacist agenda influenced American politics as virulently and effectively as today.” From Keith Ellison, three term Congressman representing Minnesota’s 5th District: “Not since the backlash of the Civil Rights Movement has America seen a more virulent wave of fear and intolerance after a progressive paradigmatic shift. Yes, the towering achievement of electing an African American to the presidency of the United States, a nation that formerly held Africans in slavery, has evoked deep fears in sections of the populace.

Here in Canada with no distraction of African Canadian elected officials (not enough for white people to feel threatened anyway) we do have to contend with racial profiling or “breathing while black.” The Toronto Star did a series on racial profiling in October 2002 and again in February 2010. On December 9, 2002 the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) announced that it would conduct an inquiry into the effects of racial profiling. On December 9, 2003, the OHRC released the findings of its Inquiry in a report entitled: "Paying the Price: The Human Cost of Racial Profiling". The report was based on more than 400 accounts of racial profiling that individuals had shared with the OHRC. It took into account the human cost of racial profiling on individuals, their families and their communities and the detrimental impacts of racial profiling on the entire Canadian society.

Here are some recent cases (not ancient history): On October 6, 2007, a young African Canadian Crown attorney was arrested and strip searched by police in Toronto. This man's status as a lawyer and even his knowledge of the law was no protection against racial profiling and being subjected to a degrading strip search. In 2008 a young African Canadian woman was arrested brutalized and strip searched by police in Ottawa. On May 16, 2008, two young African Canadian lawyers and a law student were racially profiled in a lawyers’ lounge at the Brampton courthouse. They won their case of racial profiling in a decision from the OHRC in December 2010.

We cannot afford to live in blissful ignorance because regardless of our economic or educational achievements in this society we are at risk of racial profiling. This happens in the education system, the justice system, the health system, housing etc.,

Finally, the recent move by Federal politicians of all stripes to change the law “to make citizen's arrests easier” should concern all of us. This could easily become a similar situation to Reagan’s use of the African American “welfare queen” myth during his 1976 presidential campaign that helped to get him elected. In his 1988 campaign, George Bush senior capitalized on the image of convicted criminal Willie Horton using his image as the spectre of African American male criminality and that helped to clinch the election.

Ignorance can never be blissful for us because at some point reality in the form of a racist incident will boot us out of any kind of blissfully ignorant state. We can learn a lesson from Harriet Tubman who is credited with saying: “I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” Is there a lesson to be learned from the characters in Lord Cristo’s calypso where one of the allies, the parrot was cooked and eaten before the protagonist awoke from his state of blissful ignorance?

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