Thursday, January 10, 2013


Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
Excerpt from “I Have A Dream” speech by Dr Martin Luther King Jr on August 28, 1963
On Monday, January 21, Americans will remember the birthday of Civil Rights activist Dr Martin Luther King Jr with a public holiday. King was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia a city infamous for its White supremacist culture and history. King would have been almost 11 years old on December 15, 1939 when the city of Atlanta hosted the film premiere of the White Supremacist movie “Gone with the Wind.” The movie was based on the best-selling novel of the same name which was written by Margaret Mitchell who was born in Atlanta 29 years before King. King gave his speech now popularly known as the “I Have A Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial following the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. He praised Abraham Lincoln as many had done before him as the man who was responsible for the emancipation of enslaved Africans. A recent movie about Lincoln’s final days as America’s 16th president also portrays him as the “Great Emancipator.”
In his 2000 published book “Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream” Lerone Bennett Jr wrote: “"[Lincoln} did everything he could to deport Blacks and to make America a Great White Place. If Lincoln had his way, Oprah Winfrey, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesse Jackson, Sr., Muhammad Ali, Maya Angelou, and even Clarence Thomas would have been born in slavery. If Lincoln had his way, there would be no Blacks in America at all. None” Bennett was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi and grew up in Jackson, Mississippi. He attended the historically Black postsecondary institution (Dr King’s alma mater) Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.
“Forced into Glory” was published by Johnson Publishing Company where Bennett served as executive editor of Ebony Magazine and wrote several articles on African-American history. In “Forced into Glory” Bennett addresses the myth of Lincoln freeing enslaved Africans with an emancipation proclamation: "What Lincoln did--and it was so clever that we ought to stop calling him honest Abe--was to 'free' slaves in Confederate-held territory where he couldn't free them and to leave them in slavery in Union-held territory where he could have freed them.” With meticulous research Bennett debunked the myth of Lincoln as a caring person who worked to free enslaved Africans in America. He first addressed the issue in an editorial published in Ebony Magazine’s February 1968 edition entitled “Was Lincoln a White Supremacist?” Bennett wrote that “Lincoln was an opportunist, not an idealist. There was not, in his view, enough room in America for Black and White people. “On August 14, 1862 he called a handpicked group of Black men to the White House and proposed a Black exodus. He told the Black men that it was their duty to leave.” Bennett writes that Lincoln’s rationalization for suggesting the exodus was: “you and we are different races.” Bennett also argued that “academics and media had been hiding the truth for 135 years and that Lincoln was not the great emancipator or the small emancipator or the economy-sized emancipator.”
According to Bennett in this recorded interview: ( Lincoln made his own “I Have A Dream” speech where he called for “free White people everywhere” to immigrate to the USA to make the country a White country. Bennett whose biography in Ebony Magazine (April 2008) describes him as author, historian, lecturer and Ebony Magazine executive editor emeritus wrote that, "Unlike King, unlike Phillips, unlike Douglass, but like Jefferson, Lincoln dreamed of an all-White nation, governed by White people, only for White people." Since Bennett’s book was published almost 13 years ago there have been several reviews by White historians who agree that: “Lincoln did share the racial prejudices of his time and place. He did support the idea of colonizing Blacks abroad -- though he retreated from this notion after 1862 and moved toward a policy of assimilating the four million freed slaves as equal citizens. Lincoln did lag behind the abolitionists and the radical wing of his own party in supporting Emancipation and the enlistment of Black soldiers.” However these same reviewers/historians claim that Bennett has misinterpreted the recorded evidence that Lincoln was a White Supremacist who did not think that Africans were the equal of Whites, was a great fan of minstrel shows where White men in “blackface” degraded African culture, used the “N” word incessantly, was fond of making “darky” jokes and who voted in favour of the Fugitive Slave Laws. On August 27, 1858 at Freeport, Illinois during his second of seven debates with Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln is quoted as saying: “In regard to the Fugitive Slave Law, I have never hesitated to say, and I do not now hesitate to say, that I think, under the Constitution of the United States, the people of the Southern States are entitled to a congressional Fugitive Slave Law.” Douglas, the Democratic candidate (incumbent elected 1847) and Lincoln, the Republican candidate (newcomer, relatively unknown) were campaigning for a U.S. Senate seat to represent Illinois. On September 18, 1858 in Charleston, Illinois, during the fourth debate with Douglas, Lincoln once again spoke on the hot topic of the day: “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the White and Black races, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with White people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the White and Black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the White race.” Bennett wrote: “Lincoln was as active as any racist of his time in perpetuating Negro stereotypes. The words n___r, darky and colored boy came easily to his lips. It appears from the admittedly incomplete record that Lincoln used the N-word at least as often as the Mark Fuhrmans of today. He might have used it even more for, unlike Fuhrman, who tried to hide his hand on official occasions, Lincoln used the word openly on public platforms and in the Illinois State House and the White House.”
With all the recorded evidence available, Lincoln in the recent movie is portrayed as the great emancipator who fought to end the enslavement of Africans in America. Not surprisingly although the movie is premised on Lincoln’s effort to get the 13th amendment passed which would end chattel slavery in the USA all the African American characters had very peripheral roles. Like the movie “Gone with the wind” Africans are props for the White characters. There is no recognition of the roles that Africans played in ending slavery. Not a sign of Frederick Douglass or Harriet Tubman who worked as a scout, spy and nurse for the Union army during the Civil War. She organized a sophisticated information-gathering operation of scouts and spies and led several of the missions into enemy territory. In July of 1863, Harriet Tubman led troops under the command of Colonel James Montgomery in the Combahee River expedition, disrupting Southern supply lines by destroying bridges and railroads and freed more than 750 enslaved Africans. Tubman is credited with significant leadership responsibilities for the mission where she came under Confederate fire. General Saxton, who reported the raid to Secretary of War Stanton, said "This is the only military command in American history wherein a woman, Black or White, led the raid and under whose inspiration it was originated and conducted."
The movie was disappointing because even the three African American characters in this movie that addressed even marginally the abolition of chattel slavery in the United States did nothing but passively wait for White men to liberate them. It reinforced the assumption that history is the purview of White men who rescue racialized people. Elizabeth Keckley who published a memoir in 1868 “Behind the Scenes Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House” organized other African American women to raise money and donations of clothing and food for the African Americans who sought refuge in Washington during the Civil War. In the movie she was merely a prop for Mary Todd Lincoln. The character Slade followed Lincoln around the White House carrying Lincoln's hat when in reality Slade was a leader in the Social, Civil and Statistical Association (SCSA) an organization that tried to advance arguments for freedom and civil rights by collecting data on African American economic and social successes and met with Lincoln to discuss the issue of emigration (which they opposed) in August 1862. Both Keckley and Slade were active in the abolition movement but you would never know that by watching the movie. The character of Lydia Hamilton Smith who was Thaddeus Steven's African American housekeeper and his commonlaw wife for more than 23 years is shown at the end of the movie as an afterthought. There is no recognition of the influence she would have had on Steven's political stance, thoughts and behaviour.
As Americans prepare to recognize King with a public holiday and Africans in the Diaspora who admired King as a Civil Rights freedom fighter prepare to remember and honour his memory on Janauary 21, one has to wonder when those who own mainstream media will get the message. We can speak for ourselves and tell our stories. We know who our heroes and sheroes are and do not need anyone else to choose them for us. Lincoln is not a hero of African Americans who need to read "Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream" to know the real Abraham Lincoln and not the character from the movie "Lincoln."

Saturday, January 5, 2013


Happy New Year 2013! We are in a New Year and many of us are working on keeping up with those New Year’s resolutions that we made just a few days ago. I have not made any New Year’s resolution for 2013, still working on my New Year’s resolution from 2012 which was to learn more about the Village Movement in Guyana. The Village Movement is where the formerly enslaved Africans moved away from the plantations where they had been enslaved and pooling the money they had earned (grudgingly paid by their former enslavers) after the abolition of slavery they bought abandoned plantations. The first of those villages was Victoria Village on the East Coast of Demerara although Buxton is the most famous. By the time the British colonial government had managed to pass prohibitive laws to slow down and eventually stop the Village Movement, Africans had bought and established more than 100 of these villages. This is a part of Guyana’s history that sadly is not taught to students in Guyana today.
I spent the first few days of 2013 visiting relatives I had not seen for more than 30 years and some I had never met before. It had been at least 14 years since I made a flying visit to the town of McKenzie, Linden up the Demerara River. My first working experience happened in McKenzie when I was a student teacher many decades ago learning from some of the best; Jean Sampson, Ms. Ogle, Ms. Jordan etc., My best friend and colleague was Maylene Willis (later Campbell) we gravitated towards each other because we were from out of town, Maylene from Buxton and I from Stanleytown, Berbice. In December 1998 I spent two days in McKenzie attending my cousin Joanne McLeod’s wedding. Joanne and her family now live in the United Kingdom (UK.) On this occasion (2013) I was visiting Linden with more on my mind than family connections and fun. I was a woman on a serious mission. I was determined to speak with at least one elected official for the area and some of the citizens of a town that was once the economic driving force of the entire country. McKenzie used to be the place for any ambitious young (and not so young) Guyanese. They came from every part of Guyana; Berbice, Demerara and Essequibo. There were even people from several Caribbean countries reaping the benefits of mining bauxite in Linden. People from Antigua, Barbados, Jamaica, St Lucia, St Vincent etc., could be found living in McKenzie and working for the Canadian owned mining company Demerara Bauxite Company (DEMBA) which was owned by a subsidiary of the Aluminum Company of Canada (ALCAN) which was itself a subsidiary of the American bauxite giant Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA.) Some of the elders in the community claim that many of the workers from Caribbean countries had been stowaways on banana boats and made their way to a life very much more lucrative than they could ever have experienced in their countries of birth.
During my recent visit to McKenzie I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with one of the elected officials of Region 10 in Guyana. The McKenzie area is known as Region 10 and the Regional Chairman Sharma Solomon, Members of Parliament (MPs) Vanessa Kissoon and Pastor Rennis Morian are the elected officials. I had the distinct pleasure of chatting with Vanessa Kissoon. And talk about six degrees of separation; it turns out that Kissoon’s mother and I were young teachers at St John’s Primary School in Sparendaam, East Coast Demerara many decades ago. That was a surprise because I had no idea my former colleague had any children. It turns out she has four of whom the MP for Region 10 is her eldest daughter. Apart from the family connection with my former colleague I found that Kissoon was very gracious in the midst of her hectic schedule as she and the woman of a historic Guyanese organization prepared Christmas hampers for some residents of the area who are in need. Each Christmas hamper included household items as well as our famous Guyanese “black cake” beautifully decorated by PNC stalwart and elder Shirley Williams. This energetic elder baked all 25 cakes which will go to making several people celebrate a traditional Guyanese Christmas. The recipients include the mothers of the three men who were killed by police (as they participated in a peaceful protest) on July 18, 2012. The National Council of Women (NCW) was founded on October 5, 1957 and is the Women’s section of the former PNC now PNCR. Kissoon as chairperson of the Region 10 NCW is also one of the youngest MPs serving in the Guyana legislature and in her second term as a member of the opposition. The opposition “A Partnership for National Unity” (APNU) is an amalgamation of political parties that together hold a majority of seats. The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Guyana government is a minority government.
Kissoon who graduated from the Cyril Potter College of Education (a teacher training college in Guyana established in 1928) is a qualified teacher who taught secondary school before becoming involved in politics. She is the driving force (ably assisted by several women including Ann Archibald, Sandra Vantull, Fern McKoy and the indomitable elder Shirley Williams) behind much of the activism evident in the women’s movement in Region 10. The NCW of Region 10 which has been active since January 2012 organized a march against police brutality in September 2012. This march came in the wake of the murder of three African Guyanese men in Linden (Shemroy Bouyea 18, Allan Lewis 46 and Ron Somerset 18) plus the killing of Shaquille Grant in Agricola and Dameon Belgrave in Georgetown. Like the women of South Africa during the apartheid era who sang “now you have touched the women you have struck a rock” the women of the NCW were instrumental in organizing the protest in July of 2012 to protest the more than 100% rise in the cost of electricity in Linden. There was widespread support for the protest which saw police open fire on peaceful unarmed protestors on July 18, 2012. The murder of the three men in the Linden Massacre garnered worldwide attention and protests in support of the people of Linden as far away from Guyana as the USA, UK and Canada. Another group the Mothers of Linden came out of the protests where citizens blocked several bridges to bring attention to their plight. One of the blocked bridges prevented owners of concessions which includes many government ministers from accessing their business interests it them where it hurts in the pocket and that is the main reason why the police were sicced unto the peaceful protestors it had everything to do with the ministers making that extra money which is on top of the very generous salary they receive and all the perks. The University educated working person in Guyana earns the equivalent of $38.00 Canadian dollars a month while even junior government ministers receive the equivalent of $420.00 Canadian dollars a month. One Canadian dollar is worth $200.00 Guyana dollars. It has been reported that the former Guyanese President receives the equivalent of $1473.00 Canadian dollars a month as pension. The job of President of Guyana with such a generous pension must be a very sought after position. I am tempted to move back to Guyana and apply for the position. Maybe that should be my New Year’s resolution for 2013. Happy New Year 2013!


On January 2, 1969 when most Guyanese would have been recovering from the festivities of Old Year’s Night revelries and New Year’s Day overindulgences (food, partying, liming) a group of cowardly terrorists brought chaos and death to the Rupununi region and affected the entire country. These terrorists did not slink into the country from some neighbouring territory, no, they were all (traitorous albeit) Guyanese. It would seem that these (mostly descendants of Scottish immigrant Melville) disloyal Guyanese were not comfortable living within a country which had an African Guyanese as its leader. The conspiracy to secede from Guyana and form a separate nation was apparently planned by Valerie Hart who was married to one of the Melville descendants. She reportedly declared that the “Rupununi District had seceded from Guyana and that they would set up a Government of the ‘Republic of the Rupununi’.”
The devastating New Year’s news reached the citizens of the fledgling Guyanese nation which was barely 2 ½ years old. The Co-operative Republic of Guyana had gained its political independence from Britain on May, 26, 1966. The traumatic news was especially difficult for those of us who knew people on both sides of the conflict. It was devastating to hear that young men with whom we had attended school were involved in the terrorist attack and murder of policemen who had been my father’s colleagues. We realised that if our family had been living in Lethem on January 2, 1969 our father could have suffered the same fate as: Inspector Whittington Braithwaite #4412, Sergeant James Anderson #4590, Constables James McKenzie #5611, William Norton #5691 and Michael Kendall # 7178. Even more traumatised were the children of the slain police officers some of whom more than 40 years later find it difficult to speak about the murder of their fathers by a group of traitorous, disloyal Guyanese.
The reporting of the secession attempt named mostly the descendants of Harvey Prideaux Colin Melville as the ring leaders of the terrorist gang. In the 1960s the large Melville clan and their relatives seemed to think that they owned the Rupununi. Melville had apparently entered then British Guiana as a prospector sometime in the 1890s. He set up house with two Wapishiana sisters (Mamai Mary and Mamai Janet) and between the two women begat 10 children. The Melville clan expanded when those children became adults and had children. Melville’s eldest daughter Amy married American adventurer Basil Lawrence ‘Ben’ Hart who entered the Rupununi in 1913. Old Melville gave his daughter and son-in-law the Pirara Ranch and surrounding land and they begat six sons and one daughter. All ten of old Melville’s children begat several children and they were all given land and ranches. By the 1960s the Melville clan/descendants was spread across the Rupununi savannas and included Orellas, Gorinskys and Harts. Valerie Hart was one of Ben Hart’s daughters-in-law and named as the mastermind of the secession plot. She imagined herself a politician since she had been a candidate for the United Force (UF) political party in the Guyana general election of December 12, 1968. Her politician days were numbered however because 5 days after the terrorist attack (on January 7, 1969) she was expelled from the UF party because of her involvement and "for acting in a manner inimical to the territorial integrity of Guyana and the aims and objectives of the United Force." Hart fits the description of a traitor to her country of birth (one who betrays one's country, a cause, or a trust, especially one who commits treason) since she knew that there was some tension between Guyana and Venezuela over Guyanese territory and she exploited that tension for her own gain. Venezuela has claimed land in Guyana since the country was a British colony but they became aggressive after Guyana’s independence. Hart was very aware of this and it probably pleased her little traitorous heart. The people who she oversaw/directed and who would eventually attack the police station at Lethem and murder five policemen and two civilians received military training in Venezuela.
And there is more evidence to convict Valerie Hart of traitorous behaviour. It has been reported that at 8 am January 3, 1969 she contacted a US ham radio operator and made an appeal for help on behalf of “Guyanese rebels.” In a reported phone conversation with Jerimiah O'Leary, a reporter from the Washington Star she identified herself as President of the Association of Procedures and Representative of Free Peoples and the Free State of Essequibo, in revolt against the government of Guyana and the government of Burnham. She appealed for weapons, medical supplies and moral support and declared that she and her cohorts wanted to be free to rule themselves. She made several other broadcasts the same morning reiterating the appeal for US or any other foreign assistance. She and some of her supporters were eventually flown to Venezuela where they remained for many years before drifting back into Guyana for periods of time. No one has ever been convicted of this terrorist attack and certainly Valerie Hart has never been brought to justice for her part in the attack on the Lethem police station and the murder of seven people in that debacle.
If she is still alive cowering somewhere in Venezuela this woman should be brought to justice. Most likely she has been living the good life for the past 43 years hoping that everyone has forgotten the carnage for which she is partly responsible. It was a horrific sight as described by eye witnesses when early in the morning of January 2, 1969 the police station at Lethem was blown apart by bazooka attack. As the surprised police ran out of the disintegrating building they were mowed down by gun fire from the gang of cowardly terrorists.
As we look towards the USA which this year 2012 has had several domestic terrorist attacks and we see and listen to the grieving family members and friends I cannot help remembering December 2, 1969 and the murder of seven people in Lethem, Rupununi in the Guyana hinterland. As we come to the end of 2012 we need to give thanks that we have survived in spite of everything that has transpired. The children of the police officers who were murdered by Valerie Hart and her gang of terrorists survived and lived to adulthood. No one knows how they suffered after their fathers were killed. Humans have a great capacity for survival after suffering from traumatic events. Faith, family, friends and support systems help. Whatever higher power we believe in we can give thanks in our various ways and look forward to a time when we will not have to be reading about terrorist attacks from without or within any country. We are almost at the end of 2013 and look forward to a new year hopefully less traumatic than 2012. Happy New Year to all!


Mooma, Mooma would you like to join your sonny? I am over here, happy in the mother country Darling, for the Christmas, your son would be really jumping Listen to the chorus of what we all will be singing… Drink a rum and a punch a crema, drink a rum Is Christmas morning!
From “Drink a Rum” by Aldwyn “Lord Kitchener” Roberts (April 18, 1922 – February 11, 2000).
As an adult whenever I hear this song I cannot help wondering if Lord Kitchener was really encouraging his elderly mother to drink alcohol on Christmas morning. The calypso also brings back wonderful memories of spending Christmas with the McLeods (my aunt and her family) at 420 Mora Street in Mackenzie (Guyana.) I was about 8 years old the first time I spent Christmas visiting my mother’s older sister, her husband and daughter in Mackenzie. We travelled up the Demerara River on the steamer (SS) R.H Carr. The journey was too long for an 8 year old to stay awake so my father’s cousin who was staff on the R.H Carr lent us his bunk bed and I was asleep in no time while Papa disappeared with his cousin. When I woke up it was time for us to disembark at Sproston’s Wharf/Mackenzie Stelling. Some of those memories are dim after all this was several decades ago. However I do remember Lord Kitchener’s Drink A Rum blasting from Mr. Anthony’s (my aunt’s next door neighbour) jukebox early on Christmas morning. His neighbours (including the children) welcomed and enjoyed the music which signaled for us the beginning of the most enjoyable day of the year.
Our lives have certainly changed since those days. My mother and her five siblings have all transitioned and so have Mr. and Mrs. Anthony. My father and my Aunty Vilma Liverpool seem to be the only ones of that generation who are still with us. My aunt’s daughters (she eventually had four) have all immigrated to Europe and the USA and my siblings and I all live in Canada. We still try to replicate the Christmas of our childhood but that is impossible. We can cook the food we ate during Christmas but the ambiance of a Guyanese Christmas cannot be transferred to the foreign shores where we now dwell. Christmas in Guyanese households began with pepperpot for breakfast. Pepperpot is a uniquely Guyanese dish from the Native people of Guyana (Amerindians) but it has become the Christmas breakfast dish of choice for all Guyanese. Made with various meats seasoned with casareep (which is made by boiling bitter cassava) Guyanese pepperpot is best eaten with homemade bread. The casareep preserves the meat so pepperpot can be reheated and served over several days and could last through to Old Year’s night (New Year’s Eve.) Cook-up rice is the meal of choice for New Year’s Day so the pepperpot is most likely demolished before the New Year.
Many of us return to Guyana at Christmas time to relive those times and connect with relatives and friends who remained in Guyana and those who left to live elsewhere. There are those Guyanese who return home every year to visit and those who return once or twice after spending decades living outside of the country. The sights, sounds and smells of a Guyanese Christmas are unique. Children would wake up on Christmas morning to a seemingly new house where everything had been miraculously transformed overnight. The adults worked throughout the night to ensure that the beautiful wooden furniture were sanded and polished, there were new window curtains, the floors were sanded and polished, the walls were painted etc.,. It was almost like there had been elves at work because of all the work our elders put into making Christmas Day so special. We woke up on Christmas morning raring to open the presents that Father Christmas had mysteriously brought to our homes the night before. We really did believe all those gifts were from Father Christmas until we were about 11 or 12 years old. Not surprising since Father Christmas knew exactly what we wanted for Christmas. The presents he brought were mostly gender specific. There were usually water and cap guns, bats and other cricket paraphernalia for the boys. The girls mostly received dolls, dolls’ clothes, tea sets and kitchen gadgets. We all, boys and girls received books, clothes and shoes.
The Christmas cards from near and far (mostly from relatives and friends who lived Britain) were displayed and we had fun reading some of the greetings. We were also fascinated with the images of snow, snowmen and “real” Christmas trees growing in the snow. In Guyana there are no evergreen trees resembling what is considered the traditional Christmas tree but artificial trees were a part of the decoration, complete with fake snow. The food that is an important part of the festivities and on Christmas day all the adults were involved with the food preparation and the amazing smell of Christmas lunch and dinner added to that unique smell of a Guyanese Christmas. The dining table seemed to groan under the weight of the food on Christmas day. Lunch and dinner included roasted and baked chicken, garlic pork, pepperpot, roasted and baked duck, black cake, pickled onions, achar, ginger beer, mauby, sorrel and various types of liquor for the men. Family, friends, neighbours and even strangers were made welcome and invited to eat, drink and take food home when they visited on Christmas day.
During my recent visit to Guyana (December 2011) I realized that I have not lost my childhood fear of Mother Sally and the mad cow which are a traditional part of the Guyanese Christmas entertainment. Special entertainment was provided by the masquerade bands that travelled throughout the towns and villages. The fearsome mad cow and Mother Sally were terrifying figures to many children as they flounced and danced to the sound of the kittle, flute and drum. I was scared witless at the sight of Mother Sally and the mad cow and would hide indoors until they were out of sight. The men and boys who accompanied the masquerade bands would perform amazing acrobatic movements as they flounced and danced to pick up money that was placed on the ground. Some of the members of the masquerade bands would chant: “Christmas comes but once a year and everyman must have his share, except old brother Willy in the jail drinking sour ginger beer.” I could never get a satisfactory answer from any adults when I asked why “old brother Willy” was in jail every year at Christmas time.
In Guyana the celebration of Christmas is embraced by all Guyanese regardless of race, ethnicity and religion although the celebration began in the 1600s with the arrival of the Dutch, the first Europeans who settled in Guyana. The enslaved Africans probably embraced the celebration of Christmas because it was the one day of the year that their enslavers allowed them to have a respite from the backbreaking field work (the house slaves would have had to work as usual) after all the slaveholder families would not cook their own meals on Christmas Day or clean their homes themselves. Later generations of Africans who converted to Christianity celebrated the birth of Christ and attending church on Christmas Day was expected. The indentured labourers who arrived in Guyana from Madeira (May 3, 1835) were Catholics and added their Christmas traditions to those of the Africans who imitated the British. The indentured labourers who arrived from Asia (China - January 17, 1853 and India - May 5, 1838) arrived in then British Guiana with their religious beliefs intact but embraced Christmas and celebrated it as a secular holiday which included recognizing Father Christmas and the giving and receiving of gifts. In Canada Christmas is embraced by people of all religions as a secular holiday. Regardless of people’s religious beliefs they are out shopping and looking for bargains at this time of the year. Christmas as celebrated by Christians gets such short shrift that you will frequently hear people referring to Christmas trees as holiday trees and instead of Merry Christmas wishing Happy Holidays. If you are celebrating Christmas or want to wish someone Merry Christmas don’t be shy say it loud and clear: “Merry Christmas!”


It’s beginning to look a lot like Kwanzaa! Yes African people it is that time of year again! In his 1977 released song “African” Peter Tosh sang: “No matter where you come from as long as you’re a Black man you’re an African” so yes I am talking to you “African” as long as you are a Black man or woman. Even if heaven help us you still think you are a Negro or Colored you are included. In his song Peter Tosh covered much of the perceived differences among us African people. He sang: “Don't mind your complexion, there is no rejection, you're an African.” So let us celebrate, celebrate, celebrate Kwanzaa! For those who are not familiar with the celebration there are books that you can borrow from the library or buy from any African Canadian Caribbean (Black) owned bookstore in Toronto. This is the Kwanzaa celebration when we practice the Nguzo saba (seven principles) of Kwanzaa. Of course we should be living the Nguzo saba every day but at least during the Kwanzaa celebration (December 26 to January 1) we can make a start and go from there. The fourth Kwanzaa principle is Ujamaa (co-operative economics) which means supporting the businesses in our community first. The best book to read to get the correct information about celebrating Kwanzaa is the book written by the man credited with the establishing of the celebration. The book “Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture” written by Dr. Maulana Karenga is available at the Toronto Public Library (TPL) which has 4 copies listed on its website even though there are 98 branches in the TPL system. All books published about Kwanzaa are not equal; it is shocking the misinformation in some books folks have written about the celebration of Kwanzaa. However if you cannot borrow the book from the library buy it from A Different Booklist, Nile Valley Books or any of our community bookstores.
The celebration of Kwanzaa was initiated in 1966 during the time when African Americans were recognizing their Africanness (even if some were merely Black and proud) and that they were more than the descendants of “slaves.” They were recognizing that their ancestors had been enslaved Africans who had a brilliant history and culture which had been obscured (but never erased) by their enslavers. It is indeed sad that even now in the 21st century many Africans in the Diaspora do not know that they are African. Other people whose ancestors choose to leave their homeland and migrate to the Caribbean, the Americas or elsewhere arrived in their new homes with their names, culture and belief systems intact. Africans were kidnapped, forcibly removed from their homes enslaved and brutally stripped of their names, cultures and belief systems.
Karenga initiated the Kwanzaa celebration to support African Americans who were beginning to understand that their history did not begin with slavery. The philosophy on which Kwanzaa is based was not new in 1966 when Karenga organized the first Kwanzaa celebration in the USA. The Kwanzaa principles draw on the philosophies of the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. Garvey encouraged African unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, co-operative economics, sense of purpose, creativity and faith. Karenga choose to incorporate Kiswahili (the most widely spoken African language) and some traditional African harvest traditions. Kwanzaa is not a religious celebration and does not compete with any religion to which Africans subscribe. Peter Tosh sang: “No mind denomination. That is only segregation, you're an African. 'Cause if you go to the Catholic (you are an African) And if you go to the Methodist (you are an African) And if you go to the Church of God, you're an African.”
Kwanzaa is a Pan-African celebration which celebrates the history and culture of Africans from the continent and the Diaspora. Those of us in the Diaspora who do not speak an African language, do not have African names (taken away during slavery) can begin to learn about our history and culture during the celebration of Kwanzaa. Some of the Kiswahili words used during the Kwanzaa celebration are: kinara (candle holder,) mishumaa saba (seven candles,) bendera (flag,) mkeka (mat,) zawadi (gift,) muhindi/vibunzi (corn,) mazao (fruits and vegetables) and kikombe cha umoja (unity cup.) All these items are part of the Kwanzaa table setting. The Nguzo saba (seven principles) of Kwanzaa are umoja (unity,) kujichagulia (self-determination,) ujima (collective work and responsibility,) ujamaa (co-operative economics,) nia (purpose,) kuumba (creativity) and imani (faith.) During the Kwanzaa celebrations the candles are set in the kinara with the black candle in the middle, three red candles to the left of the black candle and three green candles to the right of the black candle. The first Kwanzaa principle is Umoja (unity) which is celebrated on December 26 and recognized by lighting the black candle. The second principle is Kujichagulia, celebrated on December 27 and recognized by lighting the red candle next to the black candle. The third principle is Ujima, celebrated on December 28 and recognized by lighting the green candle next to the black candle. The fourth principle is Ujamaa celebrated on December 29 and recognized by lighting the second red candle. The fifth principle is Nia celebrated on December 30 and recognized by lighting the second green candle. The sixth principle is Kuumba, celebrated on December 31 and recognized by lighting the third red candle. The seventh principle is Imani celebrated on January 1 and recognized by lighting the third green candle.
The Kwanzaa celebration includes performing a libation to recognize our ancestors on whose backs we crossed over, on whose shoulders we stand. We stand tall today, we exist today because of our countless ancestors who resisted their enslavement in various ways. Even today we all resist racism in various ways so that we can survive in school, in workplaces where we may be exposed to the toxicity of White supremacy. When we gather to celebrate Kwanzaa it is imperative that we remember our ancestors with no apology. Whether we use water or liquor to pour libation is our choice. Community Kwanzaa celebrations are usually open to everyone whether or not they are African. We must never allow anyone who is not African to tell us how we must celebrate, recognize or praise our achievements and those of our ancestors. Even if the person is African but does not recognize their Africanness or is suffering from internalized oppression we cannot allow such a person to spread within our midst some of the popular mainstream (White supremacist) misinformation about us as a people and how we got here. We are an African people whether or not we recognize this. As Peter Tosh sang: “No mind your nationality you have got the identity of an African.” We are all at different places in our consciousness but we need to be gentle with each other even when we disagree. Children are an important part of the Kwanzaa celebration. Here a group of children explain Kwanzaa: and Attend a Kwanzaa event or organize a group of family and friends and celebrate, celebrate, celebrate Kwanzaa African people. Kwanzza yenu iwe na heri! Happy Kwanzaa!


The most recent fight on President Obama’s hands is with the Republican dominated House of Representatives. The Democrats control the Senate. As a Democrat President Obama has faced stiff resistance from the Republican dominated House of Representatives. Now President Obama is fighting to ensure that the woman who he is planning to nominate for the position of Secretary of State after Hillary Clinton resigns does not suffer the same fate as a few other African Americans who he had appointed to positions in his Cabinet. There was the resignation of Anthony Kapel "Van" Jones the president’s special advisor on the environment, the resignation of Shirley Sherrod the Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture and the passing of a “contempt” vote in the House against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. In this his second term as President, Obama will have to deal with a divided Congress which has bedevilled his efforts to pass laws such as health care reform and tax reform. It has come to a point where the prospective nominee’s (Susan Rice for Secretary of State) qualifications are being questioned by the Republicans and the Democrats including President Obama are put in the position of defending her.
In March 2009 Anthony Kapel "Van" Jones was appointed by President Obama to the newly created position of Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, where he worked with various "agencies and departments to advance the administration's climate and energy initiatives, with a special focus on improving vulnerable communities. Jones is an African American lawyer and also described as an environmental advocate and civil rights activist. By September 2009 he was forced to resign from the position after a concerted attack from right wing Republican politicians and conservative Fox News commentator Glen Beck. In his resignation comments Jones said: “I am resigning my post at the Council on Environmental Quality, effective today. On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me. They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide.”
Shirley Sherrod was another African American appointed by the Obama administration who suffered from a Republican smear campaign and was forced to resign. Sherrod was appointed Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture on July 25, 2009. Sherrod was targeted by a White supremacist blogger who posted edited pieces of a speech she gave at an NAACP event which made it seem as if she used her position to seek revenge on White farmers for the racism her family had suffered when she was a child. Before viewing the entire video the NAACP and government officials publicly condemned Sherrod and demanded that she resign her position. She resigned on July 19, 2010. However when the entire unedited video was reviewed the NAACP, White House officials and Tom Vilsack, the United States Secretary of Agriculture, apologized for the firing and Sherrod was offered a full-time, high-level internal advocacy position with the USDA. She refused to accept the new position and sued the man who posted the edited version and caused the controversy which led to her being forced to resign as Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture.
The Republican House has also been hard at work trying to get rid of the first African American Attorney General of the USA, Eric Himpton Holder Jr who was appointed by President Obama in February 2009. Holder whose father was born in Barbados and whose mother’s parents were also born in Barbados is also the first American Attorney General with Caribbean connections. From October 2011 to September 2012 members of the Republican dominated House of Representatives were snapping at Holder’s heels in a concerted effort to boot him out of office. They have not been successful and he remains the 82nd United States Attorney General.
Now it is Susan Rice’s turn in the hot seat as the Republicans train their malevolent sights on her. The Republicans are fighting tooth and nail in an all-out effort to ensure that this Rice (no relation to Republican former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice) does not become US Secretary of State. Susan Rice if she is successful in dodging the Republican attack and becomes Secretary of State will not be the first African American or even the first female African American in that position. Condoleezza Rice was the first female African American secretary of state, the second African American in the position (after Colin Powell) and the second woman (after Madeleine Albright.) However Susan Rice would be the first female African American Secretary of State with Caribbean connections. According to Susan Rice her maternal grandparents immigrated to Maine, Portland from Jamaica in 1912. In a speech she gave at Howard University’s 145thconvocation on September 28, 2012 ( Rice reportedly said: “In 1912, my mother’s parents emigrated from Jamaica to Portland, Maine. With little formal education, my grandfather took the best job he could get - as a janitor. My grandmother was a maid and a seamstress. But my grandparents managed to scrape and save to send all five of their children to college - four sons to Bowdoin and my mom, Lois, to Harvard-Radcliffe where she was student government president. Mom, in turn, devoted her distinguished career to making higher education more accessible to all. “The reasons the Republicans are touting for opposing Rice’s appointment as Secretary of State are laughingly hypocritical because Republicans issued similar statements since they all had the same information at that time. Rice is being pilloried by the Republicans because she spoke publicly about a protest outside the Benghazi mission citing an anti-Islam video as a motivating factor. Subsequent information was that the Benghazi attack had been planned and was not related to a protest. Senator John McCain a Republican from Arizona and one of those vehemently against Rice’s appointment, on September 14, three days after the attacks in Benghazi, told reporters at a press conference that there had been “demonstrations” at the mission in Benghazi and that extremists had “seized this opportunity to attack our consulate.” This is the same information that was available at the time and that Rice used in her address on September 16 when she said: “Based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy - sparked by this hateful video. But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that - in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent.”
Many people have identified racism as a factor in the Republican resistance to Rice’s appointment as Secretary of State. It will be interesting to see how far the Obama administration is willing to go to defend Rice and whether or not she will become the first female African American Secretary of State with Caribbean connections. Colin Powell was the first African American Secretary of State with Caribbean connections (his parents were born in Jamaica.) This piece was written on December 3, 2012 when the battle was at its height. Since then the Republicans trotted out a booklet which Rice co-authored when she was a 22 year old University student which advocated the teaching of African American history to all Americans. The Republicans and other white supremacists were foaming at the mouth angry over this many decades old document and behaving as if Rice had committed some heinous crime. She eventually withdrew her name from the consideration list and the white supremacists have once again triumphed.


“How is it possible that we have a situation where every indicted individual at the ICC is African and every investigation is, guess where, Africa ? The ICC was set up to try those lesser breeds without the law – the Africans. This is the same civilising mission from the late nineteenth century and I find it, as a Black man, totally objectionable.”
Quote published in the London Evening Standard on 12 August 2010 attributed to Courtenay Griffiths Queen’s Counsel (QC) one of Britain’s most famous defence lawyers.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) was established on July 17, 1998 by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court treaty at a conference in Rome , Italy and became effective on July 1, 2002. The Court's official location is in The Hague , Netherlands but its proceedings may take place anywhere. As of July 2012 there 153 countries whose representatives had signed the document; however 32 of those countries have not ratified the statute. Israel, Sudan and the United States of America (USA) have informed the United Nations (UN) Secretary General that they no longer intend to become states parties and therefore have no legal obligations arising from their former representatives' signature of the Statute. In 2002 India and the USA signed a pact under which they agreed not to send each other's nationals to a world tribunal. The pact was signed by Indian Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal the top bureaucrat in the foreign ministry and the American ambassador to India , Robert Blackwill. At the time Blackwill was quoted as saying: "India and the United States share the strongest possible commitment to bringing to justice those who commit war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide however, we are concerned about the International Criminal Court (ICC) treaty with respect to the adequacy of checks and balances, the impact of the treaty on national sovereignty and the potential for conflict with the UN Charter." The ICC is a permanent tribunal with a mandate to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression (however it cannot exercise jurisdiction over the crime of aggression until at least 2017.) Former US President George W. Bush's administration strongly opposed the ICC, saying the tribunal could bring politically motivated charges against Americans, including civilian military contractors and former officials. The Rome statute setting up the ICC was signed by former US president Bill Clinton. Since its establishment the ICC has opened investigations involving seven African countries: the Central African Republic , the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire , Darfur/Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo , the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, the Republic of Kenya and Uganda . Former Liberian President Charles Taylor was tried under the mandate and auspices of the “ Special Court for Sierra Leone ” but his trial was held at the ICC's facilities in The Hague supposedly because of political and security concerns around conducting the trial in Liberia.
British defence lawyer Courtenay Griffiths (QC) defended the former Liberian President Taylor during his trial at the ICC headquarters at the Hague . Although it is a lawyer’s duty to defend his/her client to the best of their ability and not to make moral judgments Griffiths was forced to defend himself for his role in defending Taylor. It seemed that many journalists forgot that people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. When questioned about his decision to represent Taylor Griffiths said: "I have no moral commitment to Charles Taylor but I do believe he is entitled to the best-quality defence available. I will ensure that he gets it. The morality of Charles Taylor is none of my business. That's between him and his God, whichever God he chooses to worship. My job is to present his case in court. I'm certainly not going to be making moral judgments about any of my clients. I've defended, for example, terrorists - but to make a moral judgement about such defendants is to forget that, you know, one man's terrorist is another man's war hero." Griffiths was not shy about expressing his displeasure at what he saw as the ICC’S unwarranted attack on Africa and Africans. Not surprising since he has experienced racism almost from the day his family left Jamaica and immigrated to the UK when he was a small child. During interviews he has spoken of his experience as a youngster where White people would try to touch his skin and hair as if he was a curiosity. Graduating from law school and becoming a practicing barrister brought its own challenges with White supremacist thinking. In an interview published by the BBC News on August 26, 2010 Griffiths is quoted: "One of the first times I went to court in south London, I arrived in court suited and booted, brief in my briefcase - only to be told: 'Oh, the defendants sit at the back of the court sir'. Meaning, because I was Black, I had to be awaiting a charge, or had to be up on a charge. I couldn't conceivably be a barrister representing anyone in that court."
Griffiths is not alone in his criticism of the ICC with its bias against Africa and Africans. On Sunday, September 2, 2012 an article written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu was published in The Observer entitled “Why I had no choice but to spurn Tony Blair.” In that article the Archbishop lambasted not only the ICC but Tony Blair (former British Prime Minister) and George Bush (former American President.) “The immorality of the United States and Great Britain 's decision to invade Iraq in 2003, premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, has destabilised and polarised the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history. Instead of recognising that the world we lived in, with increasingly sophisticated communications, transportations and weapons systems necessitated sophisticated leadership that would bring the global family together, the then-leaders of the US and UK fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart. They have driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand – with the spectre of Syria and Iran before us.” He quoted numbers that if this was happening in a “White” country would have the world in a frenzied attempt to bring a halt to the carnage. “The cost of the decision to rid Iraq of its by-all-accounts despotic and murderous leader has been staggering, beginning in Iraq itself. Last year, an average of 6.5 people died there each day in suicide attacks and vehicle bombs, according to the Iraqi Body Count project. More than 110,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict since 2003 and millions have been displaced. By the end of last year, nearly 4,500 American soldiers had been killed and more than 32,000 wounded.” The Archbishop was most likely referring not only to the African states being persecuted but also the ongoing investigations into Afghanistan, Colombia, Georgia, Guinea, Honduras, Mali, Nigeria, and South Korea when he wrote: “On these grounds alone, in a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in the Hague.” Luckily for Blair and Bush the people with the power to bring “war criminals” to trial are White men. The most recent attack by the ICC is against an African woman while in spite of overwhelming evidence that Blair and Bush conspired to attack Iraq with no evidence of weapons of mass destruction the unholy duo continue to enjoy their freedom. When the time comes for them to answer for their crimes they will need a lawyer like Griffiths who said: "It is right and proper that a defendant, however heinous the crime committed, has the right to the best representation. My job is to present a case and it's for the jury or for the judge to decide that issue. Consequently it's not a question that I ask. I may have my own suspicions, but at the end of the day I'm not the person returning the verdict, so consequently my views are totally immaterial." Blair and Bush should keep this man’s number on speed dial.