Reflection is essential as Guyana celebrates Black History Month – By Yvonne Sam

– By Yvonne Sam

History is a Weapon. History is to the nation as memory is to an individual.

As we begin to celebrate Black History Month in Canada and America, (not England), now more than ever Guyana needs to look at her history with an air of profound reflection and introspection. With the country as racially divided as it is now, does Black History hold any significance? Any display of racial identity or racial reference is oftentimes met with derision, suspicion or plain condemnation. Hence Black History Month or any celebration thereof smacks of a denial of ethno racial identity. Let it not be overlooked or forgotten that Black History Month emanated in the United States of America  from an acknowledgement of Black as a marker of racial identity.     

Despite having its foundation in the United States, Black History Month has been embraced by the worldwide black diaspora on account of its role in showcasing the contributions in history. The Father of Black History Month Carter G. Woodson realized that not only were the contributions of African Americans overlooked, ignored  and repressed by the writers of history textbooks but also by the pedagogues who used them. In addition, peoples of African descent remained visibly absent from any intellectual discourse or scholarship that dealt with human civilization. In fact, Blacks were so dehumanized and their history so perverted that slavery, peonage (debt slavery), lynching and segregation were deemed acceptable conditions.

In an endeavor to counteract this apparent ignorance and intentional distortion of Black History, Negro History week was put in motion on a serious platform in 1926, under the direction of Carver Woodson  and contributions from other African American and white scholars.  In the late 1960’s it matured to become Black History Month, finally being designated as such by the United States Government in 1976.

So by extension Guyana and other Caribbean islands will acknowledge and celebrate Black History Month, but should they really?    On a note of irony, Woodson writing on the issue of West Indian/ American relations, expressed the sentiment  that “ The West Indian negro is free” and that West Indian societies had been more successful (than America) at properly devoting the necessary amounts of time and resources needed to educate and genuinely emancipate people. Is the nation’s celebration just another example of the adoption of slavish things originating in what we believe to be a superior civilization? The poignant and persistent question remains: What should Guyana celebrate? Really and truly do we need to adopt and adapt what was from the outset an American concept to observe and highlight the achievements of Blacks there?  My response is a resounding No! This is a striking example of One size not fitting or befitting All.

The American government both recognize and celebrate Black History Month, and during the month of February schools in general focus and refocus on African History.

In spite of certain similarities, the American experience was very much different from ours. The celebration of the achievements of African people and people of colour should not be restricted to a month-long period nor on the other hand be marginalized as a historical exception.  What is needed is an ongoing education about the culture and successes of people of African origin wherever they have made an impact across the globe. A mature democracy is tasked with not only commemorating its triumphs but also recognizing its miscarriages. We should aim to create a narrative for our citizens that tell the whole story, warts and all.

The focus on biography has become a theoretical or imaginary prison, and the celebration of heroes has at times restricted our idea of what black history might be. There is no doubt that Black History as celebrated during Black History Month has helped many Guyanese children understand their place within the Guyanese story. Every February it provides reporters, broadcaster, teachers, government officials etc. with a topical hook on which to hang stories about Black people that might otherwise go untold. Undoubtedly, in Guyana there will be displays and lectures amidst a plethora of Black inventions and Black firsts, some or most of them being mere regurgitated facts . The contributions of well=known Blacks like Martin Luther king, Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks etc. will be rehashed ad infinitum.  What about other Black, West Indian and Guyanese figures? Black Guyanese history is our joint history and it should be much more than the search for and the defense of black heroes.

Black History 2019 should go down in history as the final call for a clear headed and controlled reflection on the state of the community. A legitimate discourse on, and recognition of, our ethnic diversity yet calls, for as a nation we would only be able to with due respect observe the significance of Black history within the context of an acceptance. As African Guyanese lead the way in becoming submerged in Black History, all Guyanese should learn Black History, which by now should have found its way into school curricula. As a nation we should have an education about the culture and successes of people of African origin wherever they have made an impact across the globe.  We now dwell in a truly global community and thanks to modern technology are kept abreast of world development, therefore our views are no longer skewered. Beyond national observances, every member of the populace needs to be looking toward their common future—It is time to begin the conversation about the future of Guyana. What will it look like in 2030 or 2100?”.

How will we gauge success?—Black History Month is successful only when it is repetitious – when our history is understood by us all, and young people gain the pride and self-assurance that a genuine account of it would afford.

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Comments

  • Kman  On February 7, 2019 at 5:26 pm

    By having a ‘Black History Month’ in Guyana, would only mean that we are caving in to the USA.

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