Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Demented people!

That's how director of the Commission for Pan-African Affairs, David Comissiong, has described persons who seek to dissuade Barbadians of African extraction from expressing their true identity.

Speaking at Heroes Square on Monday at celebrations to mark Black Civilisation Day, he said Barbadians needed to be able to locate themselves within African history.

They had to appreciate that the story of Africa was their story and that their roots were planted in that history, Comissiong added.

— from a story by Wade Gibbons, headlined "Denial syndrome", in today's Nation.

I'm troubled by Comissiong's assumptions about Barbadians' "true identity" — which I'm sure he'd extend to most other West Indians as well. (I'm troubled also by the leading role he played in the Barbados race conference debacle last October.) His idea seems dangerously essentialist: "the story of Africa was their story and ... their roots were planted in that history". Obviously the influence of Africa in the evolution of Caribbean society & culture has been crucial, but our history is far more complex than Comissiong seems to grasp. Our defining characteristic has been our cultural hybridisation, the collision & collusion of civilisations across our epic archipelago, & the result has been a restless, energetic, complicated, creative new culture. To berate the people of that culture for rejecting a revisionist, reductionist version of themselves is to betray a thorough misunderstanding of the Caribbean.

In fact, it seems far more sensible to speak not of a Caribbean or a Bajan identity, but of the many co-existing identities each of us chooses at different times, for different purposes. The truth is not some ethnic ideal we should feel obliged to uphold; it is instead that very multiplicity, from which our evolving common culture draws its energy & its strength.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You should read David´s new book entitled, "Walking Down The Wide Streets Of Tomorrow" which has just been published. It is a very enlightening book indeed. He is a very learned and I felt that someone was really explaining my cultural heritage and plight for the first time in simple language.