We Are Grenadians, Who Are You?

We Are Grenadians, Who Are You?

By N Oji Mzilikazi

Originally published in the Montreal Community Contact Volume 22, Number 22

November 15, 2012

I’ve been a member of Montreal All-Fours Social & Cultural Association since 2004. The club meets every Friday night at the Cote-des Neiges Black Community Association. This past January, our All-Fours session started at 10 p.m. rather than at 9 p.m., because the space was being used by the Grenada Association.

Its members were using it to practice, to hone their dance routine for their commemoration of Grenada’s Independence in February.

Arriving early, I decided to take a “look see.” And there were these women, some of them elders, and for surety grandmothers, dancing and twirling holding their flowing skirts in hand and the like.

I immediately had flashbacks to “home” – Trinbago, and folk dances, maypole dances, Better Village and the like. And simultaneously felt regret that of the multitude of “Trini” organizations that have existed in Montreal, there is not one actively ensuring the survival of those cultural elements in the Diaspora.

In addition, I was blown away by the beauty of the song to which they were dancing – Casimir Pitt, “Grenada May God Bless You.” Though recorded in the early 70s, it was the first time I heard the song, and I must confess it raised both my pores and spirit.

Upon completion of their session, I asked them for a replay of “Grenada May God Bless You” so I could soak up as much of its rays as was possible.

The patriotism the song invoked was such; I couldn’t envision any Grenadian refusing to sacrifice his/her life for country if the nation was fighting a foreign invader and the song was being broadcasted.

What really got to me was the infectious line:  “We are Grenadians, who are you?” The positivity of self-identification, of knowing oneself spoke volumes and opened up a world of thought. There and then I felt “We are Grenadians, who are you?” deserved a philosophical treatment. But first, I needed a copy of the song.

It took me five months of scouring the Internet to find “Grenada May God Bless You,” upon which I could’ve beaten myself. I could’ve saved myself a lot of time and energy by asking DJ Starlight Joe, a Grenadian national, and someone I’ve known since the early 80s.

In August, repair work at NDG local in which the Grenada Association meet had them returning to Cote-des-Neiges on Fridays to practice. Once again, “We are Grenadians, who are you?” left footprints in my feet, heart, and soul.

Since October, teens from the Grenada Association have been using Cote-des-Neiges on Fridays to practice their routines for the November 24, Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique Masquerade and Fashion Show extravaganza.

Given the failure of many community organizations to attract youths, lamentations from same about “our” youths not interested in continuing their work, and our young being politically, socially, and culturally lost, the participation of male and female teenagers and pre-teens with Grenadian roots doing their thing to R&B and hip-hop flavoured music points to the continued transmission of island pride by a healthy and vibrant Grenada Association. Respect is due!

Youthful participation and Grenadian parents/adults in attendance at sessions made it clear; I could no longer delay my long-intended treatise.

When in “Grenada May God Bless You,” Casimir Pitt intones “We are Grenadians, who are you?” I see “Grenadians” as referencing much more than the nationals of the “Spice Island.”  I think of it as transcending island tribalism and representing both the cultural consciousness of the West Indian Diaspora and West Indian collective.

I think of its rhetorical question phraseology as asking both West Indian born persons and their progeny if they have any real sense as to who they are. If they have any understanding of the otherness they represent, and the need of a united face and united base, if as a people West Indians abroad are to be economically, politically and socially empowered.

West Indians are a “callaloo” people and it matters not if their roots and or ethnicity are Syrian, Lebanese, Chinese, Portuguese, French, Spanish, English, European, East Indian or African. The various narratives and overall history of the region left its inhabitants with “an indelible and irreducible thing” and several unique flavours.

That uniqueness, an otherness in its own right, set West Indians apart in spite of our intra-racial and “island” differences, and the disgust some members feel when identified from the “wrong” island. That otherness allowed for West Indies communities abroad to sustain and feed the soul of its members.

Even when West Indians are visually “white” or “Chinese,” their phenotype, shade of colour, language style and pronunciation of certain words still identify them to the larger white and Chinese community as other. The same goes for East Indians.

That “irreducible thing” in West Indians made it impossible for us to run from ourselves – though many have tried to pass as or become another. And though we became Canadian, British, and American citizens by naturalization, marry others, have children born and socialized in their metropolis, or we ourselves were born here, a cultural and culinary otherness still massage our heartstrings, define us, and have us most comfortable when among us.

Our otherness makes us special as well as gives us advantage. We can eat with knife and fork as well as with our fingers and from a fig leaf. Celebrating Christmas, Eid, and Divali, giving prayers, having a thanksgiving, going to a pundit, seer-woman or obeah man for their special insights give West Indians a heads up on religious tolerance. Our mating makes us multicultural.

We know the ways and history of others while they remain ignorant of ours. We are able to speak perfect French and perfect English and still drop patois that only island insiders understand. We can appreciate and play classical music yet get down to dub, bubble and wine.

Much of the social misbehaviour, disconnect, and poor academic performance of our children could be traced to our failure to transmit certain imperatives of our culture as well our history. Thus, they having no knowledge as to who they are, and their aping many of Black America’s cultural negatives.

It must be pointed out that in “Grenada May God Bless You,” Casimir Pitt name checks Guyana and every West Indian island except Trinidad and Tobago.

Given that ever since Africans were transported in the West Indies, Grenadian, as well as Bajan and Vincy roots run deep in the soul of Trinidad and Tobago, and that many “great Trinis” have Grenadian roots, Pitt’s omission was deliberate.

While the omission in no way, shape or form detracts from my take of “We are Grenadians, who are you?,” it underlines anti-Trini sentiments.

While people are free to be ignorant, myopic and xenophobic, and there are individuals back home given to holding anti-island sentiments and positions, we in the Diaspora cannot afford to do that, given the commonality of hurdles faced by members of the diasporic community.

To engage in island tribalism, to discriminate against people who look like us because of their birthplace or the flag they wave could only disadvantage and impoverish.

Lest we forget, our people back home do not face the sort of obstacles we do here. Race constructs, racial profiling, and the criminalization of communities on account of ethnicity do not grease their machinery of law and order and isn’t mobilized against the people as is wont to occur here.

Secondly, the people back home look just like us. Many are highly educated, wealthy, propertied, and are in positions of power in every field and sector of the nation. And even though colorism exists in pockets, institutional discrimination and racism and being treated as “last class” outsiders that many of us experience here are totally out of the question.

Clearly, attitudes and/or beliefs that might be accepted or cool back home could very well be obstacles to progress, have no place in West Indian communities abroad.

Furthermore, when one considers the scope of our sexual interactions with different islanders, the multifaceted nature of identity and island identification make for complication.

Unfortunately, the new found West Indian nationalism in the diaspora, the love of national identity, pride in island representation in garments and fashion accessories, and the proud display of island flags, island colours, symbols and the like on vehicles is bringing on a chill, and building division between the many kinds of West Indians that comprise our community.

Eddie Charles is an internationally known soca artist out of the twin Islands of Trinidad and Tobago. He was in Montreal for its Carnival festivities – rocking the house at every event in which he appeared. He was also one of the thousands who attended the July 2012, “Vincy Day” – St. Vincent and the Grenadines picnic at Brown’s Bay Provincial Park in Ontario.

Other than a gospel singer out of the U.S., the acts on the SVG stage were local. With no thoughts as to financial remuneration, Charles’ Montreal “man of business” felt Eddie performing on their stage would be a boon and boost.

He was rebuffed three times. The reason – “they” didn’t want any Trini on their stage. The telling confirmed to me by Eddie Charles himself.

It is Trinidad and Tobago that gave the world pan, calypso and soca. Trinbago’s Carnival allows artists from every Caribbean country to come and “eat ah food.

Many artists from other islands can attest that appearing/performing in Trinidad and Tobago during Carnival was the catalyst for international success and acclaim. Yet, a Trini, a professional exponent of soca, and someone who has performed on numerous international stage wasn’t good enough to be on that Vincy stage – “free, gratis, and for nothing.”

Island people abroad need each other. There aren’t enough nationals of any one country to support their functions and grow the businesses of their entrepreneurs. So while you go about waving your national flag remember small-mindedness stunts growth, and prevents us from seeing the “Grenadian” in us all.

Divali Greetings to our Hindu Community.

Raising Princesses, Marrying Queens and Empresses

Raising Princesses, Marrying Queens and Empresses

By N Oji Mzilikazi

May 17, 2012

(Originally published in the Montreal Community Contact Volume 22, Number 09)

And since we all came from a woman
Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman
I wonder why we take from our women
Why we rape our women, do we hate our women
I think it’s time to kill for our women
Time to heal our women, be real to our women
And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies
That will hate the ladies, that make the babies

–“Keep Your Head Up” (1993)

2 Pac

In keeping with the fondness of people to rally to a cause either when it strikes close to home or when they themselves are personally affected or afflicted, rather than on the merits of the very cause, the January 2012 arrival of daughter, Blue Ivy Carter into the world prompted Jay-Z’s to reportedly vow to stop using the word ‘bitch’ in his raps.

Clearly the financial power both he and his wife, Beyoncé Knowles command dictate he – they grow a princess rather than a stripper, video vixen or “ho.” Therefore the ‘bitch’ invective is one of the things that are incompatible to such a lifestyle.

Interestingly, when Jay-Z waded into the Nas 2007 album title controversy, (Nas named his album ‘Nigger.’) he told MTV news that the controversy is misguided. People give strength to words, power to words, and they shouldn’t.

Jay-Z’s stance was rooted in ignorance. Didn’t the Bible declare, “In the beginning was the word?” Words are power elements. Words come with power; as well the meaning of a word can imbue it with power.

People who meditate tend to channel the sound vibration of particular words – words whose inherent power were discovered eons ago. No language of any ethnic group on this planet has terms or words that demean it or its speakers. Their words of depreciation target outsiders.

Words can inspire, demean, incite or spur action. The pain from hurtful words can last a lifetime and hurt more than one caused by physical injury. There is nothing light or meaningless about words. For that reason the sages have always advised and reminded man to be careful with their words.

Nas defence of the title of his album was – taking power away from the word. The concept of neutralizing terms of disparagement by redefining or adopting them is foolish and rooted in ignorance. No one can change the meaning of words that have been in general use like say forever.

The only way to take power away from an oppressive word or repressive language is by putting them to bed – not using it. Only through disuse can the venom of words be silenced. European Jews were the original ghetto dwellers. They never embraced, elevated the term, or went about boasting of having ghetto roots.

Blacks made ghetto born, ghetto bred and ghetto domiciled as badges of honour. The failure of the race to educate itself and address the legacy of knots, twists and re-engineering that chattel slavery unleashed on the souls of Black folks is responsible for the perpetuation of a host of ills plaguing the race, including self-sabotage, the Black family crisis and the dehumanization of Black femininity.

Women/females are our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, wives, lovers and daughters. Women/mothers are nurturers and the first teacher a child has. The quality of a mother’s nurturing, along with her love and affection or lack thereof psychologically impacts, and plays a significant role in the adult life of a child.

One would think that with such an important influence and role, women/females would be valued and cherished, but that was not the case. All the major religions of the world consigned females to inferior status, some going so far as to position the gender as evil. However, the inimitable status of “nothingness” engendered by chattel slavery left the Black female perpetually crucified by both the white power structure and fellow Black males.

The trust of African enslavement in the New World was to transform the race into disposable commodities and units of labour – “hewers of wood and drawers of water.” To that end, the white man systematically went about perverting the natural order of things.

He prohibited the emotional ties of marriage and the family construct, also stripped the Black male from being provider, father, husband, and protector. The enslaved were thus forced to develop imperviousness to emotional ties- man to woman, mothers and fathers to children.

Centuries of perversion of the family dynamics, and the male female relationship in respect to Blacks, led to the legacy of Black males having an aversion towards marriage, shouldering family responsibilities, or seeing their females as worthy of love and respect. It also left the Black female unwilling or unable to choose “good” men as mates.

Slavery shifted the African family paradigm. Since the Black female did back-breaking labour alongside the Black male, she was his equal. Bereft of the traditional patriarchal family construct and the authoritarianism that goes with the father figure, she had to develop an iron hand if she was to successfully run the family.

The absentee-father culture resulted in matriarchal power. Mother was father-provider-protector-nurturer and comforter rolled into one. Adaption to those roles resulted in the Black female developing a hard exterior, unwilling to relinquish control or even listen to a man on what or how to do anything. One of the legacies to that state of affairs is Black man forever speaking about how strong his mother is, even when she has a supporting spouse.

There was a marked difference in the Caribbean and American society in regards to matriarchal power. Mother was given unconditional respect and loyalty in the West Indies. The male child would defend his mother’s name and honour even if she was a whore. After all, she might be engaging in that lifestyle simply to put food on the table and to send him to school. Consequently, insults about one’s mother were fighting words.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the curse word “mother’s cxxx” was more potent than “eff” you, and more often than not, its usage triggered physical altercation. In America, insults about mother – “mother jokes” is standard comedic fare and symptomatic of a greater pathology. If a man cannot love and respect his mother (and by extension motherhood), how can he love and respect females and the one(s) who could be the mother of his child?

Strong mothers and grandmothers have always been the beauty and strength of the Black community. It was a woman’s defiance that became the catalyst for the African American Civil Rights struggle in America. Women continue to be the sustaining and enduring pillars of the community.

Women continue to bend over backwards, endure pain, suffering, exploitation and abuse in pursuit of a better life for the unit they call the family. It was always mother, even if in the guise of grandmother/aunt/tanti/nenny/nen nen and even unrelated females and not father that did their best and anything to keep the family together.

As if Black youth were attacked by Alzheimer’s, they don’t view womanhood as deserving elevation or celebration. Women were objects to wine down the place, skin up, push out punnany, bend over and accept the peg. Women were disposable commodities only to be valued through their sexual expression and earning power. Female pornographic display and or debasement are prominent in many rap and r&b videos. The ultimate was when the rapper Nellie passed a credit card through the cheeks of a woman’s butt.

The sexualisation of the culture by advertisers, beauty and fashion houses, sex industry, film and television has made things worse. Huge numbers of young females don’t see themselves or their gender as having, deserving or worthy of dignity. They believe sexuality is their only currency, and there is empowerment in sexual objectification and exploiting their bodies.

Awards are validation. In 2006, Three 6 Mafia won an Oscar/Academy Award for the Best Song. It was considered an historic event. Firstly, because they were the first African American rap group to win the award, and secondly, the first rap artist to ever perform at the ceremony. The song that brought them “fame and glory” was entitled “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.”

Music touches heart, mind and soul. For that reason music has long been described as having the power to soothe the savage beast. One could interpret that win as bringing out the beast in people – legitimizing the pimping business, and giving others the incentive to explore that lifestyle lyrically and physically.

While a female might disassociate herself from the bitch or ho in a song she likes, what is there to stop someone from calling her – ho, or recruiting her daughter, grand-daughter, niece or sister to be a real ho? Besides that, the acceptance of female debasement by women themselves has led to many females openly embracing the negatives. Hoes With Attitude (HWA) and Bytches With Problems (PWP) were two all female rap groups that released albums in the early 90’s.

The concentrated outpourings of works of music and films that cater to sexual exploitation, female debasement, that appeal to our base instincts, has gratuitous profanity or romanticize violence contribute to our growing of barbarians and would eventually be a threat to the stability of our society.

To Be Continued.

 

Afro Indo Unity: Can The Ganges Ever Meet The Nile? Part 2

Afro Indo Unity: Can The Ganges Ever Meet The Nile? Part 2

By N Oji Mzilikazi

December 8, 2011

(Originally published in Montreal Community Contact Volume 21, Number 25)

In “Trini 2 De Bone,” David Rudder’s 2003 paean to Trinibago, there is a telling line, “How we vote is not how we party.” Applicable to Guyana as well, that line encapsulates the underlying division and discord between Indo and Afro West Indians.

As much as members of both ethnicities party together, work alongside one other, partake of the culinary culture of the other, cohabitate, intermarry and have children with each other, when it comes to elections, Apan Jhaat – Hindi for “vote for your own kind” rules – irrespective to religious differences or long-standing religious hatred.

In the Indian sub-continent: Hindu India, Muslim Pakistan and Sikhs cannot stand one other.  They have continually engaged in acts of aggression and terrorism against one another and frequently threaten each other with war…

 

 

 

 

 

Afro Indo Unity: Can The Ganges Ever Meet The Nile? Part 1

Afro Indo Unity: Can The Ganges Ever Meet The Nile? Part 1

By N Oji Mzilikazi

November 24, 2011

(Originally published in Montreal Community Contact Volume 21, Number 24)

In the article, “Where Did Black Power Go?” in the previous issue of this newspaper, I mentioned that for more than 160 years the meandering paths of the Ganges and the Nile in the West Indies resulted in an inter-connected narrative. Lamented was that distrust, tribalism and ethnocentrism continued to colour the relationship between former African slaves and former indentured East Indians with virulent strains in Trinidad and Guyana…