Joe Dyett: We Need A West Indian Spring
By N Oji Mzilikazi
April 5, 2012
(Originally published in the Montreal Community Contact Volume 22, Number 06)
I’ve never met Joe Dyett, but we’ve had several engaging conversations. Dyett is adamant about two things. The community is in the worst shape ever. It is in need of restructuring, and we need to get back to reclaiming our West Indian identity.
Born in Montserrat, Joe came to Canada in 1967, after residing in England for 12 years. This retired carpenter with a history of activism in the Negro Community Centre (NCC) and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) among others, describes himself as no intellectual, just an ordinary Joe.
Q: Why the specificity of West Indian people as opposed to the other identities employed by the community?
JD: Caribbean is too broad a term. In talking about Caribbean we are moving away from our history which is West Indian. The Caribbean includes Spanish speaking people from South America. West Indian history has always been about a regional people, an English speaking community. Its expats have always waved the flag of the West Indies. When we identify as Caribbean it’s as if we are ashamed of being West Indians.
Q: What about the children born here who identify with being Canadian and Black?
JD: As West Indian descendents, they are part of it. When I speak of West Indians and having West Indian organizations, I include their descendents and friends of West Indians. West Indians are great individuals, but individuality takes us nowhere when we have to deal with corporations, organizations and institutions. We can only move forward under a united front and West Indian is the best way to go. We seem to have been left behind. We are lagging in everything, the education, the economy. We have become the poor people of Quebec.
Q: And what do you attribute that to?
JD: Leadership! Poor leadership. Leadership has gone wrong, is going wrong. We haven’t had the leadership with vision to take us anywhere, and that has to change.
Q: There are those who would disagree with you, say we’ve had leadership, and take offense?
JD: Show me I will say, show me the leadership. We are worse off than before, and some of our leaders or recognised people them have been in office for over 30 years. We split and divide ourselves into little pockets; groups and organizations that really aren’t going anywhere, and haven’t been effective.
Q: Surely gains were made?
JD: As a community we haven’t moved. We haven’t developed and we haven’t grown. We have not been able to build and sustain institutions. Our institutions are gone. We have not been able to build an economy. How can we establish a community without institutions? It cannot be done.
Q: What were our glory days?
JD: The 70s. We had racial consciousness, regional consciousness and cultural institutions like the NCC. We had a more together community at the time. We have been slipping downhill since then. We haven’t been able to come together as a West Indian community and do anything positive. We haven’t got the institutions to maintain what we need to as a community.
Q: What went wrong?
JD: A combination of things. There are many things to be looked at but leadership is in the forefront. We haven’t put enough emphasis on education. Where are our English speaking West Indian or as you like Caribbean doctors, lawyers, technical people. They’re just not there.
Q: Could it be that PQ coming into power and Bill 101 drove them away?
JD: That’s only a minor part of it. We have to create something that our talented young can stay. We haven’t created anything. We haven’t built anything. Those that were built have fallen away, have become obsolete. It comes down to leadership. We have people in position here who really aren’t interested in the development and advancement of the community. They are interceptors.
JD: If the government wants to give us something, there is always someone out there to intercept it, and nothing ever develops, nothing ever grows. These interceptors are people that masquerade as leadership and are only out for themselves
Q: Why would the government/agencies who have a working relationship with those folks and their organizations want to hear your voice or say mines?
JD: The government only deals with them because there are no other group or institutions.
Q: I am not a fan of starting new organizations but strengthening existing ones.
JD: We need to reform, restructure the entire community. We keep on recycling. We are forever recycling. When institutions fail; when a bank or corporation fail what do they do? They don’t bring the same people back to rebuild. So why are we doing that? We are the only people you see doing that; the faces of failure are constantly given more opportunities to fail. Why do we keep on recycling?
Q: How do we change that paradigm and get from here to there?
JD: By putting something else in place. Those people aren’t going to step aside. We must start building an organization and add people one by one. It’s a step by step, one by one approach.
Joe Dyett is presently engaged in setting up the West Indian Economic Development Corporation of Quebec.