R. Rose
February 6, 2009
Black History Month with a difference

As someone integrally involved in banana affairs in the Caribbean, it would be expected that banana would be the topic of my column this week. After all, on Tuesday, the Gonsalves administration presented a Bill to Parliament for the restructuring of the banana industry in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This paves the way for the farmers of this country to have the unfettered right to manage their own affairs, and, within the limitations of external forces, giving them responsibility for charting their own future.{{more}} However, the Bill has had only two readings and has been sent to the Committee stage, following Parliamentary debate. For these reasons it may be best to make only general comments at this stage.

Instead, I will focus on the 2009 version of Black History Month, currently being observed in North America and many parts of the Caribbean. (In the United Kingdom, Black History Month is commemorated in October, not February, as in the Western Hemisphere). Black History Month was first observed in 1926 in the USA on the initiative of blacks among whom the historian carter G. Woodson was prominent. It is a response to centuries of the suppression of the knowledge of the true story (as opposed to his-story) of Black people and their achievements over the millennia. Thus during February each year, these are highlighted and celebrated. February was chosen because it is the birth month of the noted black American leader and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, as well as of Abraham Lincoln, the US President who signed the Emancipation Proclamations. Incidentally, the outstanding Black leader, Malcolm X, was assassinated in February 1965.

This year, Black History Month has a renewed impetus, beyond the wildest dreams of its most enthusiastic advocates. For Black History Month 2009 comes with a Black man in the White House, as President of the United States of America. Added to this, two other Blacks hold very prominent positions in President Obama’s Cabinet: Eric Holder, of Barbadian lineage, is the first Afro-American Attorney General, while Susan E. Rice, appointed US Ambassador to the United Nations, is the first Black woman to hold that post. In fact in the 64 year history of the UN, only two other American women have been their country’s face to the world.

These developments give a huge boost to the significance of Black History Month and provide a platform for evoking greater public interest and participation in the event. Regrettably, we in the Caribbean are generally less enthusiastic about such occasions than we were 2/3 decades ago when black consciousness and black nationalism were rallying cries for our young people in the region. Today, it is not Frederick Douglass, Marcus Garvey, George Washington Carver, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman nor Malcolm X who occupy our thoughts. It is not Black History Month which excites us; it is……Valentine’s Day.

Hopefully, the magic personality of Barack Obama and his wide outreach to people, Black and white alike, young people in particular, may serve as a catalyst to reawaken interest in Black History and fuel enthusiasm both in continuing the necessary research and public education around Black achievements. Too many of us are still trapped by the negatives of his-story and lack the sense of understanding of who we are, the pride in ourselves or the confidence to map out our own history.


Maybe it is fitting that the Banana Bill in SVG is before Parliament in February. For it is yet another instrument which facilitates our people to advance further along the path of becoming masters and mistresses of their own destiny. The pity is that it has taken so long and comes at the time of continued downturn in the fortunes of the banana industry. Yet, the relative size of the industry is not the most significant factor. The point to be made is that the restructuring of the industry permits farmers to become more directly responsible for their own affairs, not dependent on any government nor “dem”, save and except for the normal responsibilities which any administration must assume for any major economic sub-sector.

The years of dependency have had their psychological effects-on production and productivity, on a sense of ownership, on the spirit of entrepreneurship to the extent that no matter how bad the industry was, no matters what losses the statutory Banana Association chalked up, we couldn’t perceive life without it, without handouts, without someone to blame and cuss. It has not helped us one bit, not as a people, not as a country.

Besides, the world has changed and is further rapidly changing. No one changes “nappies” any more; there are no more “nurse” bottles available. The hard choice before us is that we must all be weaned from the milking cow, the government, and strike out boldly on our own seeking support and guidance but assuming that mantle of responsibility. When the Bill is finally proclaimed it is left up to the farming sector to demonstrate, like Obama, that it can and will deliver.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.