Posts

, ,

Conversation with Duke and Duchess of Sussex on Racial Justice

In response to the growing Black Lives Matter movement, QCT has been running a weekly discussion with young people looking at various forms of injustice on the experiences of young people today. This is part of the Trust’s wider work on considering historic injustice, which started in late 2019. QCT exists to champion, fund and connect young leaders around the world; this work is being driven by young people in its network and is helping to inform the Trust’s future direction.

In the special session last week, QCT was joined by The Duke and Duchess alongside Chrisann Jarrett, QCT Trustee and co-founder and co-CEO of We Belong; Alicia Wallace, director of Equality Bahamas; Mike Omoniyi, founder and CEO of The Common Sense Network; and Abdullahi Alim who leads the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers network of emerging young leaders in Africa and the Middle East.

The above is taken directly from the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust press release. Read more about the conversation here, and watch the edited recording here.

, ,

QCT Racism and Injustice Series – Week 3

In last week’s session, young people in the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust talked about what is taking place in their national and regional contexts in response to the Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S. We talked about the gap between gestures and meaningful action, the link between race and class, the tension between address issues at home and showing solidarity for actions abroad, and how COVID-19 and the stay-at-home orders may have helped to fuel the current movement and the global response to Black Lives Matter protests.

,

There’s More to Do Than Move the Columbus Statue

Every now and then, the conversation about the statue of Christopher Columbus starts again. It generally does not last for a long time, but people weigh in and we end up with the same sets of opinions. Some people think it should be removed from Government House while others think it should stay.

Of the people who believe it should be removed, some want it destroyed while others say it would be better to put it in a museum and provide context to make it clear he was not a hero, but a genocidal murderer. Most of the people who want it to stay seem to think it is must remain to preserve history. They view it as a harmless relic with little meaning attached and should not evoke any negative feelings.

Still others argue the statue is not the problem and suggest it is useless to get rid of it when Government House remains, the Governor General continues to represent the Queen and she is the head of state.

To be clear, the Columbus statue is not the entire problem. No one ever said it was that simple. We have, however, noted the issue of its prominent location which suggests it represents a person deserving of attention and reverence. We know this is far from the truth. It is not even accompanied by a plaque with the truth about Columbus and what he did after landing on San Salvador in 1492.

photo

We cannot assume that people know the history. It was not long ago that Columbus Day and Discovery Day were celebrated. People in their thirties and twenties were taught a completely fallacious history about the man and would know no better if not for conversations of this kind.

We know the statue of Columbus is the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface is colonization, slavery and racism in various forms including systemic and internalised. We have not generally been enthusiastic about these conversations either. The lack of discussion has brought us to this place, barely able to sort through the interconnected issues that demand our attention if we are to move forward and build a more inclusive, equitable nation.

There is no shortage of issues to address that are both related to the statue we can see every day and rooted in systems that are hundreds of years old and that we have learned to ignore in our daily lives. Those issues need our attention, however, they do not detract from the point being made by the people who want the statue removed. It is in an inappropriate location. It sends the wrong message. There are no sound arguments for keeping it there. We will not be banned from discussing other relevant issues if we dare to move it before we eradicate racism.

Do we care more about where we start, or starting at all?

The response to the call for the removal of the statue has not been unlike many other conversations taking place nationally. There is an enthusiastic opposition that does not necessarily disagree with the idea, but is being excessively critical of the call because they would prefer a different starting point or want the conversation to be rooted in a different area. They want to focus on a larger issue. They assume the removal of the statue is a failure to acknowledge the complication of its site.

One of the reasons it is difficult to make progress on issues like this one is the need for people to control narratives and assert themselves as superior in knowledge. It is entirely possible to support the removal of the statue while calling attention to the existence of Government House, the role of the Governor General, continued allegiance to the Queen and the cost of this useless system.

We can make plans to move the statue in two weeks and sustain conversations about why it was put there in the first place and the work that still needs to be done up to and far beyond that date. We are not limited to one statue, one conversation nor one course of action. The conversation will not end when the statue is gone if the people who care about more than the statue are dedicated to continuing it. We have to accept responsibility for our roles in this work and understand everyone is not in the same place or called to the same tasks. It is still possible to work with them and build on their actions.

The removal of statues in the US and Bristol in the UK reignited the conversation about the Christopher Columbus statue. It does not mean we are going to ignore everything and getting rid of the statue will be the end of our work. What is happening around the world is the building of momentum. It is creating a wave of actions that are inspired by those that precede it. Now is a good time to make moves.

If some of us want to talk about systemic racism in this majority black country — much to the chagrin of the people who benefit from it — and other people want to move a statue and we see the connections between the two, let’s talk about it. Note the commonalities. Support the action. Bring context to the conversation. Know that we can do both.

Let new people in and let them learn and grow

Many of the people participating in conversations about current events and underlying systems are new to them. Some are just becoming radicalised as they watch what is happening around us. Sometimes the instinct of more seasoned activists is to silence or push them out, insisting they are not ready, they will get in the way, or they are too late. It is often a protective measure. We do not want to see the work go to waste and we do not want movements to be co-opted.

Locking people out, however, is the result of leading with fear. It may be completely reasonable to have concerns about people’s intentions, especially when they come to a cause like Black liberation at a time like this, but we always need more people. Those of us who have been here before have the responsibility to help newcomers to learn, practice, correct mistakes, be open to new information, share ideas and bring more people. We cannot do it alone.

There has to be space in movements for newcomers and that space has to be actively created. We can easily pinpoint organisations with leaders who have refused, over many years, to train other people for leadership and ensure the continuity of the work.

The newcomers do not need to immediately become leaders, but they need to be welcomed and have a place to learn, work and grow. They need to have access to information, be connected with supporters, get experience with the media, know how to plan events, and understand the history and the trajectory of the movement.

It all starts with letting them in. They may come late, they may come full of emotion, they may come with more passion than know-how and they may come with ideas counter to what has already been decided, but they come. They come with much-needed energy. Let them in, let them see, let them do.

One day, the leaders we know now will be gone and there will still be work to do. There will be progress and there will be successors if we understood movements need more people.

Published by The Tribune on June 17, 2020.

, ,

QCT Racism and Injustice Series – Week 2

In last week’s discussion on racism and injustice, we took a look at some of the responses to the Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S. and thought critically about their usefulness. When is an action or response appropriate, and when it is inappropriate? Which actions are we uncertain about? What lessons can we learn from failed responses and successful responses? Check out the video, varied thoughts about specific actions, and ways to assess our idea before we take action.

, ,

QCT Racism and Injustice Series – Week 1

In the coming weeks, I will be hosting a discussion series with young people in the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust (QCT) network about the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S., racism and injustice in Commonwealth countries, solidarity, allyship, and the work to eradicate racism. These conversations are often difficult to have, but they are necessary, and there is a lot for us to learn from each other. In this first conversation, Izzy, Mike, and I ask broad questions to give us a sense of how everyone is feeling, what people are thinking about, and which topics we need to focus on exploring in upcoming sessions.

,

Culture Clash: Black Lives Matter in The Bahamas Too

It’s open season, but don’t worry. They’ll only kill the people they recognize, and only if they’re afraid. The Royal Bahamas Police Force is on a mission, and no one cares to intervene.

Many in The Bahamas have looked on and formed strong opinions of the Black Lives Matter movement and the actions it has taken in response to state-sanctioned killings by police officers. We often feel far-removed from events in the U.S., especially where issues of race are concerned. Black Lives Matter is necessary because black people were — and continue to be — specifically targeted by police.

Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th gave context to the issues of race, policing, and prisons experienced today, linking them to the historical oppression of black people from slavery to the prison industrial complex. Again, we have mentally distanced ourselves from what we read as a U.S.-issue. For most of us, the majority of the people we encounter on a daily basis are black. Our police officers are black. Surely that means we cannot experience racism. That has to mean black people will be treated fairly, and we are free of the oppression African-Americans suffer. Right?

If you hold those opinions, you are definitely wrong. There are two things we need to be aware of — internalized racism and institutional racism.

Internalized racism is learned. As we experience racism, we begin to develop ideas and behaviors that uphold racism. It is systemic, structural, and cross-cultural, so it can pit members of oppressed communities against each other. Think, for example, of how women can internalize misogyny, and begin to support the idea that we would all be better off if we dress and behave in particular ways, finding it easy to look down on a woman of different socioeconomic status, age, or marital status. Internalized racism functions in a similar way. He wouldn’t be pulled over if he would just cut his hair. Stop driving that Honda. Move with less people in his crew. Stay out of that area. We find excuses for people to be violated by those who hold power.

Institutional racism is enforced. It is a pattern of treating a group of people poorly because of their race. Examples include students being sent home from school because their natural hair does not meet the Eurocentric beauty standards. As in this example, the action seems to fit a rule or standard of the institution; not because it is valid, but because the institution was built for the benefit and service of white people. We don’t have to know it is happening to participate in it. Just two years ago, I heard police officers brag about chasing young black men out of the downtown area, sending them “back Ova Da Hill.” Hearing this, I asked them who The Bahamas is for, and why they think they can restrict people’s movement based on race, age, and gender. They could not respond, and were forced to acknowledge, among other issues, institutional bias coupled with internalized racism.

The rhetoric around police killing civilians is ludicrous. People would more readily excuse homicide than interrogate the practices of police officers on the street. The assumption is always that the person must have done something wrong for the police to be engaged, and if they have done something wrong — whatever it is — they deserve death. The entire justice system goes out of the window because we find it more expedient for the police to operate like vigilantes. We do not believe people are innocent until proven guilty. Location, appearance, association, and proximity to a weapon are all valid reasons to meet your demise. Did we believe that Trayvon Martin should have been shot for walking through a neighborhood with a bag of Skittles?

The Royal Bahamas Police Force’s press team has learned to use “in fear for their lives” to convince us that there was a good reason to shoot and kill a citizen. There is a popular opinion that fear is a reasonable excuse for firing a weapon to kill another person. In a social media post, Erin Greene said, “the constant response of ‘in fear’ suggests an emotional response, and not a determination made with critical reasoning skills.” This should terrify rather than assuage us. Are police officers not taught to think critically and consider all options? Even if the decision is to shoot, why shoot to kill rather than incapacitate?

Sure, police officers need to make quick decisions. It is also a reasonable expectation that they are sufficiently trained and able to police themselves. Police officers are not the judge or the jury. They should not be the executioner, especially given the ruling of the Privy Council on the death penalty. Wait.

Perhaps this is the RBPF’s way of carrying out the death penalty. It is entirely possibly that they, as has been rumored, are fed up with the justice system. They are tired of making arrests, putting their lives in danger, and waiting for verdicts. Maybe they are tired of seeing the people they arrested out on bail for extended periods of time, or being found innocent. Is this an informal strategy?

Do not be tricked into believing in a false dichotomy. A commenter on social media said, “We are at a junction in our development where we have to decide on whose side we are on; the police or the heartless criminal.” We must first understand that every person police officers encounter is not a criminal. Even if they are suspects, they have the right to a fair trial. Fighting on the side of criminals is not the same as demanding due process for all. It is not the same as acknowledging the value of a life. A text message to a radio talk show read (in part), “police have to get royal,” meaning they need to take extreme action to send a clear message. This is how the people around us are thinking.

There have been five killings by police in 2018, and 10 since November 2017. Minister of National Security Marvin Dames said, “the focus on counts shouldn’t be the issue.” Just last month, he reminded the PLP that there were 33 homicides in the first two months of 2017, and in September 2017, he noted that crime was down 19 per cent along with other statistics. Numbers are obviously important, and we need to pay attention to trends.

Dames, less than one year into the job, is shirking responsibility. He said of police officers, “[if] he or she feels threatened, I can’t make that decision for them. They have to make that for themselves.” So much for accountability. Zero tolerance only applies to civilians, and police officers can do as they please, so long as they feel fearful or threatened. What a license to have. Is any one else scared out there?

Dames would also have us believe it is excusable that most people killed by police this year were “known to police.” We all know people in this category, for various reasons, who do not have a criminal record. They may wear their pants low or have dreadlocks, and may have spent nights in the police station, but they are not criminals. That’s just too bad. They are known to the police, and it’s open season. What number must we reach, who must be killed, or which scripture do we need to read and understand to intervene in state violence and affirm the humanity of the black Bahamian people we know, do not know, and are “known” to the police?

Published by The Tribune on February 14, 2018.