We feel it important return to the issue of the copycat adoption of Black History Month – an invention to recognize a minority population in another country – in a majority black nation.
While we feel that the month of February would be better used to commemorate the people who came in 1627 with a ‘national heritage month’, it is baffling why African Studies still occupies a token and wholly obligatory space in schools’ curriculum.
The arguments in favour of systematic African studies education have been made by pan-African thinkers and other right-thinking Barbadians: Since the majority of Barbadians can trace their roots to Africa, we should not restrict celebrating this heritage one month of the year; our academic curriculum is too Euro-centric; if you do not know your true history, you cannot make adequate progress in life.
But while the arguments are cogent, proposals that define the length and breadth of African Studies remain vague, and it is this matter that requires direct attention.
There are many prominent and highly competent educators at all levels among the Pan-Africanist community throughout the Caribbean, and if they have not already done so, they should consider drawing up an African Studies syllabus outlining exactly what should be taught at the primary and secondary school level.
For example, in primary school, instead of merely creating projects in February for Black History Month, social studies classes at the junior level should incorporate a few lessons on the different countries in Africa, perhaps starting with the English-speaking ones.
And as they learn about national heroes in their respective countries, the significant “personalities of colour” from Africa and elsewhere in the Diaspora should be included as well. At secondary school level, it is a discipline diverse enough that it could be offered as a separate subject at CSEC and CAPE level.
On the matter of our school curriculum being too Eurocentric, and not knowing our “true history”, we maintain that the threads of both European and African history are as intertwined as they are deep.
As we have alluded in our call for heritage month, it is unrealistic to discard everything European from our societies, while embracing contemporary American culture, which ironically can also trace its roots to Europe as well as Africa, to say nothing of native American origins.
At advanced level in secondary school and in university degree programmes, European history is offered alongside Caribbean history and that of the other cultures that have played a role in shaping the Americas over the last few hundred years.
When the Commission of Pan African Affairs was established in 1999, its first chairman, the late Professor Ikael Tafari, outlined plans to have student exchanges between some of the English-speaking West African nations and Barbados since the education systems were similar.
He also talked about taking local businessmen to the continent to look at new opportunities there. One such “field trip” took place and one local restaurant owner enthusiastically announced that he was going to set up a branch of his fast food company in Soweto, South Africa.
Unfortunately, none of these plans ever came to fruition. Could this be the time to revisit these proposals?
It will take a real change in our mindset as black people living in the colonies to see our motherland differently.
Many of us still have a simplistic and negative view of Africa, no doubt fuelled by the limiting beliefs foisted upon us over the last 400 years by our colonial masters and former slaveowners and fed by modern media.
We still see “dark skin, broad, flat noses, full lips and kinky hair” as unattractive physical features, and from early childhood, we consider people with lighter skin and more Eurasian features ‘prettier’ than their darker counterparts.
The mockery of the ‘stereotypical black image’ continues with white “reality show stars” altering their features with Botox injections in their lips and butt implants to make them bigger.
Our typical images of Africa on the news show starving children, brutal riots in the streets of the lower income neighbourhoods, or flamboyant power hungry presidents who rig elections and viciously suppress their opponents.
Many laughed at Marcus Garvey when he promoted the idea of going back to Africa in the early 20th century, and we still have not embraced that because deep down we still think of Africa as a dark, mysterious, dangerous place where cannibals who run around naked and live in mud huts. Certainly the current president of the United States is sympathetic to this view. And here at home, descendants of Africans dismiss any blood ties we have to Africa, vehemently saying, “I ain’t no African, I’s a Bajan!”
This anti-Africa stance is also reflected in the poor attendance at events held to commemorate Emancipation Day or anything else geared towards the continent.
The irony is many Barbadians truly live in a state of denial because little things that we do every day, like how we prepare the food we eat, the way women style their hair, and the music we create and enjoy all originated on the African continent.
Barbadians of all colours must stop denying one aspect of their lives that is visible to all and sundry and accept our African roots. We should also do more to reach out to Africans who have made their homes in Barbados as well as Barbadians who have lived on the continent for several years, and encourage them to tell their stories. And as we listen to them, we will develop a better understanding of those countries in their current state, either via unbiased documentaries, or better yet, where practical and possible, spending some time on the continent itself.