Actually, this applies to Canada and the UK and France and any country where our Caribbean diaspora resides in large numbers.
Today is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington – one of the high points of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. We hardly have go over the major role which Caribbean-Americans played in the civil rights movement as organisers, as public faces, and as activists. We know the more famous names like Harry Belafonte, Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael and we know of our own relations or friends’ relations who were foot soldiers. Just today, we saw an incredibly moving NPR article about one such foot soldier, Lawrence Cumberbatch from the Brooklyn branch of CORE, who at 16 years old, lobbied his parents to walk (on foot!) from New York to DC to be part of the march. Nowhere in the article did it say he was of West Indian descent but we’re pretty willing to bet that he is, with the last name Cumberbatch and being from Brooklyn – from Bed-Stuy actually..
But back to the present. And why today’s march is not merely commemorative. Because many Caribbean-Americans face the same issues as black Americans. With unjust Stand Your Ground laws in states like Florida, where thousands of our people have migrated to, an edgy, armed, paranoid man is not going to stop and contemplate “oh, that black boy looks like he’s actually from the Caribbean, not the U.S.” before he shoots. And that boy could be your brother who decided to stay and work after finishing college. It could be your cousin’s son. It could be your roommate from UWI or your friend from high school that went up to join their family in the US after finishing school.
Even Attorney General Eric Holder knows this, which is why he had to have the heart-breaking ‘talk’ with his son. And AG Holder is in every way an exemplar of the Caribbean immigrant’s dream. Yet this still does not protect him against the implications of his race, he told the NAACP convention earlier this year:
“[M]y father [sat] down with me to have a conversation – which is no doubt familiar to many of you – about how as a young black man I should interact with the police. This caused me to sit down to have a conversation with my own 15 year old son, like my dad did with me. This was a father-son tradition I hoped would not need to be handed down. But as a father who loves his son and who is more knowing in the ways of the world, I had to do this to protect my boy.”
He had to do this to protect his boy.
There is no Caribbean person who does not have a close relative or friend in the United States. What happened to #Trayvon could happen to one of our loved ones.
But not only that. The recent Supreme Court decision rolling back parts of the Voting Rights Act is aimed squarely at people like us – people of colour and migrants. It’s aimed at reversing the demographic changes that have been loosening the grip on power held by those who would love to continue to oppress our families and friends in ways large and small.
So if you are an islandista living in the United States and particularly if you live in or near DC, now is the time to raise your voice and move your feet. Tomorrow is the time too. And the day after that and the day after that. Because as the events of this year have shown us, this is an ongoing battle.
So take that step today.