Friday, August 2, 2013

Did Marcus Garvey fail?


WHEN Marcus Garvey was urging us black people to take charge of our own destiny and become great, almost a century ago, some admired him, while others thought he was some sort of quack. In this season of Emancipation and Independence, one has to ask: Was Garvey preaching to the wrong people?

At the time when he was preaching, my race, the black race, was the most insignificant on the planet. Africa was under the control of Europe. We blacks in the West were totally dependent on the great white powers for our very existence. Garvey didn't think that black people should be at the bottom of the barrel — being so insignificant and dependent. In this respect, he was one very unusual black man indeed.

I strongly suspect, though, that Garvey would have still felt the need to preach the same message today, almost a century later. Though we blacks have made some progress, we still have a very long way to go. While some of that progress has been had through the efforts of other peoples, other things haven't changed at all.

Take black Africa today. While preaching, and even before, Africa was controlled by the Western powers. Her natural resources were being maximised to the fullest to the glory of these powers. Africans on the continent were either powerless to alter the then situation or willingly gave away these resources.

The same is true today. These days, it is China that is maximising the resources of Africa to create a Chinese superstate. Just as it was in the days of slavery, when we gave away our own for trinkets, we are still doing the same today. The trinkets then were used kitchen utensils, old clothes and even cats; while today, they are cellphones, laptops and shiny new cars. Garvey would have buried his head in shame at the way his message has been ignored.

We in the West also really didn't give two cents about his message either. Our island nation-states in the Caribbean are too insignificant to influence any global issue, except entertainment. Maybe Garvey meant we should be great entertainers; as that is the only area in which we seem good. Nothing great in governance, science and technology can be truly attributed to us black people -- as we keep our exploits to ourselves, or sell them still for trinkets. Garvey would be very disappointed indeed.

We demonstrate how contrary we have been to his message by our actions. We think our own universities are worthless. As such, we crave for the Oxfords, Cambridges, Harvards, and MITs. We think our music is good only when it is validated with an American Grammy. We see our societies as totally hopeless — which explains why we fight so hard to get visas to live in the white paradise of North America and Europe. What was that "Africa for Africans" message again?

I said before that Garvey would have been disappointed, but I sometimes wonder. In the end, it seems, even he became a realist and realised that he may have been preaching to the wrong people after all. When the time came for him to retire, he didn't choose his Jamaican homeland or his African would-be homeland. No, looking at things realistically, he decided that the best place for him after all was Britain.

Maybe the reason he failed to convince us black people that we can be a great people is not only because we think he was nuts — maybe he never really believed his own message either.

July 30, 2013

Jamaica Observer