If you’ve studied Caribbean history, are you familiar with Nanny, Dutty Boukman, King Court, Hercules, Tomboy, Mary Prince, Baby and Limerick?… I am with all but Baby and Limerick (so, homework for me) but those are just a handful of names dropped in an article I read recently, an article which, within the discourse on Black History Month (and the unspoken why it’s necessary to observe it in a majority black part of the world) made the point that we often learn very little of the story of us even in classes that purport to be about the story of us. Unfortunately true, to this day; one of the stains of colonialism.
I couldn’t find a link to the entire article to share, so I decided to type up a section of it and excerpt it (excerpt only, for copyright reasons), because I think it’s an important part of the narrative of us – and certainly for me a reframing of a word (niggeritis) that, in retrospect, we use entirely too casually to this day. The article’s writer is Paul Quinn, writing in his column Eden’s Compass in the March 2nd 2016 edition of the Daily Observer.
I hope he wouldn’t mind me sharing for all the reasons stated. Also, as it references additional reading material, it is consistent with what we do here – nurturing and showcasing the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda:
“Where do you think the pejorative word ‘niggeritis’ came from? It was coined by white folks from the South who claimed that every time black folks ate, we became sluggish and sleepy. Never mind that sluggishness after a meal is a biological fact not limited black folks. What actually happens is that blood rushes from the brain to the stomach to aid in the digestion process, hence the drowsiness. The same thing happens to us during sex where blood rushes from the brain to the, er ‘male appendage’ to facilitate an erection. After ’doing the do’, we become quite drowsy and resistant to ‘lovey dovey’ pillow talk and cuddling in favour of zzzzs!
The point is that we have been the victims of ‘the single narrative’. The true story of who we are as a people and our resistance to slavery has never fully been told. At least, not in the European telling! We have allowed others to define us. Consider John Locke who described us as beasts with weird body features. Or consider Rudyard Kipling who spoke of us as ‘half-devil and half-child’.
These stereotypes of Africans shaped the way that Europeans thought of black people for centuries. And for a while, even shaped the way we thought of ourselves; that we were somehow inferior; that ‘cuss ‘pon black people!’ Thank God for literary works like To Shoot Hard Labour: the Life and Times of Samuel Smith by Keithlyn Smith; The Struggle and the Conquest by Novelle Richards; Bethesda and Christian Hill: Our History and Culture by Joy Lawrence; Sugar: A Bittersweet History by Elizabeth Abbott (related to our Antiguan Abbott family); The History of Mary Prince by Susanna Strickland and Sara Salih; Icon and Myth in a Caribbean Polity: V. C. Bird and Antiguan Political Culture by Douglas Midgett; and the recently published, Troubling Freedom by Natasha Lightfoot. These masterpieces should all be required reading because they fill huge gaps in the story of ‘us’.”
The article goes on to talk about things like Sparrow’s “facetious” treatment of nursery rhymes – a point on which I disagree slightly. Because the author says, explaining his descriptor of Sparrow’s Dan is the Man as facetious, “After all, nursery rhymes and phonics are an integral part of the learning process”. But I think the point we can extrapolate from Sparrow’s references to the fairytales and nursery rhymes we grew up on, at least in part, is why not our nursery rhymes, why not our fairytales. Having written won of the latter recently, it hit me that they are almost uniformly European, so that the foundation of our imagining is already outside of ourselves. I think that’s the larger point. – All portions in italics, except direct quotes, written by JCH All else written by Paul Quinn and excerpted here for informational/educational purposes; with neither I nor Wadadli Pen profiting from it.