As the Black community once again celebrates Black History Month, it does so in a charged climate of hyper-racism, national arrogance, and party-political divisiveness not seen in either present or past American history. Maybe I'm wrong and racism is now more exposed thanks to 21st century technology that makes bad behavior at every level "just a text or email away," and creates the appearance of constant, unrelenting racist fires burning and burning out of control.
Or maybe it's my imagination that the daily, incessant public displays of racism and bigotry has become so intense and unending that it appears to be much harsher and more widespread then anytime in modern recollection. No matter, today's manifestations of racism are a sick reminder that America will not be a color-blind nation anytime soon. Not with racism being jacked up on steroids and producing every and all forms of bigots and political lunatics.
But there's both good and some bad in looking at the Caribbean contribution to Black History. For a start, nobody can doubt the sterling contributions of Caribbean-Americans to the growth and development of the United States. And it's been a long history of proven commitment by those who have made this country their adopted homeland.
In my opinion, Black History month is much more than the commemoration of the achievements of a few handpicked Black historical luminaries. And it's certainly more than a recitation and recognition of a number of carefully sanitized historical contributions. To me, important though these are, Black History must also be about the unsung heroes, the people who supported the Black Liberation movement, and those who braved the violence of the white superstructure to make their voices heard.
From a Caribbean-American standpoint Black History is firstly a description of the odyssey of struggle, protest and resistance by a dispossessed group of Americans in an effort to force states and this nation to live up to its promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - ideals so prominent in the American creed. Indeed, Black History is a reaffirmation and acknowledgement that both African-Americans and Caribbean-Americans have a common bond and stake in the quest to attain the promise of this creed.
Black history is littered with the contributions of many Caribbean-Americans to this struggle. This was and is a process that has been enriched and continued by waves of immigrants from the Caribbean. Many Caribbean-American, first, second and third generation immigrants, have played important roles in this fight for Black emancipation and liberation. Early immigrants such as Pan - Africanists Edward Blyden, George Padmore and Marcus Garvey, and poet activist Claude McKay, were among the first Caribbean-Americans to become well known and well respected in the African-American's struggle for racial equality.
Still, not so long ago, it used to be the politically correct thing to deny one's Caribbean roots. Indeed, early Caribbean immigrants, then relatively few in number, only wanted to assimilate into the American mainstream. Those who came before cautioned newcomers to "not rock the boat." Hide your Caribbean identity;" learn to speak "Yankee" in a few days. Never speak in public about the "old country." But even with this old timeish sentiment that found favor among certain limited sections of the growing Caribbean community, Caribbean nationals, later to be fully assimilated into American life with the honorific name "Caribbean-Americans," formed alliances, and remained at the vanguard of the Black Liberation struggles in their adopted homeland.
It should also be noted that while Caribbean-Americans joined their African-American brothers and sisters in the struggle for civil rights and helped underpin and strengthen the Civil Right Movement in the United States, many Caribbean leaders "back home" were inspired by the American Civil Rights movement.
Indeed, the American Civil Rights Movement in some aspects mirrored the struggles of Caribbean Blacks for independence and self-determination from the British Colonial master. Thus, the struggle in the English-speaking Caribbean colonies to bring about decolonization, independence, and nationhood drew inspiration, tactics and strategies from their American counterparts.
Many of the pro-independence leaders in the movement for Caribbean nationhood Jamaica's Norman Manley, Trinidad's Eric Williams, Guyana's Cheddi Jagan and Linden Forbes Burnham, Grenada's Eric Gairy, Jamaica's Alexander Bustamante, and Barbados's Errol Barrow for example, were influenced by the audacious attempts of charismatic Black American leaders as Dr. Martin Luther King and others who were not afraid to challenge the American monolith, even at the point of threats to their own personal safety.
But interaction and cooperation between both Black groups has not always been without periodic and sporadic conflict. The entrenched white status quo often resorted to divide and rule tactics to drive a wedge between them and create conflicts based on imagined differences and articulated stereotypes. So that in the last decade of the 20st century, Caribbean-Americans and African-Americans held negative stereotypes of each other and rarely interacted socially.
But by the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s first and second generation Caribbean-Americans downplayed their ethnicity and attempted to integrate into the African -American community. However, both groups' images and perceptions of each other changed slowly. For example, General Colin Powell, in his autobiography, My American Journey (1995), recalls his African-American father-in-law's reaction when he proposed marriage to his daughter Alma: "All my life I've tried to stay from those damn West Indians and now my daughter is going to marry one!"
By the late 1960s, with the Civil Rights and Black Liberation Struggles emphasis on racial solidarity and group identity, the conflicts between both Black groups rapidly eroded. It was supplanted by Black Nationalist sentiments and identity with many prominent Caribbean-Americans joining and leading the struggle. Since the 1990s many Caribbean-Americans, who actually come from racial/ethnic lineages - African, Chinese, East Indian, Portuguese, Amerindian for example have been called and accepted the generic term "Caribbean-American" to describe then as opposed to the old "West Indian."
Today, in 2020, the term "Caribbean -- American" is synonymous with hard work, a growing community of highly literate and skilled people, a landed immigrant community taking hold of and fashioning with a true exotic "Caribbean flavor" all those areas of American infrastructure -from government to religion. However, in recent times there has been a kind of "two steps forward three steps backwards," movement in the forward march of Caribbean-Americans to self-sufficiency and empowerment.