Black History Month is not just about slavery, but accomplishments Loop Cayman Islands

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The content originally appeared on: Cayman Compass

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Commentary on Black History Month

By Alric Lindsay

Some Caymanians who studied in universities in the United States will be familiar with the acknowledgement of the accomplishments of people of African descent in February of each year. This is commonly referred to as “Black History Month,” where the achievements of inventors, artists, educators, soldiers, artists, poets, ministers, and businessmen are celebrated all month long.

As to the reason for especially highlighting the achievements of people of African descent, Carter G. Woodson, writing about the success of Negro History Week, which occurred in or around February 1926 (the precursor to Black History Month), said the following, according to The Journal of Negro History:

If a race has no history, if it has no worth-while tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.

Woodson added:

Not to know what one’s race has done in former times is to continue always a child. “If no use were made of the labor of past ages,” it has been said, “the world would remain always in the infancy of knowledge.” The Negro knows practically nothing of his history and his “friends” are not permitting him to learn it. The Negro, therefore, is referred to as a child-like race.

Looking at the “knowledge” that has been shared in Cayman, it is noted that, for decades, very little was imparted within the Cayman education system regarding the achievements of inventors, artists, educators, soldiers, artists, poets, ministers, and businessmen of African descent.

As a result, unless Caymanians studied overseas and learned more about these accomplishments or unless they took the initiative themselves to learn more, or unless they were taught by parents who had the requisite knowledge, they may find that a chunk of history is missing from their appreciation and understanding of the world as they know it. Put another way, some Caymanians may still be in “the infancy of knowledge,” as Woodson described.

With information missing, some local scholars, including Dr Steve McField, have sought from time to time to share what they know about the accomplishments of people of African descent.

Dr McField’s most recent thoughts on this and Black History Month were recently recorded on the Off The Record show hosted by Orrett Connor.

Dr McField said:

There is so much history about our people that we hide and that we don’t want other people to know. And most of it… most people are denying their African side of their families… their African heritage. They don’t want to hear about that.

And sometimes… when I ask them “What is your descent,” they tell me they [are] from Europe and so forth.

Objectively speaking, if more people had in-depth knowledge of the positive contributions of people of African descent (instead of only the images of slavery and brutalities committed against people of African descent), they may celebrate those accomplishments more and openly acknowledge African lineage and connection to African descendants.

With such acknowledgement and celebration, more Caymanians could, perhaps, be uplifted daily and approach everything with a newfound confidence. They would have this confidence because they are proud of their achievements and those of their ancestors, including those of African descent.

The danger of not doing this and Cayman not celebrating these accomplishments daily is that it could impact how some Caymanians view themselves, how they view others, and how others view them. Perhaps even misunderstandings or misinterpretations.

Any such lack of understanding or misinterpretations could lead to what Woodson referred to as “race prejudice,” which he said “is not something inherent in human nature” but “merely the logical result of tradition” where “the inevitable outcome of thorough instruction [is] to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind.”

By teaching the truth, Woodson intimated that people would see “that one race has not accomplished any more good than any other race, for God could not be just and at the same time make one race the inferior of the other.”

By not teaching the truth, Woodson said:

If you leave it to the one to set forth his own virtues while disparaging those of others, it will not require many generations before all credit for human achievements will be ascribed to one particular stock. Such is the history taught the youth today.

Therefore, it is critical that those of African descent in Cayman try to share and teach the historical truth. If they do not, the inevitable scenario described above will be realised and thrive as reality, ultimately elevating one group as significant and others as insignificant.