Residents prepare to toss flowers in remembrance of the lives lost along the middle passage during the transatlantic slave trade.
Photo Credit: Gordon French/BVI Platinum News
The month of February is internationally recognized as Black History Month, and one question out there is whether or not what is recognised as black history contributes in any way to the history of the British Virgin Islands.
Black people all across the globe take full advantage of this month to pay homage to black revolutionists, leaders, preachers and those whose actions have made indelible marks across the world, inflicting miraculous changes and benefits that are widely taken advantage of by black people and persons of other ethnicity.
BVI Platinum News understands that this month usually brings about a strong debate as to whether or not the Territory should focus on persons who are internationally recognized, or locals who have made substantial contributions in the Territory.
Speaking to Art Christopher, President of the African Studies Club in the Territory, he noted that both aspects of history are major facets of who persons of the BVI are as a people, and as black people, highlighting that uniting both is the ideal solution.
Every year, for the last nine years, the club has been celebrating Black History Month through a wreath laying ceremony, in commemoration of black stalwarts and their major and minor achievements that paved the way for blacks globally, in addition to black persons who were enslaved and those who lost their lives as a result of the transatlantic journey.
The ceremony was held earlier this month, February 5th.
In an interview with BVI Platinum News, Mr. Christopher shared, “People view Black History Month as an American invention, and so they don’t see it as being a part of something we should engage in as black people...Some persons feel that we shouldn’t focus on the international black heroes, but focus on local individuals who made contributions here.”
He went on to explain that regardless of one’s geographical setting, all blacks are connected to the movements that occurred in American, European and African states.
“Persons have to be aware that as African people, as black people, there is unity of experience and unity of culture. This shared unity that we have should be embraced and we shouldn’t try to separate ourselves from African persons in Brazil, America or in the Caribbean.”
He added, “If there is an idea or activity that occurs in another Caribbean or African diaspora that affects us as black people, by all means we should embrace it as our own.”
In referencing the debate, Mr. Christopher mentioned that it is often argued the fact that persons in the BVI may have heard more about Malcom X and Martin Luther King, in comparison to local change makers like Wilmoth Blyden or Faulkner and the revolution that occurred. To this, he noted that such is an ongoing process, but neither should be sacrificed.
“We have to recognize that there is unity between the two. It’s not either or, it’s not pushing one at the expense of another, but there has to be inclusiveness and we cannot see ourselves different from because it’s another way of dividing us from ourselves. We are all striving for the same thing.”
On this note, he stated that enough is not being done in the Territory as it relates to local or international black stalwarts, adding that the observance of Black History Month in the BVI is the ideal time to educate the public as to the history of black persons, both locally and internationally, who have made significant contributions.
“Enough is not being done. It’s very obvious. The discussion and debates that should be had surrounding the month, we don’t have them. Both young and the older ones are not educated in these areas.”
On the matter of education, Mr. Christopher stated that the education system which exists in the BVI and the Caribbean puts forward the Eurocentric perspective of blacks and black history, masking what is actually there to be learnt and grasped.
He said, “Other than all the trivia and basic information that comes as part of Black History Month, there has to be an emphasis on what is ours. Black History Month should be a time where we really learn about ourselves and celebrate where we came from. There is our story to be told for persons to appreciate where they came from and all the struggles endured.”
Mr. Christopher also stated that because of the lack of knowledge as black persons, and the stories attached, a number of traditions synonymous with black cultures are extinct or fading out.
“We are now engaging in a cultural pattern for the pursuit of freedom, freedom of speech and freedom of thought, the freedom to do what whatever you want to do. From an African perspective, that is not our highest values. The highest value is one of cooperation, where an individual is not a representation of themselves, but their family and community.”
He noted, “European culture focuses on individualism.”