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GET REAL: Holes in our education


GET REAL: Holes in our education

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DR BEN CARSON, one of the newest members of the Donald Trump administration, referred to those enslaved during the Transatlantic Holocaust, as immigrants. It was a real, “wuh de so and so I hearing atall!” moment. 

The neuroscientist and politician demonstrated the defects and holes in education that can persist even to the highest levels. These defects in education allow otherwise intelligent people to accept reasonable sounding but problematic ideas like:

• Africans enslaved themselves.

• Whites were enslaved just like Blacks.

• Admiral Nelson saved us from the French.

• Sugar set us free.

And now . . . enslaved Africans were immigrants. 

In his very first address to his staff at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Carson argued: “There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. But they, too, had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”

Who tell he say so?! The online outrage was swift.

Public speaking isn’t easy. You can easily say things you don’t really mean or be misinterpreted, so I searched for some clarity from Carson. Apparently he later defended his statements saying: “I think people need to actually look up the word immigrant. Whether you’re voluntary or involuntary, if you come from the outside to the inside, you’re an immigrant. Whether you’re legal or illegal, you come from the outside to inside, you’re an immigrant. Slaves came here as involuntary immigrants but they still had the strength to hold on.”

“What I’m saying is that those people were strong, they were strong-willed. They didn’t just give up and die like many of the other people who they tried to enslave. And one of the reasons they didn’t just give up and die is because they used the brain God gave them and they figured a time would come when there would be freedom, a time would come when their children could achieve, so unless you have the ability to maintain that hope and that aspiration, you just give up and you die. Our ancestors did not do that.”

When something is simple and easy to understand there is a common saying that goes: “Well, it ain brain surgery.” Ben Carson is an actual brain surgeon. It seems the African Holocaust, better referred to as the Maafa or the Great Disaster, may be harder for some to grasp than the intricacies of neuroscience.

Some may be moved to excuse Dr Carson based on his explanation, where he talks about the strength and willpower of our African ancestors and how they used their brains. Not me. The so-called Amerindians, Native Americans, Tasmanians and other peoples who were wiped to extinction or near extinction, by European invaders did not just give up and die or fail to use their brains. To think that way is to underestimate the brutality and wickedness that is Transatlantic slavery and colonisation; the greatest crime against humanity in recorded history.

Underestimating the evil of the Maafa could lead a well-meaning person to imagine that our ancestors, trapped in the bowels of slave ships, facing rape, torture and murder, were thinking to themselves: “Boy, I can’t wait to be a productive and prosperous member of this society.” 

This thought would eventually arise, but only out of bloody struggle and as a compromise between total enslavement and total freedom. As the saying goes, if you can’t beat them you join them. This may be an especially attractive choice if the other option is death.

“Join them” is the strategy oppressors prefer the oppressed to adopt. They prefer that to, “fight to the bitter end”. And sometimes it may be the wiser choice, to live and fight another day. But there is never any shortage of “joiners” of oppression. Collaborators are often richly rewarded. The colonial project has always relied on collaboration from those within the dominated group. 

To keep people from dominated groups collaborating in the colonial project, the idea that Transatlantic slavery and colonisation were “not that bad” must be pushed. The colonised must be made to either forget the brutality of their past or reframe it, so they can collaborate with the coloniser, and not suffer from pains in their conscience.

Framing enslaved Africans as immigrants helps to ease the conscience of a person who is a descendant of enslaved Africans, but identifies wholeheartedly with the system and institutions that carry on the work of that enslavement.

Referring to the dictionary definition of “immigrant” as justification for the statement was weak. The dictionary gives a word’s meaning. But words also have connotations. The dictionary definition of “immigrant” does not cover its connotation, how it is commonly used, or the feelings, emotions and weight it carries.

To say that enslaved Africans were immigrants is like saying a person who was raped, had sex with their rapist. It is a technically correct but deeply flawed statement. Only someone who appreciates the horror of rape will understand that. Only someone who does not appreciate the horror of the Maafa would call enslaved Africans immigrants.

Unfortunately, even in a predominantly black country like Barbados, an education system has not evolved to properly address the pervasive colonial brainwashing that continues today. The avoidance of the hard history or the reframing of it to sanitise historical villains means we will continue to produce well-educated doctors, lawyers, business persons, economists, politicians etc. whose world view is shape by the colonial project for the benefit of the colonial project.

In some ways, Barbados and the Caribbean may even be behind the United States when it comes to anti-colonial education.

Adrian Green is a creative communications specialist. Email: [email protected]