April 18, 2013 5 Comments
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[It being 5 a.m. I humbly ask the reader overlook the cumbersome style and read on]
The following is an excerpt of an email I received today:
We are living in very precarious times with massive cuts and drastic changes to legislation which means that such things as Equality Impact Assessments and funding for single issue projects are all but disappeared We need to ask the question where to now? [sic] How much can we influence policies and deter the demise of Black political, economical and cultural influence.
At first glance the statement looks somewhat innocuous, and one could even make a good case for its reasonability, but when I look at the underlying thesis which drives this sort of pronouncement I am forced to simply shout and scream at my screen, because the latent principle is this: That Black (by which the email refers to – and I will throughout this piece refer to – those members of the Caribbean and (West) African diaspora in the UK and their British born descendants) political, economical and cultural significance is dependent upon government legislated spending and all the trappings of the welfare state. Do I have a problem with the welfare state? Not in principle. Do I have a problem with government spending helping our communities from whose pockets taxes are raised? Not in principle. So, what exactly causes my utter revulsion? It is the notion that the success of our Black communities depends upon the State and not on our own collective inspiration, intuition & innovation. This is a grievous error and one which I wish to elucidate upon a little further under four short headers:
- A denial of the past
- A betrayal of the future
- The destruction of our community
As I alluded to earlier, hope in government for that which government is responsible for is right and proper. What is not right and proper is a reliance upon government (the state) for the advancement of a people wholesale and it is this which the sender is seeking to promulgate. The impression given then is that without total government intervention, the various Black communities in the UK cannot advance politically, economically or culturally. I find the last one absolutely laughable. God fobid the day where the myriad of African & Caribbean cultural experience cannot effectively be lavished upon the British landscape by the very people to whom these rich traditions belong!
In the final analysis government whether big or small will always fail. As a Christian, my anthropological worldview tells me that this is a natural inevitabliity. Government, no matter how grand in promise, generous in vision or great in size will fail simply because government is the coming together of a flawed, corrupted humanity. Is this then to engender in us some daily apocalyptic complex? Perish the thought. It is however a moment for pause for the consideration that one must, though one is just as flawed, take steps to order order one’s affairs in relation to the larger, national society as well as those many smaller levels of society to which one finds oneself placed in by Providence, the family, the local community and keenly in the present case, the cultural community both near and far; for a more effective, though still limited, outlook.
A denial of the past
I touched on the cultural impact under Statism. One brief example I would draw our attention to are the carnivals which through the late 1950s, 60s and 70s initiated by Caribbean immigrant communities the length and breadth of Britain. Suffice to say that this brand of carnival was born in the colonies of the West Indies and South America often both in defiance to and self conscious collective affirmation in the face of, colonial masters. These colourful carnivals were imported to Britain and continue to this day. Indeed it is this second point where I want to look at as a denial of our past. The generation of my grandparents, the Windrush and post Windrush generations (West Indian immigrants of 1948 and the following decade) and indeed African migrants of the 80s and 90s did not come to seek a land of plenty to suck it dry, they stepped off ships and aeroplanes in the overwhelming main as principled, hardworking and determined people groups and they brought their culture to bear upon their new home by themselves, often borne out of the struggles which they faced in the face of a frosted and hostile ‘welcome’.
Economic and to a smaller extent political influence and self-organisation was something begotten within their own bosom. They did not wait for the State to provide their needs. No, this was their own work, supported where needed by the State but not in its whole or majority part, of the State.
A betrayal of the future
If you do not know where you are coming from, you do not know where you are going. That mantra, or something akin to it is often whimsically noted to bolster some sense of heritage in an upcoming generation. In our present case it is a mantra worth employing. If this attitutde of state dependence is passed on to future generations the fault will be squarely ours. We have already seen over the half century period of mass immigration from the West Indies and Africa that this principle does not work. Whether it was the overt racism of the 1950s or the Sus laws of the 1980s, we have never and can never rely on the State to support the sender’s aspiration of increased political, economical and cultural influence. The fact that it is plain lazy and that that child is hardly ever a blessed one to whom the parent passes on such a lackadaisical spirit, and apart from as I have said it does not work; one needn’t strain to realise that by both history and reason we see that those times of greatest increase in our communities have been ones where we have taken the lead and shaped our own destiny as a collective unit working together, solving our own problems and forging our own future. We are then duty bound to set in motion such a pattern for ourselves and for those who would come after us!
The destruction of our community
My final point will be short, I have said much what I would say here above. Where we look to the government alone to provide, this sort of community progression the sender wishes, ceases to look inward – amongst ourselves as a unit. We cease to push ourselves, our neighbours and our children for individual betterment and therein for the much greater end of familial and communal advancement. We look to another and so do not look to ourselves. To live with our hands constantly out means our hands will never be put to the plough, unearthing new ground together, planting seeds for the future, sustaining our generations to come. It is obscene that we would forget that our forefathers lived, breathed and died together and that we could ignore eachother but for a collective shout, to say to those powers that be, “give us more!”
My main concern here is that our historic sense of community is ignored and that initial gravitating point is clouded in the constant push for State sponsored progress as a people, only to find that when we have returned to our meeting house nobody else came, because they too forgot what was of true importance: not simply our end but the means by which our end game was to be realised, together as a people united.