Reflections on Emancipation – a voice from the Diaspora

On Emancipation Day, I could not help but reflect on some pointed moments that occurred within the past year that increased my curiosity in learning about my African identity as part of the diaspora.

During one of my earlier weeks in London, I attended a conference on Investing in Africa, and being the only representative from the Caribbean I remembered an attorney asking what augured my interest in such an event—as he was of the view that Africans from the Caribbean made it their intent to distance themselves from Africans from Africa.

Of course I asked him about whether he knew of Marcus Garvey (Jamaican) and Kwame Ture (Trinidadian) and their influence on the Pan-Africanism movement. Let us just say this conversation went longer than we expected but we both left enriched with a lot of sharing and learning.

Then I remembered attending a Windrush exhibition where I listened to an interview from C.L.R James who expressed his concern about Africans from the Caribbean and their lack of interest in going to Africa to learn about their identity. I also reflected on my experience in Washington DC where I was so amazed by the distinct experiences of African Americans and the inherent and institutional challenges that influence their outlook on life and their realities.

Hearing of gentrification and changing communities, I also explored some noted communities here in the United Kingdom and learnt of the Brixton riots in the 1980s and the experiences and challenges faced by black people (many of second-generation Caribbean immigrants).

Crucially, I came across the story of Claudia Jones—a Trinidadian and political activist living in the UK in the 1950s and 60s—who founded the Notting Hill Carnival as a means of bringing together West Indians in their fight against racism after the Notting Hill riots of 1958. The Notting Hill Carnival is still expanding today— it is Europe’s biggest street party attracting two million people each year—acting as a riposte to increasing racism and bigotry by uniting not only black people of African and Caribbean descent but individuals from other races and cultures too.

As such, Emancipation Day is highly significant to me—because it is so easy to say that we are all the same because we are all of an African identity and the only difference is where our boats stopped. I believe there’s so much more to it than that. As a citizen of a pluralistic society such as Trinidad and Tobago, with a melting pot of races and ethnicities I recognise that our identity contextualises to where we are rooted.

To this our role today requires much more from us, despite our career, status, country or region! Especially, with the many societal transformations occurring frequently that comes with the price of the erosion of traditions, histories and communities; our differences should enable us to learn from each other and share with others. Such an outlook cannot come without an appreciation of other African cultures and their global influences. It’s a matter of finding ways to continue to strengthen our bonds and learn more about what it means to be African.

Our African identity as part of the diaspora should be as important as our other identities. We are here because of our ancestors’ struggles, optimism and yearning. We are our ancestors’ wildest dreams!

Lisa Theodore (@LisaT44) is a Fulbright Scholar and recent LLM graduate of  Georgetown University Law School, Washington D.C. She was admitted to the Bar of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) in 2015 after completing her legal practice education at the Hugh Wooding Law School (Honours) and obtaining her LLB (First Class Honours) from the University of West Indies, St. Augustine. She is also a past fellow of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and Programme Associate at UNDP(T&T). Her focus includes Caribbean legal jurisprudence development, anti-corruption, public procurement, labor, development, legislative reform, public policy, human rights and gender. She also enjoys singing and learning about other legal cultures and systems.

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