“Supporting Culture” - 10 aug 2008

Moving towards 2020

Derren Joseph

“Supporting Culture”

One of the pillars of Vision 2020 is Nurturing a Caring Society.  This section speaks of concepts such as social cohesion, social capital and social inclusion – in other words, coming together as one.
Last weekend saw many of us who didn’t make the pilgrimage to Great Fete or Crop Over, enjoying the local emancipation celebrations.  As usual, there were many good events around the country and some solid articles in the press around the event.  For instance, Anand Ramlogan reprinted a now famous 2004 speech from Bill Cosby that reminded me of the challenges facing the diaspora.  The speech invites us to take individual responsibility for moving forward positively, despite the terrible legacy of colonialism.    
Colonialism and slavery, among other things, severely impacted the black psyche, and the development of the African Diaspora.  This means that African diasporal communities continue to manifest symptoms including poor social cohesion, social capital deficiency and suffer disproportionately from issues of social exclusion.  In principle, it’s easy for Cosby to say – ‘start parenting’.  One of my old economics lecturers would say that it is ‘necessary, but not sufficient’.  Because in practise, repairing the ruptured social fabric requires deliberate effort at not just the level of the individual, but also at the national level.
Cultural pride, promotion and celebration is often argued to be a key component in addressing this disrupted social fabric.  Personally, over the past two decades, I have seen a journey from shame to pride.  Over the past couple decades, I have seen a shift in attitude towards African culture around the annual emancipation celebration.  There was a time when it was considered a fringe movement of sorts, and as such, did not receive much visible support.  Today however, the Emancipation celebration is more mainstream, and like other national cultural festivals like Divali and Eid, enjoys the participation of a wide cross section of the community.  The Emancipation Support Committee should be commended for the work they have done and continue to do to promote the festival and to promote African culture in general.  I especially enjoyed the performances by the music/dance troupe from Uganda hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – very stirring performances - well done to all those who facilitated them being here. FBAR Form Singapore
Emancipation Support Committee communications and education officer, Shabaka Kambon, tells me that the increasing popularity of the celebration mirrors a change in prevailing thought.  At one time, we looked down on non-Western cultures and prevailing thought was that assimilation was the objective - where we downplayed our ancestors’ origins and embraced a ‘Trinbagonian’ identity.  Today however, the thinking is that there is greater benefit in embracing our diversity - i.e. embracing the culture of the places from which our ancestors came.  Mutual respect for all the rich cultures that make up our beloved country.  The fact is that it’s harder to respect others when we have little respect for ourselves, so it is important that to continue the ongoing shift from shame to pride.  Shabaka recalled the earlier days when his emancipation talks were not so well received.  He contrasts this with a more recent experience, when he began his presentation by saying ‘I am an African’ and the audience stood up and applauded.
So yes, there has been some progress.  Cultural promotion and pride has been a part of that formula.  The fact that we could even seriously discuss the next President of the United States being African-American is testimony to that.  But despite tangible progress, all is definitely not well with the diaspora here in Trinidad and Tobago.  The journey still continues...actually, the journey of the emancipation celebration into wider acceptance reminds me of the journey of the steel pan from its journey from the fringe to mainstream acceptance.
Nevertheless, it now appears that our local celebration is not just entertaining and engaging those resident here, but it is also attracting overseas visitors.  Shabaka goes on to explain that aside from tourists, delegates from other territories in Latin America and even Africa have visited to note how Trinidad and Tobago celebrates Emancipation. 
Leaving the collective healing aside for a moment, as a business person, I believe that there are benefits beyond the social ones to be gained from the annual emancipation celebrations.  There may be economic benefits that extend even beyond tourism.  I remember reading Charles Handy and Sir Peter Hall who believe that economic prosperity is not so much dependent on the ability of an economy to make things but more on the ability to generate ideas that can then be sold to the world.  Singapore has aggressively promoted art and culture as a means of not just stimulating innovation locally, but attracting international talent to relocate and invest there.  So as in the case of Singapore, let’s continue to support all of our culture, as we move towards Vision 2020.

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