Shifting Human Objects: Denmark, Domination and Exploitation

The theme for the second Fellow-Me! encounter in Bremen – Shifted Objects, resonates with me; I am the topic in the same way that I am my ancestors, who were considered nothing but objects to be shifted for profit in the three centuries of European trafficking, domination and exploitation of African bodies during the Holocaust of enslavement.  The post-colonial trauma of this Holocaust has been reverberating over the past two centuries and inspires my revolutionary standpoint politics.

20160618_182854

While many historians erroneously start Caribbean history with the colonial encounter of Europeans with the local native populations, this point of departure only serves to compound the severe identity crisis from which the region is still suffering.  A more accurate introduction is an acknowledgement that Africans used the natural movement of the trade winds to travel and culturally interact with the Tainos, hundreds of years before the arrival of Christopher Columbus who mistakenly asserted that he discovered the “West Indies” (van Sertima, http://thehouseofsankofa.com/books/Ivan-Van-Sertima-They-Came-Before-Columbu.pdf) .

20160809_220622[1]

Furthermore, the Africans enslaved in the Holocaust, emerged from several civilizations, whose advancement vis-à-vis Europeans’ makes it shocking that they were duped for centuries into complicity – along with Arab enslavers – with their own oppression. The  races were definitely not equal in one fundamental regard; African middlemen were greedy for guns and rum, which constituted their principal reward for capturing and trading their fellow continental citizens whereas Europeans were galvanised by racism, capitalism and the power afforded them to conquer Africans for intergenerational profits.

Image result for what goods did europeans trade with africans during slavery

This has been a costly enterprise for the African Continent, which has been chronically underdeveloped as a consequence (Rodney, 1973, http://abahlali.org/files/3295358-walter-rodney.pdf) in the process. Colonialism was extraordinarily profitable for the protagonists of this dehumanizing, objectifying endeavor, which fueled the Industrial Revolution in Europe.

Despite this inversion, many detailed accounts of the Euro-American Industrial  Revolution  elide the connection between colonialism and the extraordinary profits derived therefrom and the acceleration of these continents’ development  (http://images.google.de/imgres?imgurl=http://cdn.historydiscussion.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/AB252179-2161-4E31-A8A9-CB67560AD369.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.historydiscussion.net/history/industrial-revolution/history-of-the-industrial-revolution/1784&h=768&w=1024&tbnid=6ykZGgeEAqT2EM:&tbnh=90&tbnw=120&docid=ytrUOUBwgBrfiM&usg=__8pWwsg5gbVQXJGjwiJ8UqXIs5KM=&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjw45ab17POAhUJYJoKHa9VDbcQ9QEIKTAD).

Image result for european and american colonies

Colonial connections of the Industrial (r)evolution

However, it does not take rocket science to figure out that it was by enriching themselves from the human and material resources garnered from Africa and colonies in the Caribbean, North and South America and Asia that these nations were able to leverage their wealth and power from backward agrarian status to mechanisation and capitalism.

Locator Map of US Virgin Islands

2017 will mark the centennial of the sale of the Virgin Islands and its citizens to the United States of America or $25 million (over $509 million in today’s money). This anniversary inspired the Flensburg Maritime Museum’s formulation of the project Koloniales Erbe-Colonial Legacy, which seeks to document an African Caribbean perspective on Danish colonial legacy in Flensburg, Virgin Islands of the US and Ghana.COLONIAL LEGACY SØNDERJYLLAND-SCHLESWIG is a joint project of the Flensburg Maritime Museum, Museum Sønderjylland – Cultural History Aabenraa and the Collection Schleswig of the Danish Central Library Flensburg.The overall project “Colonial Legacy” is co-funded by KursKultur with the support of partners of the Region Sønderjylland-Schleswig, the Danish Cultural Ministry and the Ministry of Justice, Culture and European Affairs of Schleswig-Holstein. This project is also funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

Danish colonialism is usually told – or repressed – from a Eurocentric point of view.  My job is therefore to interrogate Denmark’s s attempt to erase one hundred and seventy-five years of ruthless colonial participation in the institution of enslavement.  In the 1917 sale transaction, emancipated Africans were seen as expendable since they had served the purpose of enriching Denmark with their unremunerated labour. Maintaining the islands would have threatened the security of their enormous fortune in the aftermath of emancipation.  Supporting wagd labour of Africans would have obliged expenditure, which was obviously not a desirable development.  The consequent question of uncertain citizenship, a direct result of the US acquisition of these three strategically located islands, is of considerable concern to the Virgin Islanders.

It is also important to trace the process of Danish colonial intervention in Ghana, which entailed the acquisition of considerable human and material capital. The wealth generated from the unremunerated production and reproduction of Africans on plantations in the Caribbean was derived from the oppression and exploitation of multiple millions of men, women, girls and boys. Protagonists of racialised Empire  considered Africans objects of domination; their so-called owners who bought and sold them for centuries, shifting their bodies around as if they were nothing more than inconsequential, dehumanised scraps.

Denuded of their identity garb, branded as property, forced to labour and reproduce to multiply their utility value, Africans were coerced into mental, physical and spiritual conceptions of themselves as inferior to their enslavers in a reversal of reality so profound that the detrimental effects remain to this day.  And unless we remember, with critical consciouness, we are doomed to repeat this Holocaust. As Marcus Garvey said in this regard, “A people without knowledge of its past is like a tree without roots.”

Marcus and Amy Jaques Garvey: a winning team. Amy edited and published Marcus’ Philosophy and Opinions

In producing this project, I am inspired by Nina Simon’s suggestion  that museums should be participatory in content and methodology to be relevant to their audiences. As she emphasises

audience-centric design processes start by mapping out audiences of interest and brainstorming the experiences, information, and strategies that will resonate most with them” (http://www.participatorymuseum.org).

10_0122_tpm_cover

This approach resonates with me because I have been practising Participatory Action Research (PAR) for years.  This methodology is reflected in the interactions I recently had with research participants with whom I have been engaged in the Virgin Islands and in   Flensburg and will do shortly in Ghana.

20160704_154028

The consultative engagement revealed that Africans were not hapless victims despite their intimacy with European oppression and exploitation.  Bamboula represents this spirit of resistance, which informed persistent African revolt against the entrenched practices of European demoralisation.  I met with some seventy persons in the Virgin Islands in round tables and individual discussions in order to find out their views on Danish and, as it turned out, USA colonialism.  I endeavoured to figure out what they would want to see included in the proposed research outputs. The responses to this outreach were overwhelming.

Notably, in St. Thomas, Senator Myron D. Jackson, his assistant Ayesha Morris and Legislature staff facilitated two round-table consultations with significant community participants, which produced extraordinary content. This data will inform the exhibition and paper. Kudos to all who so generously shared their views, intelligence and were receptive to the proposal to actively participate in the traveling exhibition.

I recently started a similar process in Flensburg in the World Cafe presentation and will continue this consultation in Ghana at the end of the year.  This traveling exhibition will therefore reflect the views of the audience whose contribution to the formulation of the content of the exhibition demonstrates an interrogation of the traditionally hierarchical relationship between curator and audience.

 

20160618_183141

In Flensburg, formerly a part of Denmark (now Germany) there is little or no knowledge about the progeny of the people who their progenitors oppressed and exploited.  This ignorance is exemplified in the staging of the annual Rum Regatta, as a celebration of the “local” production of rum.  There is little awareness that this family day ritual is directly related to of the ravaging of the human and natural resources embodied on the Caribbean sugar plantation, the quintessential space of European debauchery.

20160618_175216

Denmark’s colonial involvement incorporated the three spaces of the infamous Transatlantic Triangle among Europe, Africa and the Caribbean.The shifting of objects – principally of violence – and human subjects who were objectified and dehumanised to justify this enterprise, demonstrated the de-moralising dimension of Euro-Arab-African complicity in a peculiar form of criminality.

Ships leaving Europe first stopped in Africa where they traded weapons, ammunition, metal, liquor, and cloth for captives taken in wars or raids. The ships then traveled to America, where slaves were exchanged for sugar, rum, salt, and other island products. The ships returned home loaded with products popular with the European people, and ready to begin their journey again (http://images.google.de/imgres?imgurl=http://www.mrdowling.com/images/710slaves2.png&imgrefurl=http://www.mrdowling.com/710-slavery.html&h=338&w=300&tbnid=5a_8aw84qsC9PM:&tbnh=122&tbnw=108&docid=bp1zT2NOWbMmLM&usg=__zvsUjwGCH4S3l7OwZUZvAyDihrw=&sa=X&sqi=2&ved=0ahUKEwjCk6bA5rHOAhUiLcAKHWCxDq0Q9QEILzAD).

This reference does not mention that Europeans also profited from human trafficking, and unequal exchange of goods like gold, ivory, spices and wooden objects, which were undervalued in Africa. Yet the concentration of colonial activities in Ghana and the Virgin Islands resulted in the extraordinary enrichment of countries like the Northern European Empire of Denmark.

Contact: Dr. Imani Tafari-Ama

tafari-ama.imani@stadt.flensburg.de

 

 

Advertisements

Colonialism: Racist Terrorism

Although much discourse currently abounds about what constitutes threats to citizen security, there is a shortage of analysis about Euro-American colonialism as racist terrorism – for profit.  It is remarkable too, that there are disclaimers in historical accounts that represent Danish colonialism as “mild” when there was nothing hesitant about the application of over two centuries of racist Danish colonial terrorism in the Virgin Islands. Moreover, while the USA currently wages wars, ostensibly against terrorism [a nameless, faceless enemy] and claims to be deploying democracy as a foreign policy, this narrative is a cover-up.  In reality, USA occupation and aggression entails extraordinary human rights violations, which are normalised as governance of places like the Virgin Islands.

20160706_154917

Rothschild Francis, Civil Rights Activist, St. Thomas

There is no doubt that the cruel conspiracy of enslavement, enacted among Europeans, Arabs and Africans, unleashed raw, racist terrorism on over 40 million Africans, at home and in the Diaspora. Denmark, the 7th largest European coloniser, maintained colonies for almost two centuries. The extent of injustice meted out to the majority class before and after the USA purchase of the Virgin Islands and its people – an illegal and immoral transaction with Denmark, propelled Rothschild Francis, icon from St. Thomas, to become  a passionate social justice activist.

Rothschild Francis was a civil rights leader in the Virgin Islands after the 1917 transfer from Danish to United States sovereignty. His foray into politics was born from a need to address the causes of the economic, social and political disparities that created undue hardships for Virgin Islanders (http://stthomassource.com/content/news/local-news/2013/10/11/analysis-rothschild-francis-and-fight-democracy-part-1).

 

20160704_184026

Street Mural, Frederickstead, St. Croix

Despite the fact that Africans won their emancipation from Danish enslavement in 1848, the Danish and United States of American government authorities illegally entered into a transaction of sale of the Virgin Islands for the lucrative sum of $25 million in gold.  Today Virgin Islanders cynically say that this was the most expensive real estate transaction ever; the islands’ budget is still supported by the Federal government, nearly a century after Transfer. This  ongoing investment demonstrates that the strategic value of the so-called Territory [a term that rattles peoples’ nerves] is even more important than the current settler colonials might care to admit.  The terrorist dimension of this Transfer was that “Custody claims by both the United States and Denmark not only caused fragmentation of the records but denied Virgin Islanders access to their collective memory” (http://americanarchivist.org/doi/pdf/10.17723/aarc.64.1.h6k872252u2gr377).

20160706_160705

Former Danish King, Christian IX

 

20160704_154740

Having garnered immeasurable wealth and prestige from criminal colonial pursuits, it is  scandalous that there has been a rigging of European history, a consensus of forgetting that facilitates the psychotic condition called colonial amnesia. This systematic suppression of colonial memory has disfigured the moral compass of the European Continent.

I have often pondered the contradiction that Europeans pride themselves on being the champions of Christianity yet justified their terrorist practices. Despite all the morality that they set out to bestow on colonised people of colour, it is amazing that no-one was tapping anyone on their enslaving shoulders to remind and restrain each other in the name of said moral responsibility.

What is even more profound was that after the cantankerous enslavement system was routed by rebellious African resistors and their European and mixed race free allies, von Bismark, then German Chancellor, hosted 14 European nations for six months (1884-85) to scramble for Africa.  They all agreed to participate in the dastardly African underdevelopment (Rodney, 1973) with no one recorded as voicing any objection.

Since being employed as an International Fellow at the Flensburg Maritime Museum in Germany to curate an exhibition and write a paper on Danish Colonial Legacy in Flensburg, the Virgin Islands and Ghana from an African Caribbean perspective, I have had to do some serious critical reflection on this psychosis of forgetting, a sort of self-hypnosis, which enables Danes and Germans alike, who have to be considered together because of their entangled histories, to convince themselves to this day, that their Empire days was a project of noble civilisation of backward Africans. The political economy of the carving up of the African Continent is conveniently forgotten.

africa's resources 1000

Even my consciousness that the European refusal to acknowledge the criminality of racist colonial terrorism is a ruse to refuse to recognise reparations responsibility had not prepared me for the bald double unconsciousness regarding colonial memory. This contrived amnesia is a pathology that demands a forensic audit. Such pervasive schizophrenia must mean of course, that there is collusion among all institutions of socialization – home, school, media, popular culture, church, musea, politics -in a word, society, to bury any evidence or remorse. As one participant from a research encounter observed,  “They all put a blanket on the past.”

Describing this rationalisation as repression, Andersen (2013) elaborates that

The initial experiences of colonialism have been screened at different points in time rendering the past in versions very far from the actual historical events themselves. Recently, new claims for reparations for slavery and colonialism in the former Danish West Indies have challenged the existing notions of the colonial past in Denmark. These claims have not resulted in an official Danish politics of regret…as witnessed in other former colonial states. Whereas, a radical break away from the earlier conceptions of the colonial past is demanded, instead new figurations and renarrations have been used to try to incorporate the new challenges to the historical imaginary into the older layers of memory without radically breaking away from it, creating somewhat surprising results that questions (sic) the notions of a uniform global memory and understanding of historical injustices (Andersen, 2013: 1, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10767-013-9133-z#/page-1).

20160724_182145

Problematic characterisation of the Virgin Islands, decontextualising the production of rum from enslavement

When I presented on these issues at the Flensburg World Cafe, held Thursday (July 28, 2016) at the Flensburger Schifffahrtsmuseum, it was fascinating to marshal the panoramic range of response to the revelations of multilayered colonial realities that I encountered when I visited the Virgin Islands of the United States from June 26-July 7, 2016. I went to find out what people thought about the Flensburg Maritime Museum creating this project as a contribution to the 2017 centennial commemoration of the sale of the Virgin Islands and its people to the United States of America.  It was pointed out sharply that the Danes had no authority to have entered into that transaction, from which it earned $25million (in gold, mind you), and neither did the US – because the enslaved had won their freedom 69 years before that and the free were consigned to colonised status in one fell swoop.  However, they were heartened that the project provided a poignant opportunity for critical reflection on Danish colonial terrorism, which has been practically overwhelmed by the paradoxes of USA occupation.

20160704_191336

The twilight of Danish colonialism is still visible in the enduring ruins of  the Whim Estate in St. Croix

This condition of USA settler colonialism is treated with utmost delicacy as critical analysts of this criminality have been psychosocially and socio-economically victimised for speaking out. I imagine this Big Brother response is seen as mandatory since revelations about this dilemma are not congruent with popular propaganda about the USA as the dispenser of development.

People in the VI were also unaware of the branding of Flensburg as Rum City and its enrichment from the resources of sugar and rum, produced from the unremunerated labour of enslaved Africans. Incredibly, those engaged in the rum trade rationalise that they were not as bad as  their peers  doing the human trafficking side of the transatlantic triangle. Like hello? What part of the Marxian theory of the surplus value of labour is not being addressed here? If you traded in rum and sugar, you were complicit in the terrorist system of dehumanisation and torturous production and reproduction that the system entailed. But it seems that for Euro-Americans, the jury is still out on the logic of this argument.

20160618_175216

As was also discussed during the World Cafe presentation in Flensburg, the political economy of the annual family-day Rum Regatta celebration has not traditionally been questioned – people just never even wondered where the rum came from!

I called upon the wisdom of Paulo Freire to try to empathise with the wounding that both coloniser and colonised experienced in the Holocaust of Enslavement. Incidentally, I am deliberately reiterating this concept of Holocaust because the word is a catalyst for re-thinking and re-membering that resonates in Denmark-Germany. Besides, Jews did not have a monopoly on the experience of the concept.

Speaking to the liberation of the oppressed, Freire says,

At all stages of their liberation, the oppressed must see themselves as women and men engaged in the ontological and historical vocation of becoming more fully human. Reflection and action become imperative when one does not erroneously attempt to dichotomize the content of humanity from its historical forms (Freire, 1970: 66).  

DSC_0033 (1)

The embodiment of African Emancipation: Freedom!

Freire elaborated that

the dialogical character of education as the practice of freedom does not begin when the teacher-student meets with the students teachers in a pedagogical situation, but rather when the former first asks herself or himself what she or he will dialogue with the latter about. And preoccupation with the content of dialogue is really preoccupation with the program content of education (1970: 93). 

Freire provides further illumination about the status of colonial amnesia embraced by Europeans who dominated Africans, a condition with which we have to become intimate in order to subvert its morbid persistence.  His answer to his rhetorical question was for me the flashpoint for understanding what the process of repression consists of and the imperative of revolutionary thinking in order to transform the status quo:

Why do the dominant elites not become debilitated when they do not think with the people? Because the latter constitute their antithesis, their very reason for existence. If the elites were to think with the people, the contradiction would be superseded and they could no longer dominate. From the point of view of the dominators in any epoch, correct thinking presupposes the non-thinking of the people (ibid.: 131).

Damn! This is not a walk in the park is it? But as my dad used to say back in the  day, “A habit is a cable: you weave a thread of it every day and it soon becomes so strong that you cannot break it.” So this habit of colonial amnesia is deep. It must therefore be traumatic for the dominant class to experience someone like me prodding the skeletons in the closets of history to enflesh themselves and reveal that as Shakespeare declared in Hamlet, via a speech by Marcellus, “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” The playwright was, clearly, very intimate with the truth about the lies.

20160704_183949

Liberation demands taking a third-eye view of terrorism, an ancient form of emotional intelligence.

Instead of the protracted denials of culpability however, wouldn’t it make more sense, in the interest of healing the breach and providing the elusive  moral responsibility with some space to flourish, to just admit wrongs and seek mechanisms of social transformation?

References

Andersen, A.N. “We Have Reconquered the Islands”: Figurations in Public Memories of Slavery and Colonialism in Denmark 1948–2012, Published online: 7 February 2013 # Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013, (http://americanarchivist.org/doi/pdf/10.17723/aarc.64.1.h6k872252u2gr377).

Freire, P. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Continuum, New York and London, 1970, (http://www.msu.ac.zw/elearning/material/1335344125freire_pedagogy_of_the_oppresed.pdf).

Hamlet Quotes – Something is rotten in the state of Denmark with explanation,

Mabillard, Amanda. Shakespeare Quick Quotes: Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2010. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com//quickquotes/quickquotehamletdenmark.html

World Cafe: http://www.flensburg.de/Kultur-Bildung/Kultureinrichtungen/Schifffahrtsmuseum/Programm

Rodney, W. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications, London and Tanzanian Publishing House, Dar-Es-Salaam, 1973.

Contact: Dr. Imani Tafari-Ama, Curator, Flensburger Schiffahrtsmuseum.

Email: tafari-ama.imani@stadt.flensburg.de

World Cafe: Colonial Legacy and Amnesia

Danish colonial Fort in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

The World Cafe provides an educational forum for critical reflection on the trialogue that needs to take place among Flensburg, the Virgin Islands and Ghana, in order for an epistemology on the colonial legacy to be crafted in the context of truth telling. I am anticipating the Ghana dimension of this trialogue since it is also problematic that the Danes – and several other European nations – colonised the so-called Gold Coast, which was opened up as the gateway to access the populous interior of this beleaguered Continent. In this regard, Freire proposed the dialogue [trialogue] as a critical space for conscientisation.

The Holocaust of African Enslavement is the greatest crime that European and Arab nations committed against all humanity. However, although this period of racist underdevelopment of Africa lasted from the 15th to 19th centuries, Europeans today claim they have forgotten it and persistently encourage Africans, particularly those in the Diaspora clamouring for transitional justice, to forget it too. The bottom line is, surely, the bottom line.

DSC_0059 (1)

Religious institutions were intrinsic to the systematic mental and physical violence unleashed on Africans and still function as the principal obstacle to Emancipation and self-determination

Countries like Denmark and Germany are not usually referred to in general accounting of colonial crimes since they were more careful than others to guard the noising of their involvement like a state secret. Germans claim they have been too preoccupied with the Jewish Holocaust and its guilt and payout obligations to recall their involvement in African enslavement and profit making therefrom. I find this disclaimer disingenuous; there is no shortage of historians and other capable thinkers in Europe. Therefore, this capacity to forget must be directly aligned to the fact that they could have enacted the abominable institution in the first place, maintained it for so long and have no intention to act responsibly regarding transitional justice for Africans.

20160707_132530

20160707_132658

Governor’s quarter’s, St. John. Typically, the prison torture chambers were located below. This binary built environment arrangement demonstrated how Europeans dehumanised Africans during enslavement.

Referring to the United Nations’ declaration of 2015-24 as the Decade for people of African Descent, on the three-pronged platform of Justice, Recognition and Development, Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of this controversial institution, [which has been accused of being a puppet of the United States of America and capital generally], stated thatWe must remember that people of African descent are among those most affected by racism…[and] denial of basic rights such as access to quality health services and education.”  http://www.un.org/en/events/africandescentdecade/photos.shtml

Of most critical psychosocial and socio-economic concern, is the pervasive identity erasure that Africans in the Diaspora have experienced as a consequence of the Holocaust of Enslavement and the associated trauma with which the majority grapple on an everyday basis.  Africans still suffer from denial and undervaluing of who they are due to institutionalised applications of white supremacy.

20160704_193221

Popular definitions of beauty for African women  show internalisation of racist notions of self-representation, which provide profit for capitalist concerns.

This erasure was constructed as a colonial power mechanism to make Africans into slaves, as noted by the British torturer in that memorable scenario from Roots when Kunta Kinte was desperately trying to cling to his name, identity and collective memory https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhZ0UOTCEpI. It continues to be the primary obstacle to self-realisation in the present, which has inimical implications for sustainable development.

As Joy Leary DeGruy carefully analysed in her  memorable book, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, many of the ways of thinking and the behaviours enacted by Africans in contemporary societies are rooted in the trauma they suffered for centuries. Self-denouncements by Africans in the Diaspora are didactic of the entrenched syndrome of internalised racism, which demonstrates the cruel success of the mental enslavement that was a major weapon of the colonial apparatus.  Self-hate prevents many Africans from accepting their skin, hair, nose, lips and body in general as beautiful.  Disastrously, capitalists are cashing in on this pathology; people of African descent spend disproportionately on so-called beauty products, which, in a twisted double whammy, actually destroy the capacity of the victims of this reverse psychology.

In desperate and vain attempts to achieve this illusion, they are duped into applying chemicals to their bodies, permanently altering their appearance. Michael Jackson epitomised this disastrous experiment; the caricature that he projected in his final years was closer to performance of a contrived white woman than an African man. Understanding the political economy of this constant engagement with embodied re-construction is important for an analysis of the present African impoverishment. Enslavement continues to haunt us in the systems that make Africans complicit with racist capitalists intent on mopping up available liquidity in African communities.

Compounding this complex problematic, many of the Europeans seem inordinately anxious to consign this criminality to the past.  This denial refuses to recognise the crisis of African self-identity ignorance. Yet this dysfunction has caused even the UN to cry out for transitional justice initiatives to be enacted to rescue the endangered African race from the dire situations in which they find themselves. The imperative for Emancipation was succintly enunciated by Marcus Garvey, Pan-Africanist par excellence and eloquently sung by Bob Marley – “Emancipate yourselves from Mental Slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds!”

DSC_0033 (1)

Freedom figure of the Virgin Islands, one of which is located here in Frederickstead, the St. Croix capital.

 

Contact: Dr. Imani Tafari-Ama

Email: tafari-ama.imani@stadt.flensburg.de

 

 

 

 

 

Virgin Islands: Paradoxical Identity Politics

20160706_160705                                                                                                                  ©

Cruising pigeons find the head and bust of the statue of King Christian IX the perfect perch but it was disturbing for me that this quintessential image of Danish colonialism dominates Emancipation Park in St. Thomas while the Freedom symbol lurks on the periphery.

©

In chessboard parlance, it is therefore evident that the Danish crown still occupies the pride of powerful place in symbolic if not real terms in the so-called Territory.  This dynamic speaks to the need for critical discourse on identity politics and the persistent paucity of citizenship certitude on the ground in respect of Euro-American colonial and neo-colonial relations with Caribbean countries.

Further, Caribbean people have an ambivalent perspective on the Virgin Islands – British and North American; on the one hand, there is an impotent stupefaction that we still have colonial territories in our region despite the many waves of Emancipation that have washed over our shores and on the other, the perception that things are better in these so-called territories – a term that jars on our self-determination sensibilities – than in the Independent – especially Commonwealth (or uncommon poverty) states, makes these islands somehow the material envy of “down-islanders” who have flocked these islands, yearning for improvement in their status.

©

20160704_183949

The Eye of Horus (Third Eye) dominates the visage of this all seeing woman represented on a mural in Frederickstead, St.. Croix.  Perspective is everything.

20160630_201112

Oceana James (left), a Sister whose name escapes me right now and Dr. Chenzira Davis Kahina. Oceana memorably declared, “I am Seventh-generation Cruzian!”

©

20160701_213255

Virgin Islands Flag…which deserves deep content analysis…later for that. Suffice it to mention I noticed that in the night the details are invisible, waving as a white flag of peace/ surrender. Eagles don’t grow in the Caribbean so there is definitely something out of step here.This paradoxical attraction has significant implications for VI demographics; when someone introduces him/herself as x-generation Virgin Islander, what is being invoked is a critical commentary on the minority status of people who typically, trace their ancestry back to before Transfer. It is as if this watermark of identity somehow elevates ones status up a higher register of belongingness, a legitimacy that some would deny those whose roots extend to some other piece of the Caribbean jigsaw puzzle.

©

Of course, one can also understand this yearning for assertiveness of identity agency; as Gerville Larsen, who has done his genealogical ancestry analysis also confounded me by revealing that his heritage includes 18% Amerindian (native Cruzian), this panorama is more complex than a surface glance might reveal. His name denotes Danish roots, which are liberally mixed with his Africanness and he has the nth degree Virgin Islanderness to boot.  But so does my friend Sophia Aubin, whose Frenchness of blood and looks is thickened by the creole she speaks from growing up in St. Barthelemy (St. Barths; St. Barth), while she is also Cruzian to the core.

At the bottom line is the victimhood people of predominantly African descent suffered during and after the Holocaust of Enslavement; no other race was dehumanized. So although all Virgin Islanders were technically disenfranchised with transfer(s), there are layers to this identity politricks business. The most curious cover-up is that though Virgin Islanders gained US citizenship – the envy of the whole region of course – this citizenship is not complete; incorporated territorians cannot vote for the US President and neither can US citizens residing in the so-called Territory. And though many “States-side” migrants – mostly white have now also bought into time-shares and populate exclusive communities, distinguished from where “locals” live, dramatically altering the topography, this is not, classically speaking, a state of the USA.

So there, I have described it; settler colonialism, writ large, by the Don of Democracy in the 21st century. Virgin Islanders enjoy the backhanded benefit of multiple holidays because beyond those that derive from previous colonial mis-masters, they have been incorporated into the network of USA holiday commemorations, like mimic-people, a la Naipaul. What a bangarang!

So why am I so interested? As I mentioned in a previous post, the project I am working on was actually inspired by the impending centennial and my Mentor, Dr. Thomas Overdick, Museum Director at the Flensburg Maritime Museum decided to advocate for an African-Caribbean perspective on Danish-German colonial legacy – in Flensburg, Virgin Islands and Ghana.  I will curate an Exhibition and write a paper on this Problematic.  I am about to initiate this ethnographic research in Flensburg.

Having just returned from an extraordinary experience in the Virgin Islands, I wrote a thank you note to all who received me so well, which, since this is already so long, I will post next because their respect is well due!

Imani  M. Tafari-Ama, Ph.D., Curator, Flensburger Schifffahrtsmuseum | Schiffbrucke 39. | 24939 Flensburg  | Germany | Telephone: +49015638551335 | Email: I.Tafariama@gmail.com | tafari-ama.imani@stadt.flensburg.de | www.schifffahrtsmuseum.flensburg.de | Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/i.tafariama | Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNwIZ_xHjm0 | Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CCSC6LENovel: Up for Air http://www.dvbernard.com/Multimedia/ | Ex-Talk Show co-host: Fresh Start, 6-9 a.m. www.newstalk93fm.com |Twitter: @itafariama

Three Small Islands: The Political Economy of Size

No image is more didactic of the plantation experience than the windmill such as this one still found on the Whim estate in St Croix; though it is still intact, the quarters that once housed enslaved Africans is entangled in bush, also speaking eloquently to the neglect that typifies the majority class’ psychosocial and socio-economic security. The plantation was the flashpoint of existential contradictions; for over three centuries, seven European nations that ruled the Virgin Islands’ roost – principally Denmark.

“Since Columbus encountered and named the Virgin Islands (he landed on St Croix on his second trip in 1493 at Salt River), many countries have planted their flags on our shores. St Croix switched hands the most of any of the Virgin Islands and has a rich cultural past having flown seven flags over the island: Spain, England, Holland, France, the Knights of Malta, Denmark, and finally, the United States. In 1733, France sold the islands to the Danish West India Company and Denmark ruled the island colonies for almost 200 years.”

(http://my-stcroix.com/transfer-day-in-the-virgin-islands/).

The question of celebrating or commemorating Transfer Day is a very troubling one; it rubs salt in unassuaged wounds of some Virgin Islanders who consider their neo-colonial status criminal as Denmark usurped the citizenship rights of Africans who had been emancipated for 69 years and those who had never been enslaved and were free were also denied autonomy when in 1917, the so-called three small islands were sold to the United States of America for $25million (over $509 million in today’s money).

I journeyed to St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix to engage with people there to figure out how they defined their identity politics ahead of the 2017 centennial of said sale.  The ethnographic engagement threw up an existential maze; US colonialism has all but trumped (if you’ll pardon the unfortunate expression), memories of Danish (and German) colonialism – those being the penultimate, somewhat double-headed flags to fly. It is very complicated how this duality comes about; Denmark and Germany (then Prussia) fought two seminal wars (and there is a symbolic lion that embodies the exchange of land that resulted although of course, lions do not grow in Europe but the incorporation of such symbolisms into Eurocentric cosmological representation is a whole nother story).

20160618_164912

Anyways, after the decisive 1864 war, much of what used to be Denmark became Germany; a Danish minority was left behind in the South while a German minority remained in the North.  So technically Germany was interested in the transfer and from a self interested point of view too but then the USA took up the offer that by-passed Germany, for strategic geo-political reasons, the most popularly cited being that it provided access to the Panama Canal. The onslaught of the first great European war was then imminent and the alignment against Germany was also important.

So that is how the Virgin Islanders got caught in this mega chess game; people bitterly recall the decade after Transfer when martial law was instituted when people would be brutalized in the streets by army officers who felt entitled to use openly racist tactics to control a bewildered population.  I went searching for memories of Danish colonialism and although I found that, it was so enmeshed in the imperative of US hegemony that it seemed difficult to even discursively detangle this many stranded paradox.

20160704_154740

So I wrote a poem that captured some features of this contradiction.

Two sides of the Coin

Where I come from

We have a proverbial

Saying

What is joke to you

Is death to me and

beyond language barriers, that saying

Is self-explanatory

Celebrating rum wealth

As romantic myth

Of colonial legacy

Denies the mess made

During slavery

Or in politically correct

Terminology

the Holocaust

Of African enslavement

By selling colonized territory

In Ghana in 1850

And Virgin islands in 1917

What Denmark was really bent

On doing

Was historical

Denial of

our common

colonial legacy

in three instances

Europe, Africa

and Caribbean

fantasy

[carried beyond…]

Mistakenly

named West Indies

The post colonial project?

to erase this criminality

from living

memory

and

the collective

cultural psyche

so in Flensburg today

we find people that say

This is Rum City

Nowhere near historical honesty

there is celebration of wealth

while truth exited by stealth

with no thought in mind

of inhuman trafficking

of people

from East, West, North, South

Central and every other part

of the African continent

And the centuries of tortuous plunder

Being dis-connected

To exploitation of limb and labour

To produce the firey liquid

That built the fine houses and

Legacy that made merchant

Families

proud and scornful of the

rebound on the people

Who paid rum’s cost

With blood sweat and tears

While some with fanfare hail

2017’s centennial

Of Denmark-USA-Virgin Islands

sale

of the land and people

for twenty five million US dollars

unrested souls’ wail

rent the silence

of complicit politricks

Reparations advocates say

Denmark and

Nay

Also Germany and USA

Must pay

That transfer value

Is over 509 million today

This is a travesty

Robbery of people labour

And justice

This autohypnosis odyssey

Writ large

Constitutes political psychosis

and involuntary

loss of memory

plus simultaneous

Schizophrenia regarding

Moral responsibility

A plague on rum’s great houses

Adding insult to injury

You feign invisibility

Yet without timidity you

Ask me

Sugar in your tea?

One or two in die koffie?

Drinking colonial

Legacy

While my cup of sorrow

Runneth over

We all desire reconciliation

From clinging horrors still haunting

our present situation

colonialism

Racism

Sexism

Classism

And

All otherisations

And isms

And schisms

But reconciliation

requires the responsibility

Of re-membering

Transitional justice

Now quoting Marcus Garvey

A people with no knowledge of its past

Is like a tree without roots

Sankofa!

We have to go to our roots, bloody as they are

Fetch the memories

And taut as a bow

Shoot revolutionary arrows

To the Future

Next post will pay homage to the people of the three small islands, so called by Flensburgers who do not really know how monumental their significance is in the cheme of things.

Contact: Dr. Imani M. Tafari-Ama

Flensburger Schifffahrtsmuseum

@itafariama

Email: tafari-ama.imani@stadt.flensburg.de

 

Kultur Transfer Launched May 31, 2016

Greetings!

So much has happened since the official launch of the project that it is prudent to perform my griot duties and document my impressions so their elusive effervescence will be captured in a medium in which they can be re-viewed.

So this was the project launch at the Flensburg Maritime Museum or Schifffahrtsmuseum as it is called in Deutsch i.e. German.

http://www.flensburg.de/Startseite/Koloniales-Erbe.php?object=tx%7C2306.5&ModID=7&FID=2306.860.1

If you copy and paste the text from this story into Google Translate, you will get the English version.
I am also a part of the Fellow Me! Academie:
Click on the images and film at the bottom to get the atmosphere of the first encounter of all 17 fellows and our mentors  in Leipzig last May. We  are located in musea around Germany and are working on various projects.  On this site, click on Fellows and scroll down and you will see my name, which links you to a summary of the project. Of course, all projects and fellow Fellows, our Mentors and the organisers are all amazing too!
I will be one of four presenters focusing on colonialism at the next Fellowship, which will be held in Bremen in August.  More on that anon.
As you see from the calendar of events on that site, we are travelling around the country to interact in discussions pertinent to how exhibitions are curated and the political economy served by such endeavours.
I am sharing these videos to give you information about some of the work I have done in Jamaica:
By the way, when I started working at the Schifffahrtsmuseum, this was the first time I was encountering three fs in one word, a recent linguistic innovation, which you should research. It seems to me actually, as I learn some Deutsch, that like Amharic [which I encountered when I visited Ethiopia] and German have the habit of composing a long word with many meanings built into it.

Colonial Amnesia

My introduction to Flensburg included participating in the 37th annual Rum Regatta, which brands Flensburg as “Rum City” – didactic of the wealth derived from the unrecognized and unremunerated labour of Africans enslaved in the so-called Virgin Islands.
Incredibly, the blurb on the Braasch Rum Manufactuur Museum, which offers tours mon to Friday in Flensburg, mentions these islands in the context of rum production thus:
The “Caribbean Gold once made Flensburg rich and famous. Sugar and rum and lots of other so-called “colonial” goods were transported on sailing ships from the West Indies to the then Danish city on the fjord. In the private collection of distiller Walter Braasch you can experience the history of rum in the city of Flensburg. Take a short voyage to “the three small islands” in the Caribbean and learn lots of interesting facts about the production and history of rum and sugar…”
Not one word about Africans and their Holocaust of enslavement in this marketing blurb. The Braasch site is as intent on glossing over this messy history with golden odes to rum and leveraging the political economy of the wealth creation project that provides this autonomy.
What is amazing about this mythicized re-enactment of the arrival of the rum and sugar in the Flensburg port is the concerted colonial amnesia that characterizes this commemoration. Participants in this spectacle are oblivious of the bizarre contradiction in which they are entrenched because this colonial amnesia was contrived by the powers that be to represent the production of rum wealth as an exclusively European endeavor.
Historical Erasure
The narrative of Flensburg as wealthy rum city sanitizes the process of “Caribbean Gold” production from the brutality of the Holocaust of enslavement and the violent transatlantic trialogue it entailed.  It is may seem obvious to overstate the fact that three centuries of Denmark being the 7th most powerful European enslaver/colonizer caused rum production profits to flow in the coffers of the King of Denmark, the merchant class and ultimately, Danish-German society. Tautological as this is however, it is a fact that is stunningly absent from the body politic; colonial history is not taught in schools so citizens are disconnected from their history and thus celebrate their development in a decontextualized manner. A kind of cultural schizophrenia.
The consequence of this systematic epistemological and ontological subterfuge is a corresponding anxiety about revealing these cupboarded skeletons in the public sphere. The naked emperor desires to consider himself fully frocked.
[As I write this, Burning Spear is singing “Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar…”]

As a result of the sanitization of history [watch Prof. Zimmerer who is working on this theme in Hamburg], the majority of the approximately 90 thousand inhabitants of the German [formerly Danish] city of Flensburg is unaware of where the rum came from. Like seriously.

There is a paucity of critical thinking about the source of this resource of wealthy Rum City. Or the Africans whose Holocaust of Enslavement, which started from their kidnapping from Africa and continued to their incarceration in Danish forts in Ghana, their transshipment to those three small islands (indeed!) and their brutal dehumanization and enslavement on the said islands’ plantations (read Neville Hall’s detailed account of this travesty). Enforced labour, blood, sweat and tears of Africans produced the sugar cane, that made the sugar, molasses, rum and all derivatives, including the money.

I just returned to Flensburg after an extra-ordinary visit to the Virgin Islands (research the ridiculous fantasy concocted by that brigand Christopher Columbus  that influenced the moniker choice for these strategically important not-so-meta-physically-small islands). The complicated identity politics playing  out on that landscape begs the question that truth and reconciliation are perquisites for the realization of transitional justice. Flensburgers could also benefit from acquaintance with their own history; I will also go to Ghana to engage in this process of critical re-membering..

In the next post we will consider the significance of the Kultur Transfer concept, which derives from Denmark’s outlandish sale of the Virgin Islands and its people to the USA in 1917, trumping the Emancipation victory finally won by Africans in 1848.  Suffice it to say, in an Orwellian turn, the majority of people in the Virgin Islands – partially incorporated by the United States of America (how come?), has never heard of Flensburg, the city that rum built, although this city in more ways than one, constitutes the opposite side of its own coins (or lack thereof).

More on this complicated state of affairs and the decontexualisation of historical events in the next post.

The featured image is the waterfront in the Frederickstead township in St. Croix, USVI, the largest of those so-called three small islands which have been ruled under seven flags as popular culture records….

Contact: Dr. Imani M. Tafari-Ama

tafari-ama.imani@stadt.flensburg.de