Virgin Islands: Paradoxical Identity Politics

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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

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