By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
2014 was a very good year – with some bad spots
When he was seventeen
It was a very good year for small town girls
And soft summer nights
They would hide from the lights
On the village green
that’s when he was seventeen
When he was twenty-one
It was a very good year for big city girls
Who lived up the stairs
With all that perfumed hair
And it came undone
that’s When he was twenty-one
When he was thirty-five
It was a very good year for blue-blooded girls
with independent means
they would ride in the limousines
that was when chauffeurs would drive
But now the days grow short
he’s in the autumn of his years
And now he thinks of his life as vintage wine
from fine old kegs
from the brim to the dregs
it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year
Excerpt from “It Was A Very Good Year” sung by Lou Rawls on his 1966 album “Soulin’”
Lou Rawls (December 1, 1933 – January 6, 2006) was almost 33 years old when he released the album “Soulin’” with “It Was a Very Good Year” as one of the 14 songs featured.
The title of this song came to mind as I planned to write about the year 2014 which is almost gone. In some ways it was a very good year for me. I have come to realize that when unpleasant events and/or people enter your life you mostly only have control over your own emotions and reactions to circumstances. I came to this realization by actively engaging in social media beginning in September 2014.
Following my decision to become a candidate in the October 27, 2014 Municipal Election I became active on some social media including Twitter, Facebook, Google plus, Flickr and LinkedIn. It has been a learning experience. I also made the decision (after years of considering) to publish a book. On December 5, 2014 my book “Berbician Griot” was published.
I am delighted to share that many of my acquaintances, friends and relatives have been very supportive and I have sold several copies. There will be an official launch of “Berbician Griot” in 2015 and everyone is invited as soon as date and location are finalised.
The year 2014 has not been a very good year for everyone, including the relatives, friends and supporters of the many African-American men, women and children who have been brutalized, maimed and/or killed by police. We in Canada have not been immune to the sting of anti-African racism, racial profiling or White supremacist culture. The new Mayor of Toronto when asked about White skin privilege was very cavalier (or maybe clueless) in his reply. In spite of being faced with this phenomenon during the campaign period, the man who for the next four years will be in charge of policies that govern how we are treated by police, transit workers, housing staff etc., thinks White skin privilege does not exist. He did not see White skin privilege when Mayoral candidates Dionne Renee and Dewitt Lee were not invited to speak during Mayoral debates but Ari Goldkind was invited. He did not see White skin privilege when Olivia Chow was racially attacked and harassed at Mayoral debates. White skin privilege has nothing to do with religion or class. It is based on the unearned privileges bestowed on White people based on the colour of their skin regardless of their religious beliefs or their economic status. Examples of this proliferate in this city of ours where the motto is: “Diversity Our Strength.”
Yes it has been a very good year because I chose to ignore anyone and anything that would “steal my joy”. Each time I log onto Facebook there are negative and positive images. I choose how I react to each one. I will continue to “comment” “tweet” and “share” and I will ignore any and all negativity as my good friend (and fellow Guyanese) Rita has been advising me for years.
The year 2015 will be a very good year because whatever enters my life I will choose how to respond so that I am not emotionally or psychologically harmed. The next decade from 2015 to 2025 has been designated the decade for African people. By the time we get to 2025 many of us will be as Lou Rawls sang “in the autumn of our years” and can then think of our lives as “vintage wine from fine old kegs from the brim to the dregs pouring sweet and clear” and know that it will be “a very good year.” Meanwhile, we have 10 years from 2015 to 2025 to address the negative effects of anti-African racism on our emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual well being.
The United Nations has designated 2015-2024 the “International Decade for People of African Descent.” On the UN website
“A Decade Dedicated to People of African Descent: Recognition, Justice and Development” is accompanied by this explanation: “In proclaiming this Decade, the international community is recognizing that people of African descent represent a distinct group whose human rights must be promoted and protected. Around 200 million people identifying themselves as being of African descent live in the Americas. Many millions more live in other parts of the world, outside of the African continent.”
There is also a quote from Ban Ki-moon the United Nations Secretary-General: “We must remember that people of African descent are among those most affected by racism. Too often, they face denial of basic rights such as access to quality health services and education.”
As we move towards the year 2015 and the beginning of the UN declared “International Decade for People of African Descent” this is an opportunity for us to engage in dialogue and action to repair the damage to African lives. Here is an opportunity to educate people about “White skin privilege” as the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) tried to do in 2014 which caused a furor in several daily White newspapers. The articles published in those newspapers and the comments made by their readers prove that neither the writers of the articles nor their readers have any understanding of their privilege. If they do they are desperately trying to ensure that their privilege continues.
It is way past time that the mindset that allows racial profiling to flourish, that allows White police to kill racialized people with impunity knowing that they will be supported by the majority, is exposed, dissected and corrected. As we approach 2015 I wish everyone a Happy New Year with sincere hope that each person can think of some experience that made them think even for a moment that 2014 was “A Very Good Year!”
The image of the mythic Sankofa bird from the Ghanaian Akan culture comes to mind as we move forward but not forget and learn from the past.