Theft of Caribana shows disrespect for Blacks

A response to Star columnist, Royson James


A long time ago someone said “the ability to speak in many languages is priceless but the ability to keep one’s mouth shut is invaluable”.

Asking a journalist to keep his or her mouth “shut” is asking them to silence their pencil, their word processor or, heavens forbid, their typewriter. It would not be a reasonable request.  It is, however, reasonable to expect the journalist to be objective, balanced and fair in his or her reporting.

In his April 29, 2010 article on Caribana, Royson James of the Toronto Star made statements with which I have objections. Mr. James (wrote that) Joe Halstead … took over as chair and CEO of the “flagging franchise”. When did Caribana become a “franchised” operation? And if it were indeed such an operation who is the owner of that franchise? And by whose authority was Mr. Halstead allowed to “take over” as chair and CEO?

Mr. James’ assertion that the frustration with Caribana’s failure to deliver financial statements according to city requirements led to Toronto’s refusal to fund the festival needs to be reviewed from a different perspective. There is no doubt that the organizers did fail miserably in the areas of accountability and transparency. It is also true that there was squabbling among members of the old organization (the Caribbean Cultural Committee). I do not condone or excuse this behaviour but in their defense we are talking here about a group of people who volunteered their time to benefit the city. Is Mr. James not aware of the squabbling that takes place within City Hall council meetings and among so-called professionals (at the city) who are paid handsomely for their efforts?

Let’s talk also about fiscal responsibility, accountability and transparency. It is my understanding that the Caribbean Cultural Committee’s “failure to deliver” is in reference to the paltry sum of (approximately) $400,000 contributed by the city. According to the recently released Ipsos Reid Economic Impact Study of Caribana’s contribution to the city’s coffers, the city’s contribution (to the festival) is less than .1% (a tenth of one per cent) of what the city and the province rake in annually from the efforts of the Caribbean community. Excuse me, Mr. James, but are we talking about the same city whose high-priced professionals managed to turn a $40M computer-leasing contract into a $96M fiasco? Do you think Councilor Joe Mihevc (the city’s liaison to Caribana) and the others who clamoured for withholding funding from Caribana would be just as vociferous in support of the provincial government if it decided to withhold funding for city projects because of their mishandling of funds for the computer screw up? Why the double standard here and why has your article not drawn a parallel? Is the Caribbean community being held to a higher standard than others when it comes to accounting for the pittance that we are handed?

What exactly do you mean by the statement “Great men like Lincoln Alexander and Alvin Curling had been burned during attempts to save the festival from financial disgrace and bankruptcy?”

Why should any of us be (considered) “burned” during attempts to save our festival?

Has anyone at city hall ever wondered why there is no Caribbean cultural and exhibition centre in Toronto? Would it come as a surprise to you that ours is the only community in the city without a place of our own to develop, practice, hone and exhibit our cultural skills and talents – the very same skills and talents that are usurped by the city to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors and hundreds of millions of dollars annually?

While some of our “great men” might have been “burning”, the city did not seem to have any trouble benefitting from the “tropical heat” generated by the Caribana revelers.

Just like in the good old bygone days, we do the work and the masters reap the rewards. The masters, of course, are the hotels, motels, restaurants, the TTC, airlines, limousines, VIA Rail, taxicabs, GO Transit, tour operators, banquet halls, street vendors, rickshaw operators, water taxis, the Metro Parks and Recreation Department, banks, beauty salons, clothing stores, souvenir shops, convention centers and so many more.

Unlike in the U.S., where banks and other institutions received government “bailouts” because they were considered “too big” to fail, Caribana does not need any bailing out. It has become a virtual “cash cow” for the city. Consequently, a coup was engineered to “take it away”. Cleverly, the masterminds were able to hide behind the rhetorical nonsense about financial irresponsibility, lack of transparency, squabbling, inter-island feuding, nepotism and any number of excuses to redirect our attention while the theft was taking place.

Just like in the ‘good old days’, nothing has really changed but the perks. White boys are still in charge and we continue to dance, prance, sing and masquerade for their entertainment. And the perks? Rotten codfish from Newfoundland and scrapings from the master’s plate have been replaced with titles, a few token appointments, the odd membership in privileged clubs and the “delusion of inclusion“.

To quote Calvin Lockhart when he was robbing Madam Zenovia in the movie Uptown Saturday Night “never have so few owed so much to so many”. It is a sentiment I am sure Councilor Mihevc and others must share from time to time. (Privately, of course!)

The nature of your job must impose certain restrictions that prevent you from calling it as you see it. (However) the whole thing boils down to Black and White. Which other community in Toronto, Ontario or Canada would the city have chosen to take away what essentially is an event that celebrates and exhibits its culture? Blacks have been – we are and will continue to be – easy targets. Remember that woman who drove her car into a lake in South Carolina with her kids strapped in the back seat? She was sane enough to know that if she blamed a Black man for the crime it would stick because of the propensity of her race to believe everything bad about Black people. And how about the White man in Boston who killed his pregnant wife to collect her insurance and blamed it on a robbery gone bad when he mistakenly entered the neighbourhood section of the city predominantly inhabited by Blacks?

Could anyone but a Black man have taken a baseball team to the pinnacle of the sport on two consecutive occasions (Cito Gaston in Toronto) and not made “Manager of the Year”?

There is a universal disrespect for Black people. The things that most people would not consider doing to others seem like fair game when it comes to Blacks. This is due in large measure to our own willingness to accept anything from anyone without question.

Raphael Francis is the Treasurer of the CARIBANATM ARTS GROUP, formerly the Caribbean Cultural Committee, owners and, for 39 years, the organizers of Caribana.


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