Caribana and the refugee crises

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Lennox Farrell By Lennox Farrell
Wednesday September 09 2015




Some weeks ago, in two articles, see websites below, the points made about a culture that are useful and embracing was about the current world issue of refugees. In the articles, see websites below, drawing from the ideas of Matthew Arnold, a 19th century writer, culture was defined as the pursuit of perfection; and the antithesis of culture was anarchy.

This last week gone, the world awakened finally to the anarchy of ordinary life in the Middle East and in North Africa. It isn’t that previous scenes of desperate refugees fleeing by the thousands with their families, most recently from Syria and Libya and drowning by the scores hadn’t already filled the nightly news and daily talk shows.

However, last week, the sight of one young boy’s body, Aylan Kurdi (the dead body of his brother Galip was found nearby) drowned, yet looking so alive in his black sneakers, blue pants and red shirt so caught the conscience and the imagination of the world, that talk became action.

Suddenly, countries of the European Union from Italy and Hungary to Germany and England, finally found the will, primarily for the politicians to act, and encourage others to act. In fact, it was only a week earlier that a diesel stranded on a roadway in Hungary, leaking fluids, caught the attention of a news reporter who, on investigating discovered that the truck had been filled with the decaying bodies of refugees fleeing to Germany and who had suffocated. At least one of the decomposing bodies had been that of yet another small child.

Suddenly, too, Canada, under Prime Minister Harper, whose cavalier attitude towards such crises were little different from the government’s callous attitude towards the disappearance and murder of members of the First Nations, also changed. Now, there was talk, and on the campaign trail of increasing the numbers of refugees being allowed into Canada. Suddenly, the country had a heart, the public had a conscience, and PM Harper had a spin.

By comparison, in the earlier articles referred to above, the point was made of the possible role which ordinary residents, for example, Toronto’s Black community, can play in further changing the conscience of Torontonians during the run-up to Caribana’s 50th anniversary. Among actions, one recommended is that we link Caribana’s commemorative program through its Carnival Arts of drama, masquerade, music, pan and literature to the cause of sexual slavery.

Here is an opportunity, of linking the emancipation from 19th century plantation slavery to the 21st century practices of sexual and child-labour slavery. In short, the struggle for emancipation past can be linked to and assist in achieving, emancipation now. It is already established that many of the products we use today, for example chocolate, are grown under circumstances of enslavement. And also that the issue of sexual slavery is linked to the prevalence of kidnappings and sexual tourism to countries as the Philippines, Kenya, etc. These conditions are also seedbeds of refugee crises. Of course, there are the issues of war, terrorism and the like which also contribute to this.

Our Black community, one with a history here in Canada of the following: enslavement in the 18th and 19th centuries; a history of resistance by flight via the Underground Railroad from enslavement in America; a history of fighting in 1812 alongside British forces against American enslavement; a history of being promised lands in compensation in Nova Scotia – where Scotiabank had its beginning, making loans to businesses trading Canadian codfish for West Indian sugar and rums produced on slave plantations – but received the worst possible lands where poverty was the only abundant crop grown; a history of whose descendants, forced to live on and next to rubbish dumps and fecal dumps, would later in the 20th century, see their community of Africville seized, in the same arbitrary manner as has been Caribana’s carnival for uses similarly inimical to us.

There is not, except for the First Nations, any other community with the authenticity of having survived the worst that one branch of humanity could inflict on another as have we and our forebears, and the authority of speaking to issues of justice and injustice here.

Thereby it is also we whose responsibility it is to trigger the conscience of the City of Toronto, its elected mayor and councillors, its citizens of status, its other ethno-cultural communities, to further make the city known the world over as the City of Refuge. It was done to less extent during the era of South African Apartheid. Then, Black South Africans like Ezrom Mokagala and Sifisu could find refuge and education.

Others, like Americans fleeing during the Vietnam and later wars also found in Toronto refuge as opponents to America’s seasonal spasms war against weaker nations as Vietnam, Iraq, etc. Other peoples, the Sri Lankans, fleeing domination and civil war, as well as other people before and after have found in the City of Toronto, a welcoming City of Refuge.

It is a heritage we can and must continue. Today, Caribana is a cultural engine, which based on its historical origins in carnival of oppression and resistance is also capable of drawing such a weighty freight. For example, her history of masquerade and of carnival came from the pre-slavery history of the Yoruba Egungun. Their traditions of masquerade were first borrowed by 13th century Italians. Then, centuries later, the French borrowed this masquerade tradition from the Italians. Today, people untutored and/or ignorant claim Carnival came from French slave-planters in the West Indies. But clarifying this is history for another day.

Today, carnival’s history during slavery of resistance; and after emancipation in the Camboulay Riots in Trinidad, attest to its authenticity as the voice today against oppression and one in support of relief for the victims of these 21st century refugee crises.

Caribana’s 50th anniversary is a most opportune occasion during which to do the following: increase the opposition to such practices as sexual and child-labour enslavement; this do by calling on the city council, the media, and the residents of Toronto to take a decisive stand for justice and humanity; retake ownership and control of the carnival and re-direct its emphasis towards the causes which created it, the joyous celebration of emancipation and of humanity.

Yes, we must continue the struggle against the many forms of anti-Black racism. But we must, in addition and in all good conscience, move others by leading the way towards the best of what is possible in us, humans all. Hopefully, the many children toiling today in enslaved conditions, and the many women trapped in sexual enslavement must be remembered and defended. Finally, that small boy, Aylan Kurti, his brother Galil, and other refugees must not have died in vain.

Mea Culpa: Justice Julius Isaacs ‘was a legal luminary who held the very high office of Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Canada. Unfortunately he was never in Canada’s highest court’.

To be continued: What is the third leg which undermined Caribana?

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