You marched for justice. You joined the protest, signed the petition, held your cardboard sign for the television cameras and you screamed, ` We want justice`. Tears streamed down your collective faces and not a few clenched fists are raised.
Who doubts your sincerity? Or your frustration with the inadequacy of your equality? Not I, even as you appeal for reparation, better treatment by the police, better schools, better services. Your sigh, deep and unbidden says you are a victim. I started to agree with you, but, and here I pause to collect my thoughts, for I have no clear and articulate answer from a trail blazer to guide me.
“Why are you a victim?” I asked. You looked shocked, taken aback even by my question. Anger rises up in you. I expected your anger though not your clenched fists. “What makes you think better schools will make you feel better about yourself?”
“We are citizens and should get the same good schools like everybody else,” you said.
I agree with you, but you did not answer my question.
Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear. What I am asking is, “What are you prepared to do differently about the use and value of your schools, right now and in the future to make a meaningful change in your circumstances?”
The momentary confusion on your face may have been due to the unfairness or the unexpected pointedness of my question. Or the admission that nobody told you that, victim or not, your attitude towards education has to be a nonnegotiable insistence on excellence from yourself, first and foremost?
There are many people, nations even, in the Caribbean Basin asking, no suing for reparation, as if the suit if successfully adjudicated can make them or us feel better about ourselves if awarded millions or billions of dollars. I am not persuaded by the arguments nor by our attitude to demand of others what we will not do for ourselves. If a ship is sinking, due to holes we have either created inadvertently or refuse to plug, then how in heaven`s name is our “May Day! May Day!” call to be taken seriously?
That we need help is not in dispute and that our march and militancy, as evidenced by our clenched fists, are signs of frustration and an appeal for a more fair society . However, our fight, though racism and prejudice are subtle and debilitating weapons in use, is not or should not be about the injustice of others towards us, but our uncompromising demand of excellence from ourselves. If we demand justice and rights and privileges from another- even if the other is the state to which we are citizens-, but we do not demand it, no, we insist on it from ourselves, we can be prepared for all that which was given to be rescinded. And clenching our fists, or throwing rocks or turning violent is not a strategy to arrest or fix the brokenness that afflicts us.
Let me be clear about the crises we face. Our debts can be written off, our claims for reparation honored, good schools built in our neighborhoods and in a few short years we`d be back to being poor, indebted and complaining that our schools are inferior and our neighborhood is facing neglect, and the same nations clamoring for a new economic order will be heading to the International Monetary Fund cap in hand.
Why? Our problem is with ourselves and the way we think. Nobody can fix us, or more properly, invest in us, if we won’t commit ourselves to excellence regardless of what happened in the past or whatever the future brings. Show me more than a clenched fist and a scar still fresh from the whips of slavery. Show me your dreams even as you march. Show me your passion for excellence, your commitment to build and work and triumph.
Admittedly, I ask a lot of you. But no more than I ask of me. Look around. The gains from the Civil Rights march are more than dusty boots on the ground. They are about how you embrace who you were meant to be while honoring the fallen and giving this country, inclusive of those whose fears of a tomorrow are real, the reassurance that, even as we differ, our commitment to the bonds we share is sacrosanct. Clenched fists, though understandable, are for victims. You aren’t, unless you want to be.
Peter Peterkin, Readers Bureau, Fellow
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