Updated: Jun 10
I’ve been peeping with one eye, from the Caribbean, as the story of #GeorgeFloyd unfolds – peeping because, it's almost too much to take. These strange times are stressful, anxious, and unsettling enough, most of us feel so uncertain and vulnerable just simply trying to survive this pandemic. Deep sigh! How much more can one race of people really take? How much can this world take?
I've struggled to find the right words because mostly this hurts. It’s hard to watch our people struggle so, and there seems to be no end to it. As I type my heart feels heavy. The plight of the black race is real and something I have experienced subtly my whole life. All of us have! How can we collectively force change, and position our black, indigenous and people of colour ( BIPOC) to thrive?
I remember when I was about 23 years old, with dreadlocks, living in central London. I would visit the stores at Dover Street Market or Bond Street, and fancy art galleries as a type of self-awareness exercise. Awareness that I am here. I belong here, there is no space that I cannot be present in. I also had a very cool African friend who lived in high-end Nottinghill, who explained how every time he went into luxury stores how the staff looked at him like a thief and followed him around. Mind you, he could afford anything in the store. Together, we had tremendous fun crashing the invitation-only fashion and art shows. We visited the high-end bars and threw our feet up too! We took our place like royalty! I came from Happy Hill, Montserrat, my family of simple means, but, ''hell no, ain't no one was going to tell us that we didn’t belong.''
You see, we need to reflect and inspire the changes we want to see and it starts with some deep inner work, self-esteem building and proactive leadership, especially in our circles of influence. I’ve already accepted us progressives won't see all the changes we want in our lifetime. But that shouldn't stop us from amplifying the need for greater awareness and acceptance of the power of diversity and inclusiveness. It shouldn't stop us from disrupting the status quo.
As Caribbean nationals our very existence as a biodiversity hotspot of the world is dependent on this. No other group of nations is more vulnerable to the devastating effects of climate change than the Small Island Developing States (SIDS). With one-third of their population living on land, that is less than five meters below sea level, the threat of sea level rise, storm surges, and coastal destruction pose existential risks to SIDS.
For the past 10 years I’ve been advocating for black kids to swim and for black people to teach them, we need a greater representative in spaces like aquatics, ocean science, heritage, restoration, and conservation. If we want to successfully address climate change, and the issues our oceans face we need Caribbean people too, holding center stage. Diversity in conservation, not only leads to better decision-making and more effective strategies and policies. Also, research in the US has shown that black people are significantly more concerned about climate change than white people(57 percent vs. 49 percent), and Latinx people are even more concerned (70 percent). That's potentially millions of people in the Caribbean who deeply care about the environment and could make a significant contribution to the massive amount of climate work that needs doing. But, they are unable to invest time in the effort, as they are often fighting unnecessary barriers and bias. Others are offering to help, but being rejected, by not being fairly or equally compensated.
My respect goes out to everyone who steps out of their comfort zone to stand up, raise their voices and tell their stories, and even fight for the changes we want to see in this world, in art, in education, in politics, in judiciary… There are many of us out there. Those fighting for oceans, climate, social justice and inclusiveness includes heroines like Ayana E. Johnson, Betsy Lopez-Wagner, Asha De Vos, Noelle Singleton, Kristal Ambrose, and many more. I'm watching, learning, and cheering you on !!
You see, there is truly a 'George Floyd' in all of us; being suffocated, being ignored, unsupported, unfairly judged, exploited... this list goes on for every black person in the world from birth, through education, and in the workplace. No matter the status or wealth attained in life, as a black person there is always someone, some system, that tries to snatch the breath from you. Sadly, at times that’s even our own, and that's rife in our Caribbean too. Post-traumatic slave syndrome is real, and Caribbean nationals are suffering mostly in silence. It's time we also raised our voices!
George Floyd’s murder might’ve happened in the USA but the tremors are being felt around the world. Heck, the entire Caribbean can’t breathe. Thank God for our oceans’ because without that, I’m not too sure how we would fair. At least, it gives us a place to heal and meditate.
As a region, we are expected to build resilience to health and climate crisis, create economic and social sustainability this decade but, without financial sovereignty or flexibility, without equal platform or voice. There are now “aquatic therapists” looking to study the mindfulness achieved by simply being around or in water, which points to economic potential of, 'health and our ocean,' for the region. These benefits in everyday wellness derived from being close to the sea should lead lawmakers to care for our already-shaky ecosystem. However , with the plethora of challenges facing the region, post coronavirus, will we honestly succeed in prioritizing oceans, and engaging community in active stewardship?
As a race, we have been under deep trauma over centuries, so much so, that at times we are distracted from the real evil of systematic oppression, as we fight amongst ourselves. We are resource strapped and in many cases unable to collect the data and evidence required to prove our cases for financial support or developmental aid. How are we to really to give focus to transforming our ports, energy systems, transportation, waste management systems, buildings and still achieve food security this decade, when so many of our citizens are heading for the bread line?
At present, efforts to promote sustainable fishing practices are apparently not a priority to most. I'm just not seeing the focus on fisheries that one would think necessary at this time in the islands, when health and food security are foremost on our minds. Some of our regions operations for marine management are contemplating to downsize or suspend activities for one year. Our people are overwhelmed by the need to feel safe and cared for. Just imagine for one moment, what ocean advocacy, must feel like, when battling racism, inequality, and bias, whilst also trying to keep a roof over your head, kids school fees paid, and figuring out if you qualify for the next financial stimulus package. I'm breathless just thinking it!
I believe, Caribbean leaders must speak out more, on how economic and trade systems have been set for us to fail and to constantly play a never-ending game of catch up. Is this a new form of colonialism, that same colonialism we thought we had left long ago deep in our history? ''True freedom requires changes in the structural imbalances in power and wealth in our midst, otherwise it becomes freedom in name alone.'' Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados .
Our reality is that we fail to access trade markets on fair terms, we are unable to access correspondent banking services, because we are too small to be seen. The absence of such access has our people in quarantine from the global community in trade and commerce. These structural issues are obstacles to achieving the global sustainable development goals, and ending the persistent poverty that some of our people still endure. We shouldn't have to fight, to be given an equal start, or even a head start. However, in many instances, we are simply too scared to bite the hand that feeds us. But, the time for change is now, or never!
The challenge for our next generations should be of serious concern to every Caribbean national. Neither us nor our children have the tools, information, historical spaces, resources, nor the instruments - financial or physical to build true sustainability let alone real freedom. There is no information space, where we can be guided to research, and replicate fruitful efforts in business. Nor do we have space to dream big ideas and innovate necessary solutions to the existential threats we face, like climate change and ocean health. Even more troubling, is that too many of us are growing up ignorant of our history and as a result, are culturally bankrupt.
There is so much I can say, it’s a painful conversation to have. All I know, is that there is work to do. It's going to take a lifetime and a deep ancestral spirit of community and collaboration (transgender, interracial, black, white you name it...) plus a tremendous moral leadership and compassion to re-create a Caribbean, let alone a world, that we can all be proud of.
In solidarity, VETA
Founder of Fish 'N Fins Inc. & Blue Economy Consultant, advocating for a bluer future that provides economic opportunities and benefits to coastal communities and those most vulnerable and marginalized. Supporting initiatives and programs that value and protect coastal and marine ecosystems as natural capital, and ensure that activities operate within environmental limits. As an Island Innovation Ambassador, I will be helping to organize and promote the 2nd Virtual Island Summit, aiming to connect 10,000 people from around the world to share and learn about island stories and sustainable development, this year.