Four Fingers and a ThumbOn a hot day in a school in Laventille, I am reasoning with a student. This beautiful young woman of 17 years or so. I say to her, what do you want to be? She laughs and says a stripper.Her classmates laugh too, because to them it is a joke, as funny as their lives being lived out in predictable boxes.On a hot day in a school in Laventille painted in colours disturbingly similar to the wall around the Royal Gaol, this beautiful young woman sums up the totality of her potential in saying that she wants to be a stripper.I am not amused. I am also not surprised that she doesn’t hesitate to respond in the negative. I fight the urge to run from the room screaming and crying because she is living proof that you can build buildings but if you don’t build the people, your social fabric will crumble and then what is the point of phallic concrete edifices in you city?I suggest to her that she creates her own reality. I suggest to her that words have power and if you call yourself a whore enough, the ease of the words on your tongue will numb you to the dread reality of your actions.I ask her again what she wants to be. She says that what she wants for herself is not what other people want for her.She says she wants to be a hairdresser and a singer. And I wonder who has told her that she can’t be anything she puts her mind to.
This is from a blog by Trinidadian writer Attilah Springer, who wrote it on Saturday while engaging in the "escapist fantasy" that Barack Hussein Obama might win the US election. I posted it because it is so fundamentally true in so many places that are growing young people of colour.The "No You Can't" mentality is pervasive throughout the world, not just in the USA, and it's in part because our leaders swallowed wholesale and without critical examination the concept that there are first and second and third class citizens in this world, and people of colour never break into the first group, and it's also in part because the popular media really only promote images of non-white people engaging in sex, drugs, violence and angry, nihilistic music. It's also in part because our leaders see no value in supporting an economy or a culture that enables us to create alternative images for our own young people.Until now.The fact that Obama has been elected President of the United States of America means something. It means something to all of us, and it's far more than just the fact that he's African-American (and when we apply that to him, it means something real, it's not just another synonym for black/negro/nigger/ex-slave). It means that the people who elected him, who are overwhelmingly under 30, of all backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, beliefs and class are the people who are creating new realities for us. And maybe it also means that something of that hope, of that new reality, will trickle down to the rest of us in the African diasporic world. It isn't going to come easily, and it isn't going to come automatically. But what it does mean is that we can no longer fool ourselves that our destinies are out of our hands. And it means too that throughout the Caribbean we must make our own futures. We have to confront those politicians who have nothing but old ideas, stuff fed to them by imperialists and racists and people who didn't even realize that they were imperialistic and racist but who were force-feeding those worldviews anyway, and tell them it ain't like that anymore.And we have to kill the "No We Can't" attitude stone dead.Dare to dream. America just has had its dream come true. Time for us to dream big too.