Culture forward

Last Thursday the red carpet was rolled out for the designation of “Little Caribbean” and the dissent was swift, as if planned; if only the planning was forged in Caribbean unity as opposed to dissention.

To call the Kings County Politics article Bichotte Calls For “Little Haiti” Before “Little Caribbean” Designation lazy would be childish and unfair. Divisive and void of critical thinking are far more apt. The New York State Assembly operates on two-year terms, and 2018 is another election cycle in the State Assembly. Was this an ill-advised move on the part of the Assembly member or a calculated one?

Gone are the days of Anglo-phone (English speaking) West Indians conforming to the rudiments of white supremacy and calling Haitians out of their rightful names. We went through that struggle together and now we are whole or at least making positive and honest strides to become whole. The Haitian community is widely respected within the Caribbean community. Caribbean scholars including Dr. Eric Williams, C.L.R. James and Walter Rodney as well as African-American scholars continuously pay homage to the mighty works of the Haitian revolution and the first Black Republic in the west. If there is something to be said of Haiti’s leadership in the Black liberation struggle in the western hemisphere there should also be something said of “The Myth of Haitian Exceptionalism” that some officials wish to purport. This so called isolated history mentioned in the article that Haiti has suffered through was due to American occupation and European colonial cooperation; other Caribbean nations were not yet independent and as a result, had absolutely no say in the matter. Since 2002, Haiti has been a member state of CARICOM. Another misappropriation of the truth which lends to the myth is that Haiti is the only French-Creole speaking nation. What language is spoken on the islands of St. Lucia, St. Marteen and Guadalupe if not French-Creole?

To quote the KCP article, the assembly member “called on the city to slow down designating Flatbush and Prospect- Lefferts Gardens roughly from Empire Boulevard down to the Brooklyn College junction where Nostrand and Flatbush avenues meet as “Little Caribbean” until the area first gets a “Little Haiti” designation.” This language harkens back to the Brown v. Board of Education 1954 decision calling for integration “with all deliberate speed.” Calling for a slowdown is very vague, extremely elitist and most certainly divisive, especially at a time when unity among Caribbean–Americans is most needed; after all, are “we” not all being priced out and pushed out? Not a soul was calling for a slow down or deliberate speed during the two years that Shelley Worrell, founder of CARIBBEING, began doing the work of uniting the community against forces of gentrification that aim to eradicate Caribbean heritage regardless of national origin. At a time where unity is paramount there are elected officials hanging on to old and tired divisions; constituents, take not the bait.

This is a classic example of politicians using apolitical issues for political gain. #CaribBeing was conceptualized in 1999 by Shelley Worrell. CARIBBEING is a multidisciplinary cultural hub dedicated to showcasing Caribbean culture + art + film in Greater New York City and around the world. Part of CARIBBEING’s mission is to illuminate the Caribbean experience as well as its significant impact in NYC and Diaspora communities. The inaugural event for CARIBBEING was in 2010 at Walt Whitman Theater at Brooklyn College. The event, the Flatbush Film Fest was organized to celebrate culture and build community through the lens of cinema and art. The inaugural CARIBBEING event highlighted three Haitian films, followed by a fundraiser for relief efforts after Haiti’s devastating earthquake.

As a Pan–Africanist and a Pan-Caribbeainst the Caribbean region begins in Miami, Florida in North America in the areas of Little Haiti and Little Havana, and ends in the hinterland of Guyana encompassing everything in between. The makings of Little Haiti and Little Havana were cultural and social responses to political repression as well as convenience being only 90 miles away from the islands.

This designation as a Caribbean community is necessary now more than ever when forces are threatening and unity is our best ammunition. There should be no delay in the naming of Little Caribbean. The voices of community based organizations should be at the forefront of this conversation, for if not for the community who would we elect. Friends of various community organizations have mentioned naming the section of Flatbush Avenue from Empire Boulevard to Flatbush Junction Caribbean Boulevard, and renaming the streets after our heroes in order to memorialize it for our children.

“Forward Ever Backward Never”

“Up Ye Mighty Race You Can accomplish what you will”- Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey

Floyd Jarvis is project coordinator of CUNY Brooklyn CollegeBlack and Latino Male Initiative and founder of Canarsie Neighborhood Alliance.