Late afternoon in Trinidad. Long shadows. Eyes firmly on the earth, crushing dry season leaves, walking around Nelson Mandela park, ridiculously glad it is called that now, and not George V Park.
If the Black Lives Matter movement flared high and ripped across cities and continents, it is because the noxious gas of systemic racism in the black community in the US finally caught fire.
The movement may be supported by other races (who colluded with silence for too long) but this is not about anyone else now. Unlike the holocaust where reparations take place, piece by piece no such thing happened after 400 years of slavery. The attrition at the dignity and lives of an entire people has not stopped.
In America, there was 'redlining' legislated in 1934 so African Americans could live only in specific neighbourhoods and denied loans to own their own homes. The battering continued with segregation which the 20-year civil rights movement in America ended in 1964 when 'separate but equal' was declared unconstitutional.
In that land of the free and the brave, the African American was, for centuries, robbed of identity, dignity, opportunity, impoverished and marginalised.
The barbaric murder of George Floyd caught on video (how many police murders take place without witnesses, on quiet street corners?) was the match that sent the flame of the black lives movement alight on a community so parched, that it raged across nations, in hundreds and thousands.
It was not just the murder of a black man in public by a white policeman but the casual brutality in the way it was done, one hand in his pocket, gaze turned outwards as if he was already thinking of other more important things. It painfully recalled the dehumanising public hangings of slavery.
COVID-19 further demonstrates daily that black people in the UK and the US die disproportionately, not due to genetics but of poverty. Those who died from the coronavirus had already been half-drowned by 300 years of battering, in low wage, high-contact jobs, living in overcrowded areas with health issues related to poverty.
The Savanah: The Cannonball tree carries fragrances of memories of continents absorbed here, mostly peaceably. Leaves fall to the tenderest strains of Ave Maria on a single steelpan.
Still walking. A young Afro-Trini man hoists his laughing son on his back and carries him to their posh car. Many like him have prospered in the Caribbean. Dr Eric Williams, as the author of Capitalism and Slavery, understood it was vital to redistribute income after colonialism. He knew education was the heart of change.
This and an oil boom brought many people whose parents or grandparents were either urban poor or peasants in the countryside into a substantial middle class. Despite these successes, we have failed hundreds of thousands of our young men. Young black men here, in higher numbers than any worldwide, face the risk of being murdered in gang violence and imprisoned.
Inherited colonial instruments and institutions are difficult to erase even after 58 years of independence. Can the flame of black lives mattering be lit here too? Is there a way to cut loose from successive accommodations between government and community leaders, and ‘invisible’ drug lords who finance and hold the country hostage with gang rule? Is there a way to separate our young black men from the guns and arm them with an education leading to sustainable jobs, and provide funding for stable family life? We have tons of 'reports'. Can we act now?
Around the Savannah, back to Nelson Mandela Park, a group of men, women, children are moving, as if in pantomime, to drumming in Capoeira, a martial art developed by enslaved Africans in Brazil against a pink darkening sky streaked with apricot.
Marching and burning is a highly visual form of protest. The unpopular work of taking back the country from the gangs, the quiet tedious task of rebuilding communities, supporting families, helping young black men to fulfil their potential, that's the struggle.
Look before crossing the road—the flaming immortelle with its stained circular carpet on rained on baked earth reminds us of our own people.
Black lives matter in T&T too.