By Albert Baldeo
Still I Rise
BY MAYA ANGELOU
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise I rise I rise.
I dedicate this poem, written by one of America’s greatest voices, Maya Angelou, to all Guyanese, and to the critics and naysayers who have crawled out of the swamps seeking to curse or jinx our good fortune heralded by the recent oil revelations. Walk, brothers and sisters, like she says, “Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells, Pumping in my living room.” Our time has finally come.
Fellow Guyanese, the fundamentally misleading article in the NY Times by Clifford Krauss entitled “The $20 Billion Question” and elsewhere, on, inter alia, Guyana having barefooted school children and being “impoverished,” is merely part of a larger systemic and institutional problem Guyanese Americans face in America and around the world. Short changing and disrespecting Guyanese at every level of endeavor and every facet of life has become the accepted norm in America, the world and even amongst our own so-called “Caribbean family.”
The fact that Guyana never asked America for reparation, compensation, apology or explanation concerning Jonestown only made taking Guyanese for granted more institutionalized – an “eye pass,” deserving of trademark Guyanese “suck teeth.” Americans think Guyanese should only be janitors, baby sitters, housekeepers, security guards and taxi drivers, despite the fact that the US Constitution mandates that “we are all created equal and with certain unalienable Rights-Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
I have been there in America. I have seen, suffered and experienced this insidious refusal to accept us on our merits as equals, to stereotype us as lesser than others, and to be wary of us, from deep inside, at the highest levels of government, professions, institutions and society. I have also seen it through the eyes and experiences of my community, my clients, family and friends, despite the fact that many patriots of Guyanese and Caribbean vintage have died defending America’s freedoms, and developing it. It is evil.
Even people from our own Caribbean community think they are better than the average Guyanese, who, like other minorities, have to work many times harder to succeed than any other nationality in America. We will win most battles in America, like I did, but they will pluck defeat from victory to deprive us collectively! They will invent a crime and pin it on you!
No doubt it has to do with the fact that only Guyana has not yet achieved major political representation and corollary respect in America, as a nation or in its diaspora. I was elected a District Leader with 80% of the votes cast, and came within half of a percent of winning a State Senate seat. Over 17,000 people voted for me from all ethnicities, demographics and regions, the most votes secured by a Guyanese, Caribbean or South Asian born in an election in America. However, the seat was taken away from us by the vicious insider and status quo interests, after being declared the winners. Our efforts still placed us on the economic and political map, and our efforts continue as hope springs eternal in this boundless plantation.
Another reason is that we are a peaceful people by nature, like Dave Martin said, and bullies love to run roughshod over us. We prefer to “beg pardon,” and allow others to trample us. We do not stand up for our rights, nor exercise our franchise to vote as we should. We are scared of confronting necessary controversy and problems, contrary to Malcolm X’s “by any means necessary” entreaty. The typical Guyanese will give a bully the shirt off his back in order to keep the peace.
Well, all of this will soon change. We shall lift our heads up high in pride, and unite, love, uplift and empower each other, and big up Guyana!
Yes, they will always create crimes against those of us who dare to confront the inequalities and bigotry in the American political system, throw us in jail for daring to fight the evils of the American justice system, deport us for trying to work harder to make a life better than most Americans, despise us for being peaceful and hardworking, banish us because our kids do better than theirs educationally, and suppress our hopes and dreams to hurt our progress.
But we will rise, again, as long as we guard and administer our oil resources wisely, and for the benefit of the entire nation. Let others keep their filthy hands off our oil, especially Venezuela. Keep and nurture our talents at home, instead of pursuing the oftentimes, unrequited, pyrrhic “American dream.” As Mary Angelou extols the “unbought and unbossed people” of Guyanese heritage, as defined by compatriot Shirley Chisholm, “Still, we shall rise, leaving behind nights of terror and fear, into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear, bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave.”
Note: Albert Baldeo is President of The Liberty Justice Center and Baldeo Foundation, a civil rights and community organization, dedicated to the fight for community improvement, justice, equal rights, public safety, dignity and inclusion in the decision making process.
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The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.