Post 435.

IN A BASEMENT classroom in New College, University of Toronto (U of T), Prof Arnold Itwaru changed our lives in a way that only a teacher can. It was 1994, and he looked like Karl Marx, already aged with a grey bush of hair haloing his face and head. 

He would hold Caribbean students enthralled. I’d race back to my dorm, impatient to tell friends everything he said. In this way, he influenced even those he never taught. 

I’d mimic his grand gestures, his hand spiralling in the air like he was conducting the crescendo of an orchestra, rising to his toes, with passionate fervour. It wasn’t a caricature, it was awe that a smallish Indo-Guyanese man could blow my mind open, leaving me questioning everything. Without him, I wouldn’t be the educator that I am today. 

Caribbean Studies was in its inception years at U of T, growing for those hungry for insights from and about what we thought of as home. Prof Itwaru would walk in, without pretence, and unpack imperialism, empire, language, media, literature, and disciplinary knowledge itself. 

He could be argumentative, but he was also deeply invested in the power of education, teaching to transgress, and decolonising minds. He wanted us to think hard about what it means and requires to be free. Through him, I read Kamau Brathwaite, George Lamming, Franz Fanon, Earl Lovelace, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o and many more by 19 years old. 

It set my path. How could it not? He made us learn to watch our words, not to speak of mastering a subject for its normalising of master-slave relations and unequal power. He taught us that Star Trek was a fantasy of empire. One friend briefly stopped eating with a knife and fork. I refused to wear an academic gown, otherwise required at my college, founded in 1851, threatening action if I had to carry such a symbol of white, elitist knowledge on my post-colonial shoulders. 

Wearing one now for UWI graduations, I tell his spirit not to worry, is a mas I play with all the irony and resistance we understand so well. 

He was insistent that jackets and ties were the colonisers’ uniform. Thus, I did not own a single jacket until two decades later, when Prof Paula Morgan, fully understanding, gently suggested I would need one black jacket as head of department. I told my students about mimicry as a tool for subversion in the master’s house. 

One jacketed dean would comment that I should dress more formally. I’d feel pity for this man who never sat in Prof Itwaru’s class, just as I’d wonder at our politicians in Parliament, empowering an independent nation, dressed in capitalists’ clothes. 

So many examples, I laugh looking back. People now champion their decoloniality, but 25 years ago, we were taking that idea as far as 19-year-olds could, entirely because of Arnold Itwaru.

He taught me only one class, in Semester 1, from September-December. We had to submit an essay and I very earnestly went to his office to tell him that I could not write the paper because I had no nation-language to express myself innocent of empire, for the modern Caribbean is so thoroughly colonial, it seemed we only have the master’s tools. Arnold Itwaru nodded back earnestly. Like I had arrived at a shore where he had been waiting. I remember my agonised undergraduate heart singing. 

For an entire semester, and for a second one when I wasn’t even in his classes, I went to his office nearly weekly, consuming books that were beyond any syllabus and talking with my friends in smoky dorm rooms about existence and resistance. My mother had to withstand me calling up one afternoon to ask if she wanted me to get a degree or an education. 

Finally, in May, Prof Itwaru said to hand in something. It wasn’t an essay; there were sentences, fragments, poetry. That night, I dreamt he gave me a D. He gave me an A. My college gave me an award for my student contribution. I graduated, determined to return home. I entered rooms in a jacket, like a midnight robber. 

Twenty-five years later, who I am inside owes an uncountable debt to this unique, headstrong, radically-intellectual, Indian Caribbean man. I am saddened at his passing, that I did not thank him enough or before. He was a gift to students. 

Professor Arnold Itwaru, travel well, knowing that your restlessness for Caribbean freedom lives in us, on and on.

Post 231.

In 1492, the current world order was established. The Caribbean was ground zero. Dispossession of indigenous peoples was the first founding act. Today, we in Trinidad all live on occupied land.

Across the Americas, indigenous sovereign nations, still living under (post)colonial rule, continue to challenge and refuse a global political economy built on invasion, decimation and extraction.

Indigenous people didn’t become extinct. They don’t belong to a time past, and their systems of governance, economic management and ecology are not quaint or outdated.

Indeed, indigenous communities across the Americas are at the forefront of waging struggles against corporate capitalism’s state-managed privatization of water and destruction of forests, precisely because they have kept alternatives alive all these centuries.

As you read, remember Indigenous Honduran environmental activist Berta Caceres, assassinated just this year for her defiance to mining and logging concessions and proposed dams.

Movements such as the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico, now more than thirty years strong, offer real, living examples of dignity, autonomy and justice in which we can all find new forms of order, labour and exchange.

Given that indigenous people are still here, their claims to repatriation of land remain as valid in 2016 as they did in 1493. For them, colonization isn’t an event that happened, it’s a structure that organizes their lives today, as it does ours. Let us not feign innocence about our own entanglement in the continued disruption that occurs in indigenous people’s lives from the violation and violence of such occupation.

What does this mean for Africans, Indians and others in the Caribbean, who, by force and suffering, had to establish our belonging over time by coming to see ourselves as ‘indigenous’ to this region? How do our claims currently and wrongly displace Indigenous people themselves? How does our affirmation of our humanity maintain an imperial legacy?

This is an even more important question for those of us involved in social justice work. For, our legal and cultural investments in UN rights conventions, nation-state law, and democratization of land ownership (such as the Occupy movement in the Americas), all entrench settler colonialism, both others’ and our own. What, then, is our accountability to Caribbean indigenous people’s sovereign right to self-determination?

These are not intellectual musings, but real political questions. For a generation of Caribbean young people who, for the first time in history, are experiencing biodiversity and climate changes that may not be reversed within their lifetimes, alternatives to business as usual are evermore urgent.

That model, established in and expanded from this region, is not all that is on offer, and it no longer offers us what our futures fundamentally we need. This generation of Caribbean children can and eventually must move us from resistance to transformation. That shift requires us to decide what life and justice look like beyond the selves, narratives, relations, structures and possibilities built, like a chain link fence around us, since 1492.

There is no lack of realism here. Rather, there is clear gaze on a global political-economy that is neither timeless nor inevitable. There is clear reading of our potential choices in this place and time. Yet, having had fires of hope mashed down to ash from 1962 to 2015, many adults’ crumpled cynicism no longer remembers or prioritizes the necessity of upcoming Caribbean generations’ truly, globally, decolonial dreams.

No liberatory changes are possible without a vision beyond what is currently dominant, yet unsustainable. This generation needs radically transformative ideals as much as the clean air and water that adults have failed to sufficiently fight for. It needs world changing politics, and the life force of big collective and long-term ideas and movements, not merely individual and immediate workforce skills.

Why Trinidad and Tobago rather than Kairi? Why British government structures? Why shouldn’t we found just models for the world when an unjust model for the world was founded here from 1492?

We live amidst cosmologies that are deeply Caribbean, and must stop seeing our history as beginning and our futures ending with colonization. Colonization, here, isn’t a metaphor. It’s the governing principle under which indigenous people dream of land, life and solidarity. Engaging each other to imagine freedom outside of colonial terms is ethical, urgent and necessary.