Preserving Our Literary Heritage

Late historian Dr Walter Rodney

‘The Groundings With My Brothers by Walter Rodney

In order to connect to the book: ‘The Groundings With My Brothers, it is useful to understand what Rodney meant by ‘black’ and ‘white’ and the connotations thereof:
Asked to sketch the figure of a man or woman, the black schoolboy instinctively produces a white man or a white woman. This is not surprising, since until recently the illustrations in our textbooks were all figures of Europeans. The few changes which have taken place have barely scratched the surface of the problem. West Indians of every colour still aspire to Europeans standards of dress and beauty. The language which is used by black people in describing ourselves shows how we despise our African appearance. ‘Good hair’ means European hair, ‘good nose’ means a straight nose, ‘good complexion’ means a light complexion. Everybody recognises how incongruous and ridiculous such terms are, but we continue to use them and to express our support of the assumption that white Europeans have the monopoly of beauty, and that black is the incarnation of ugliness. That is why Black Power advocates find it necessary to assert that BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL.
In order to connect to the book: ‘The Groundings With My Brothers, it is useful to understand what Rodney meant by ‘grounding.’ Rodney was making good use of his ancestors’ tradition in oral literature – gathering together, connecting to each other, teaching and entertaining each other through a storytelling setting. It was through such a setting Rodney was grounding and bonding with his brothers.
I was prepared to go anywhere that any group of Black people were prepared to sit down to talk and listen. Because, that is Black Power, that is one of the elements, a sitting down together to reason, to ‘ground’ as the Brothers say. We have to ‘ground together.’ There was all this furore about whites being present in the Black Writers Congress which most whites did not understand. They did not understand that our historical experience has been speaking to white people, whether it be begging white people, justifying ourselves against white people or even vilifying white people. Our whole context has been, ‘that is the man to talk to.’ Now the new understanding is that Black Brothers must talk to each other. That is a very simple understanding which any reasonable person outside of a particular ‘in-group’ would understand. That is why we talk about our ‘family discussions.’
‘The Groundings with my brothers’ is a slim book, some 83 pages but it is yet another slim book pregnant with insights and answers on the issue of oppression and redress.
‘The Groundings With My Brothers,’ compiled since 1969, is still relevant because it has not aged like other political literature due largely to three reasons. One, the conditions of the oppressed and the oppressor still exist. Two, there are efforts to bring redress to the situation. And three, dealing with the consequences of the above clashes.
This book was reprinted many times since it was first published by Bogle L’Ouverture Publications. This book was the press’s first publication, making a profound statement – ‘the founding of Bogle L’Ouverture Publications was based on a corporate decision to make a total break with the usual tradition of publishing: that of Black people passively providing the human material to be written up and published by other people.’
This fifth edition is divided into six chapters and comes with a Publisher’s Note by Jessica Huntley, an Editor’s Preface by Ewart Thomas, an Introduction by Richard Small, a Publisher’s Note by Jessica and Eric Huntley, and a New Introduction by Omawale.
The six chapters are namely ‘Statement of the Jamaican situation,’ ‘Black Power, a basic understanding’, ‘Black Power – it’s relevance to the West Indies,’ ‘African history and culture,’ ‘African history in the service of black revolution’ and ‘The groundings with my brothers.’
Although the book was about a Jamaican situation Rodney was speaking to all oppressed peoples everywhere.
“I would speak wherever there was a possibility of our getting together. It might be in a sports club, it might be in a schoolroom, it might be in a church, it might be in a gully. (Those of you who come from Jamaica know those gully corners.) They are dark, dismal places with a black population who have had to seek refuge there. You will have to go there if you want to talk to them. I have spoken in what people call ‘dungle’, rubbish dumps, for that is where people live in Jamaica. People live in rubbish dumps.”
Rodney gave reasons how the fight could be lost because the black intellectuals and academics have detached themselves from the black masses having sold their black souls and are now unable to challenge the social myths.
Through all of this, Rodney reminded us to be cognisant of the humanity of black people.
Theoretician, revolutionary, historian, writer, Walter Rodney (1942 – 1980) was born in Georgetown to working class parents – his father was a tailor and his mother a seamstress.
After primary school, he won an open exhibition scholarship to Queen’s College, where, in 1960, he won another open scholarship to enter University of the West Indies, Jamaica. Graduating in the year 1963 with first class honours in history, and winning yet another scholarship to the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. In 1966, at the age 24, he secured his Ph. D with honours in African History.
He taught for a while in Tanzania before returning to his alma mater, University of the West Indies, in 1968, and becoming caught up in the post-colonial political agitations and the Black Power Movement of the region. So much was his influence that he was banned from the country by the Hugh Shearer-led Jamaican Labour Party. This experience was recorded in ‘The Groundings With My Brothers.’

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(By Petamber Persaud)