Special Meeting of the OAS Permanent Council “Remember Slavery: Recognizing the Legacy and Contributions of People of African Descent in the Americas”
Carter Goodwin Woodson, noted African American author and historian, makes the point that throughout recorded history descendants of the African slave trade have been underrepresented and unevenly recognized for their varied and myriad contributions to civilization and what I will call world peace, progress, prosperity, and pleasure.
Of the roughly seven billion people who inhabit this planet, 1.5 billion are classified as white and blacks account for 1.1 billion. The remaining 4 billion plus are somewhere in the middle. Black people, for the most part, live on 3 continents - Africa and North and South Americas. Throughout history, there is a paucity of written material that records the positive influences and storied contributions that black citizens of the world have made toward global peace, prosperity and pleasure. It is this vacuum, this systematic oversight, that Carter Woodson calls history’s black hole.
Having endured slavery; having shaken off the cloak of colonialism; having triumphed over Jim Crow laws in the United States, apartheid in South Africa, slavery throughout most of the diaspora, people of African descent – except for political power – are still far too often near the bottom.
Despite this, I contend that some of the greatest exploits in human endeavor were spawned from the minds of descendants of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
In the Americas, some 200 million persons are of African descent. Many more live elsewhere. Given the protracted ill efforts of slavery and colonialism, the United Nations by General Assembly Resolution 68/237 has declared 2015 to 2024 “The International Decade for People of African Descent”. Sadly, this clarion call towards human upliftment has gotten all but lost in the glow of the Millennium and Sustainable Development Goals.
I would like to suggest however, that we utilize our best efforts to celebrate the lives and contributions of those of African descent who contributed significantly to filling history’s black hole through the promotion of peace throughout the Americas. In this regard, let us salute and celebrate the lifetime contributions of:
With respect to progress within the Americas and the contributions of people of African descent, we need look no further than how all of us, without exception, have a descendant of slavery to thank for many of life’s comforts we so easily take for granted.
And so we have looked however briefly at how descendants of slavery contributed to peace and progress throughout the Americas. I therefore now turn to my third “P” – pleasure. In what ways have descendants of slaves contributed to our level of pleasure throughout the Americas. In the interest of time I will cite just two categories of pleasure from which we have all benefitted: music and sports.
What would our world be without reggae and Bob Marley? Imagine a world without the Mighty Sparrow. But there’s not just reggae and soca that are outflows of the African experience, there’s also jazz, the blues, gospel, rhythm and blues, rap, rock and roll and soul music – all of which can be traced back to the Motherland and all of which have infused millions of hearts irrespective of race or language with a sense of hope, happiness, love, endurance and survival. So while Bob Marley is immortal, and while the Mighty Sparrow is eternal, we must pause every now and then to salute Michael Jackson, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Otis Redding, Percy Sledge, Whitney Houston, Byron Lee, Harry Belafonte, Aretha Franklin, Celia Cruz, Josephine Baker and countless others who contributed to our joyful tears, teenage romantic moments and can-do spirit.
Finally, as a source of pleasure, descendants of slavery have used the instrument of sports to warm our collective hearts, knit us together and lift our spirits during our deepest, darkest hours.
If you like boxing, there were none greater than Joe Louis and Mohammed Ali; if you prefer basketball, you may wish to know that blacks make up 75% of the players in the National Basketball Association. Pleasure!
If you like American football, 70% of NFL players are black. PLEASURE! If you like soccer, as I do, Pele, thirty plus years after retirement, still has no equal, not in all of Europe or Asia or wherever. If you are partial to cricket, Sir Gary Sobers is still the standard bearer of excellence. And I would be remiss not to mention track and field and the pride we all felt by the unmatched achievements of Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis, Jackie Joyner Kersee, and yes, Usain Bolt. Indeed time would not permit me to comment on Tiger Woods in golf or the Williams sisters in tennis.
It is therefore for these and countless other reasons, Mr. Chairman, that I say while there is much work to be done, and still much land to be possessed, there is cause to celebrate the black experience in and contributions to the Americas. And while we celebrate how far we have come from the vestiges of ancient slavery, let us use this decade to dismantle modern slavery in all its ugly forms: forced labor, human trafficking and gender bias. It is only by so doing that we make a recognizable dent in closing our hemisphere’s black hole.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.