Analysis Of Themes Presented In The Book Marcus Garvey By Rupert Lewis

The book ‘Marcus Garvey’ written by Rupert Lewis, seeks to illustrate events that occurred which has shaped our current historical and cultural identity. Rupert Lewis is a professor of political thought who has dedicated his time to educating and activism meant to indorse people of African lineage in the Caribbean and worldwide. He has also been involved exploring the Pan African ideals and has contributed to the expansion of knowledge of Pan-Africanism which allowed him to gain an exhibition in honour at Mona Campus Library in Jamaica. Born in Jamaica on 17 August 1887, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the protagonist of this book, was an influential spokesperson for the Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism movements, which lead to him founding the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. (UNIA). Garvey promoted a Pan-African viewpoint which stimulated a worldwide movement, known today as Garveyism. These world-renowned movements aided the people of African descent socially and politically. The Black Star Line and other businesses incorporated by Marcus Garvey and the UNIA are examples of companies that aided Marcus and his supporters to which are referred to as ‘Garveyites’ economically. This book report aims to analyse and interpret four themes within the book such as; racism, resistance, identity and religion which are examples of the challenges Garvey faced in his journey of challenging racial subordination and economic exploitation of Africans. Also, it intends to assess each theme’s contribution to Caribbean civilization within the social and historical frameworks.

Initially, Economic Independence for blacks is a significant theme portrayed in this book. Garvey admired the ambition of the African Americans since he strived to promote negro independence. He witnessed these people created a society of their own in America as black entrepreneurs developed a plethora of local shops, cafes and restaurants. They further displayed their liberation as they ran real estate agencies and owned banks. He noticed many white owned companies were expanding into African territories thus, exploiting their resources. Firestone Rubber Company bridged into Liberia and began farming plantation rubber to manufacture tires for the automobile industry. In the Negro World newspaper, Garvey elaborated that if white companies could establish themselves in African states, why African nations cannot establish themselves in white states. On July 30th 1918, the ACL was established in New York to promote black business in America. The ACL that had authorisation and license to manufacture and raise capital for black businesses such as grocery stores and restaurants. The ACL gained license to acquire mortgages for land and building in support of its affiliates and gained the authority to trade stocks and bonds for its members. This business branch of the UNIA boosted in black significance in the business world and was promoting black entrepreneurship and independence in negro communities. Soon after, Garvey encouraged exportation. Garvey highlighted the low returns African traders received for their products after the first world war. To combat this, a ship for the UNIA and members to trade their products was purchased. Since there was a shipping company that went by the name “White Star Line” owned by the whites, the Garveyites and Garvey himself agreed to name their shipping company the “Black Star Line” thus, revolting against their white counterparts. The aim of this business was to create a trading route to move goods between America and Africa. Various African countries such as Sierra Leon and Liberia benefited from his enterprise. Soon after, the UNIA established the Negro Factories Corporation which was its business wing. It was successful in acquiring real estate and setting up cooperative banks, emergency services and funeral schemes. Garvey also followed up on his goals of establishing educational institutions thus improving the living standards of black people everywhere, increasing black pride and displayed black sufficiency. Garvey strived to change the slavery paradigm but according to Wilson (2018), “despite decades of procedures, plans, protests and accomplishments by people of African descent, ethnicity remains a pivotal element in the economic status of African Americans in relation to whites.” She also noted that having a bachelor’s degree substantially reduced the unemployment rate for African Americans. According to Weitz (2018) Minority-owned firms have a lover chance of approval for small loans than white-owned businesses. If they are eventually approved, these firms are more susceptible to lower sums and higher interest rates thus, less returns. Nonetheless, there are many black owned companies at present that follow in Garvey’s footsteps such as the Hope For Us charity who’s earnings are used to fund the education of Nigerian children and the healthcare system in Cameroon. Even though Garvey contributed to encouraging black entrepreneurship and economic stability, our minority owned firms still to this day face discrimination when they attempt to expand their ventures even when the cause is significant.

In addition, Racism was the predominant theme that was echoed throughout this book and illustrated that this social ill occurred against persons of African descent and Garvey himself throughout the 1900s. The UNIA was eventually established due to Garvey wanting to solidify the ‘negro’ race after his extensive travels where perceived the unfair circumstances these individuals endured politically and otherwise when the idea of the association struck him (Rupert Lewis, page 8). On his quest to expand the UNIA-ACL Garvey moved to America, where he faced white violence, racial prejudice and unjust treatment of African Americans. Garvey highlighted that Americans still believed that genocide is apparent. These individuals were burnt, hanged and in some cases their heads were shaved. Additionally, an important factor that contributed to white violence was interracial couples. Allegations sometimes false, resulted in serious race riots and the loss of innocent lives of black men (Lewis, page 31). Lynching by whites was triggered because of a rumour that a white man was murdered. African Americans were subject to white violence, racial profiling police brutality as white citizens sought every opportunity to erase the negro race since the view of black inferiority justified arbitrary mob violence and abuse (Lewis page 36). Garvey wasn’t anti- white but identified that the aim of the Ku Klux Klan (K.K.K) was to make America a white man’s country at all costs. (Lewis, 31). This example of racial segregation came about as a result of slavery in the Caribbean. Slavery on the plantations shaped a radical philosophy of racial separation which held an opinion of black inferiority to that of the supreme white counterpart which justified these actions. There is no denial of the fact that this social ill still pervades our everyday lives in today’s Caribbean society. According to The Daily Nation, Barbados (2012) A study by the (IACHR) showed that racial discrimination to African-Caribbean people was linked to their dark skin, poverty and the control of economic resources. In addition, there are several cases of police brutality in Trinidad and Tobago. According to Gomes (2007), “Police officers are abusing individuals under arrest or in their custody. In addition, during 2006, 11 people died while in police custody or at the hands of law enforcement officer.” Garvey faced a growing colour prejudice in his own native land after his founding of the UNIA in 1914 as headlines on the newspaper claimed, “Garvey is Crazy”” when his aim with that movement was to fight for an increase in the significance of the African race and improved rights of his people by trying to move past the slavery paradigm that was created previously. Unfortunately, he came across discrimination at the young age of fourteen when he was separated from his white playmate by her parents because of his ethnicity. Moving forward, Garvey realized that people perceived a difference in humanity and that there were different races that held different views. In the end, Lewis’s display of the theme “racism” is captivating and accurate but alleviated significance and aim of the book. Since racism originated from slavery and is prominent today, it can be argued that this social problem can’t be erased from our mentality as it has found its way through various generations.

Furthermore, another theme voiced in this book is “Resistance”. Even though they faced strong racism, this never stopped Garvey on his goals to promote racial uplift and unity. They resisted in numerous ways against white superiority and colonialism since it was their desire was to unify all the Negro people of the world and to restore the power of Africa. In 1918, black soldiers were recruited to fight in Europe. It was acknowledged that they endured racism, but they were fighting back (Lewis, page 28). Consequently, their defiance caused a major riot resulting in the loss of numerous black lives. There was a point of rampant riot activity intimidating African Americans into surrendering in 1919 which James Johnson referred to as the “Red Summer”. There was bloodshed and torment as the killing continued but according to Wynn, these blacks were prepared to fight and die in their own defence. She pointed out that, “No longer was it the case of one race intimidating another race into submission.” It was of the popular view that the Africans fed up of being subject to unjust treatment and reinforced valour amongst their men to fight for their lives and prepared them for extreme being death. Following these events, Claude McKay, captured the events and thoughts of the blacks in his well-known poem 'If We Must Die.' Mckay expressed the resilience and determination of the African Americans, “Like men, we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack, pressed to the wall, dying but fighting back!”; thus, showcasing the strength of the Africans in this period of interracial discord. Lewis highlighted further resistance in his book, that occurred in Trinidad in 1937 as the oilfield workers strike for economic demands. Garvey was profound in contesting the colonial system. He shed light on various planks that exposed public morality, attacked the patronage system of land owners who intended to avert anti-colonial spokesmen from illustrating the unfairness they endured. Similarly, these examples of resistance are acknowledged in plantation slavery where the African slaves revolted in various ways, typically violent, against the plantation owners. Coincidentally, there is still recent forms of defiance in the Caribbean. According to Rampersad (2016) “a strike by the oilfield workers took place in Trinidad when they were informed that Government has decided to shut down the refinery of State oil company Petrotrin. Oilfields Workers' Trade Union and the Petrotrin Workers (OWTU) led a protest to highlight that workers have expressed disappointment in the decision and concern as they were now facing the breadline.” They protested in an attempt for the board to disclose information and discuss their economic demands and concerns.

Moreover, the theme of identity is prevalent in this biography as Lewis demonstrates the dilemma between West Indian and people of African descent as they strived to establish their own identity since colonialism, slavery and their ancestral qualities have all contributed to shaping it. Garvey elaborated that West Indians expressed self-denial of their skin colour. He also witnessed them criticize black pride and viewed their identity as according to “colonial britishness.”  Garvey explained their shame toward their African descent as they tried to escape their “blackness” and viewed Africa as uncivilized and barbaric. After founding the UNIA, people from his own homeland criticized and expressed their disgust in various forms. Garvey headlined the local newspaper as it wrote, “Garvey is crazy, he has lost his head. No one wants to be a ‘Negro’...”, which further solidified their disgust toward their own ethnicity . In 1916 Robert Morton, Washington’s beneficiary, visited Jamaica. Taking advantage of this, Garvey argued that Jamaica was, “sleeping and needed to be awakened to their possibilities” and advised Morton, to oppose against treacherous race and colour system. Furthermore, colonialism has highly altered and influenced West Indians and their mindsets, attitudes, behaviour and opinions to that of European. The West Indians were forced to believe that the European’s cultural, economic, and socio-political, characteristics were far inclined to theirs. Garvey was always engaged in protesting against racism to uplift the “negro” race and was interested in promoting economic independence amongst blacks thus, increasing the standard of living and rights for African Americans. This is acknowledged in the objectives of the UNIA. In the early 1920’s an individual’s importance to society was based on their class or race in the Caribbean and parts of Africa. Their social position, which is the role of a person in society and culture, allowed West Indians and Africans increase their social mobility. An individual’s social position can be enhanced by occupation, money education and residential location which eased racial discrimination. However, in this era, race trumped class and became a determinant of social position (Lewis 34). Therefore, even though an individual that belonged to the professional middle class, they still faced racial discrimination and was considered poor and belonged to the working class as a result of skin colour stratification (Lewis 34). In the plantation era, the message of white superiority was instilled in Africans and were subject harsh treatment to view their ethnicity as inferior. Consequently, this encouraged Africans to disband their pride of their racial background and pigmentation and in turn resulted in the blacks wanting to adopt the culture of the whites. Garvey however, preached the importance and encouraged that individuals to move past the slavery paradigm that was embedded in the blacks which consequently was a result of slave trade, plantation slavery and colonialism. 

As it can be noted today racism still pervades society and Eurocentrism continues to impact our culture at present as their lifestyle is still favoured. The mindset of pigmentocracy is still considered today as individuals mask their “blackness”. According to Robinson (2011), “The overall findings show that there is a bias in Jamaica for light skin over dark skin and these values are taught in non-formal and informal ways from very early in life.” Greater benefits are received by people who appear closer to being White. This is an ever-present reality for people of colour that remains deep in the psyche of many within the Black community. In essence, light skin is an important indicator of beauty and positive perceptions in many non-White cultures.” Profound names in the music industry such as Vybz Kartel, Alkaline of Jamaica and even in America by the likes of the late Michael Jackson considered the treatment process to disguise their “blackness”. This declares that Caribbean identity is still somewhat influenced by Eurocentrism. We can conclude that slavery and colonialism has influenced our perception of class, social stratification and promoted racial discrimination.


16 December 2021
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