March 14, 2006 – Using a series of personal anecdotes, jokes, and little-known facts, world-renowned activist and author Dr. Randall Robinson put a new spin on the old cliché, "what you don't know will kill you," during a lecture at the University of the Virgin Islands Tuesday evening.
"I happened to be watching, for example, the funeral of Coretta Scott King, and I saw that there was thunderous applause coming from the audience when former president Bill Clinton got up to speak," he said to the more than 100 community members and students packed into the Chase Auditorium on the university's St. Thomas campus. "But what people don't know," he continued, "is that during the Clinton administration, there were farmers in St. Vincent committing suicide because Clinton had destroyed the Caribbean banana industry in exchange for a gift from Chiquita, who had no American workers, but wanted the entire business for themselves — this one crop, which represented 85 percent of the income for places like St. Lucia and Dominica. That's why I say what you don't know will kill you."
Robinson, the featured speaker for this year's Alfred O. Heath Distinguished Speaker Series at UVI, told his audience that learning about one's culture and history, keeping up to date with current events and pursuing as many educational opportunities as possible are the keys to eradicating this kind of ignorance and becoming a responsible citizen and leader in the community.
He also said younger generations should become aware of who they are, that voters should continually question politicians before electing them to office, and that citizens should always reach out to the people who are suffering in their communities because those individuals could help "shape the future" of a society. Robinson further discussed the idea of cultural commodification — the mass commercialization of a particular culture — and granting reparations to the African community.
"Getting the federal government to deal with reparations should be a worldwide priority because it has put the African community at a disadvantage for more than 300 years," Robinson said. "And because of that disadvantage, our population is facing a number of issues, such as increasing crime levels – one out of every three inmates in our prison system is black, for example – but no one knows that, so no one takes the time to ask what's going on."
Robinson, also the founder of the TransAfrica organization that spearheaded the movement to influence U.S. policies toward international black leadership, added that questioning politicians about the criminal justice system should always be at the forefront of discussion, and should focus on topics such as balancing sentences for blacks and whites. "I know there are instances where young African-Americans are serving sentences which are double the amount of time given to a white person charged with the same offense," he said. "But when we ask why young black men have to deal with these conditions, we're told that something must be wrong with them. The truth is, no one knows why – that's why you should always, always keep asking."
Researching foreign policy issues should also be a priority, he said, while speaking about the Bush administration's decision to launch war on Iraq and stage a coup in Haiti to overthrow former Prime Minister Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
"Americans generally have the attitude that they have to triumph over everyone else," he said. "They think that America is the greatest nation in the world, and they say so. But the truth is that the war in Iraq, which was motivated by money and the need to control the world's oil supply, was a mistake from the beginning, and the removal of Aristide was an American coup, and those are the things that we are responsible for knowing."
Robinson, who lives with his wife and children on St. Kitts, further applied these issues to the U.S. government's involvement in the Caribbean.
"The problem is that in being a small island, we're very dependent on outside nations for help," he said. "If the boat carrying food were not to come one day, for example, our grocery stores would close and our island would shut down. And it seems as if our government leaders are more interested in the plans of white developers coming in with these great schemes for making money than the interests of their local people. So, what we have to do here is remember that no one is going to help us but us. We have to take an interest in our own communities and decide what we stand for. Only then, when we expand our minds and fill our hearts, can we be liberated."
At the end of the lecture, Robinson was given a gift by UVI President LaVerne Ragster.
Dr. Alfred O. Heath, for whom the lecture series is named, also received a gift and was commended by Ragster for the numerous donations he has given to the university. "UVI has benefited in so many ways from the generosity and spirit of Dr. Heath," Ragster said. "And we thank him for all that he's done for us."
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