The third of fourth forums on racism, presented by the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix, focused on historical and current examples of racism and – as with previous workshops in the series – asked attendees to enumerate actions to be taken to fight discrimination.
Four presenters were asked by Allyson Reaves, the facilitator, to speak about institutional, academic, cultural, historical, local, personal and political racism to around three dozen people who joined the meeting virtually last Friday.
Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett offered examples of racism she has witnessed in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Ways and Means Committee is the oldest and most exclusive Congressional committee, and it has the fewest members. Its powers include overseeing tax laws, revenues, customs, trade agreements and other important functions of government. Not until the 1970s were members from the territories allowed on Ways and Means because the U.S. Government thought of the populations there as “alien races” and unable to govern themselves. The territory has been left out of legislation and government decision-making for decades.
And Plaskett is only the fourth Black woman to be included in the elite group.
“Being a Virgin Islander is constantly living on the fringes,” she said. “We constantly have to remind those in the States that we exist.”
Recently she was asked to serve as an impeachment manager for the second impeachment of former President Donald Trump. Representatives had to be reminded by Rep. Joaquin Castro to include lawyers of color on the team. The mindset is so ingrained, people don’t realize they are doing it, Plaskett said.
Valrica Bryson of the University of the Virgin Islands displayed and discussed a cultural timeline, beginning with the aboriginal people of the territory. The Ciboney, Arawak and Carib people were the first to inhabit the islands and left behind vestiges of their social systems. After that, every culture imposed their social systems on Virgin Islanders – European invaders including the English, Dutch, French and the Danes. And of course, the slave trade kept enslaved Virgin Islanders subservient and affected the cultures they brought from Africa. The United States continues to influence Virgin Islands culture, as do residents from other Caribbean nations who settle in the territory.
“All of this impacts the territory in terms of how we talk, dance and communicate with each other,” Bryson said.
She ended her presentation advising a “change of mindset” and “growth” so that Virgin Islanders learn to embrace those from other islands.
The director of the V.I. Caribbean Cultural Center at UVI, Chenzira Davis Kahina, also spoke about institutional and historic racism. She was arrested in Beverly Hills in the 1970s while attending Pepperdine University. She was caught sitting on a bench in the swanky neighborhood. Similar experiences are still reported to this day.
Kahina talked about the U.S. Navy, which governed the USVI after the islands were purchased by the United States. They interfered with education and worship habits while imposing their rules and culture. She said “honest, open, specific talk” and “action” are the means to combat racism. Otherwise, it will fester and grow.
Marise James, former judge advocate with the V.I. National Guard and currently a policy advisor with the Governor’s Office, gave an example of how a V.I. guardsman was ruled by different regulations than stateside guard members. National Guard members on the mainland receive their housing allowance with their regular pay, while Virgin Islanders must prove their costs. A man who built his house over a period of years was denied the full value because he only had receipts for his supplies and didn’t take out a loan.
For the final 35 minutes, the audience broke into nine groups and discussed how each presentation resonated with them and how the conversations can translate into action. The final question was to list actions the participants would take moving forward.
Most listed education, including cultural and spiritual education as an important step. Several people requested more forums on the subject and one group suggested listening to Mario Moorhead’s radio show on Thursdays. One group suggested a racism-isn’t-spoken-here T-shirt and another group wanted to bring together youth and elders to study racism.
The final session of the forum series – A Call to United Community Action – will take place on Feb. 11. Anyone can register, whether or not they attended the previous sessions. Enrollment on the Women’s Coalition website will be confirmed and participants will be sent a list of suggested readings.