The Common Themes of Marginalisation and Colonisation in Marcus Garvey

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“Marcus Garvey” by Rupert Lewis, is a book which illustrates the struggling yet accomplished life of a black African man by the name of Marcus Mosiah Garvey; how each factor of his life played a major role in the fight of Racism not only in the Caribbean but on a global platform. Rupert Lewis effortlessly depicted the major events which occurred in Marcus Garvey’s life in as little as 95 pages. The book was published by The University of West Indies Press located here in the Caribbean. The intended audience of this biography is ought to be people/students of the Caribbean, extended to people of the African race worldwide. The writer’s tone of voice was very admiring and appreciative. This was well suited for the type of writing which give readers a sense of proudness of one’s race and culture. The writer used techniques such as paraphrasing pieces of articles to not only back up his information but for the reader to better understand what was occurring. The aim of the writer was seen to be informing not only people of African descent but people of all races the work that Marcus Mosiah Garvey had put in to remove the marginalization towards black people.

The main character of this book was Marcus Garvey, born in St. Ann’s Bay Jamaica on 17th August 1887. His mother Sarah Jane Richards and Father Marcus Garvey Senior got married in 1889, two years after came along Garvey Jr. Garvey took on attributes of his father, whom loved to read extensively. Garvey Jr. took on adulthood at a young age where he began to work at a printing company in Kingston. It was at this company that he developed a significant interest into Journalism. Other interest of Garvey was in the field of sports namely boxing and cricket, of which he was deeply enthused by the cricketer George Headley. Not only is the book a good biography of the life of Marcus Garvey, it has its educational values as it helps us students of the Caribbean in knowing who we are. Several themes were established in this book, of such themes were; Racism, Slavery, Marginalization, Colonialism and Migration. These themes seen throughout the book are themes we also covered in our Caribbean Civilization Course in school.

The first theme of the book and throughout was that of Racism. It was one of the major aspects of this book, it was one of Garvey’s many fights. Upon return to Jamaica on July 8th, 1914, from a trip to England where he attended Birkbeck College. Garvey published a Pamphlet “A Talk with Afro-West Indians: The Negro Race and its problems”, his writing techniques began to improve due to his increased level education. The travelling to different countries leads Garvey to consider starting an organization. “He saw the disabilities under which the negros lived” (Lewis 2018, 8 & 9). Garvey and his friends then formed a group called “Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League” (UNIA-ACL) which was launched on 20th July 1914. It was the launch of this organization where Garvey’s life in the fight against racism and political unfairness began, in an attempt to make negros a recognizing factor in the world. Garvey noticed that since the establishment of this organization his experience with racism had been worsened, surprisingly in his own native country, Jamaica. Garvey experienced racism all throughout his life, even at a tender age he saw that Racism can distort Social relationships where his childhood friend was told to not hang out with him anymore because he was a black nigger. Racism played a major role in the identity of the people of the Caribbean in the sense that whites were seen as superior and blacks as inferior. Garvey hated this and wanted to change this view point of the world his vision was to make every human be seen as one race. Classism/Racism in Caribbean society today stemmed from racism in the plantation society. It can still be seen in today’s society where black people are bleaching their skin to be of lighter skin complexion, this is ultimately in hoping that they will be more accepted in the society. The racial battle and the fight to eradicate the class system based on one’s skin color is a battle that has been being fought in the Caribbean for as far back as slavery days. Racism is still now a factor in the Caribbean and globally. This theme really struck the authors interest because as a black man in the Caribbean he himself might have been experienced some level of racism.

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The second theme depicted in the book was of Slavery. The book mentioned many aspects of slavery which further helped to establish the point of the racial factor affecting Africans. Garvey had interest in the freedom of the Caribbean from Chattel slavery. This was one of the topics covered in unit 4 of the course which described the events which occurred and the conditions under which the Africans were forced to work. Africans were forced to leave Africa to become slaves in the Americas, this led to becoming accustomed to an environment such as slave labor sustained by violence in a new environmental condition. This further lead to new identities being embarked upon, such as African American and euro- American. Which ultimately lead to white supremacy and black inferiority. The author made it clear as to how the slaves were seen as only property and not as human beings. “They said we were heathens, we were pagans, we were savages and did not know how to take care of ourselves; that we did not have any religion; we did not have any culture; we did not have any civilization for all those centuries, and that is why they had to be our guardians.

“But, thank God, we have them all now, and as such we are asking that you hand back to us 'our own civilization'. Hand back to us that which you have robbed and exploited us of in the name of God and Christianity for the last 500 years.” — Marcus Garvey, 1919 (Jamaica Observer Limited 2017). Throughout the course of the book Rupert Lewis showed that slavery was the general cause of all the racism and classism that we now have today.

The third theme covered in the book was that of marginalization. The marginalization of black people was greatly illustrated in this book series. It was seen that once you are black then you are considered inferior. Every step taken by Garvey was a step to eradicate the marginalization of black people. The great thing about Garvey was that he fought several battles just because he is black, but he never once marginalizes white people. He wasn’t anti-white because he knows that for black people to win this fight he had to interact with the superior whites. The book mentioned Garvey meeting with several white well-known people at the top of the pedestal, of such people was the leader of the ‘Ku Klux Klan’ (KKK). Garvey realized that the fight was a losing one, but he never gave up, he suggested that since the USA would be a white country then why not let Africa be a black country. That way we will all be on the same level of superiority. Garvey also lost this battle when the American company took over Liberia for the placement of a rubber company called ‘Firestone’. The marginalization of black people is still present till this day. I admire the author’s way of relating all the various themes into this book for it helps us the readers better able to understand fully the picture he is painting.

The fourth theme seen in the book was that of Colonialism which was another one of the many battles of Garvey. Garvey ventured into politics to fight against the British colonial rule. It was during this period Garvey started the political party “Peoples Political Party” in Jamaica. “One’s Identity was defined by the hallmarks of colonial Britishness” (Lewis 2018, 10). The light skin people saw Africa/Africans as uncivilized people. In the Course Caribbean Civilization, a civilized person should not be defined by merely the color of one’s skin nor possession of cars, house and materialistic things, this would only result in persons with the absence of these items deemed uncivilized which should not be the case. Garvey was termed the anti-colonial king ('Marcus Garvey: Anti Colonial Champion by Rupert Lewis' 1988). Rupert Lewis showed that Garvey was also fighting a political battle against colonialism. Garvey started his journey cautiously because the steps he was about to take on were during the period of the starting of the first world war where people under colonial rule were to go and risk their lives and go to war possibly dying for their leader. I do agree with Rupert Lewis on the aspects of colonialism because it all boils down to the people serving their king/leader.

The fifth theme illustrated in the book was the migration which significantly impacted the Caribbean region. Many civilizations including the Caribbean were at a lost due to the migration of their people to America. In the book the writer depicted many migration patterns of people from their home country towards new civilizations. The forced African migration patterns were mentioned, during the slavery period. Marcus Garvey himself decided to migrate to the US in an attempt to make his organization be exposed to a larger platform, which it did especially after his yearlong tour of America from 1916- 1917. The author mentioned a major event which changed the world drastically, the migration of a large group of people from the Caribbean and other countries to the USA which began around the ending of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century. This was taught in unit 5 of the course where it was said that migration of people in/out of the Caribbean lead to some serious labor issues. Migration wasn’t just occurring from country to country but also within the country. Where in the USA blacks were migrating from the south due to the cruelness and brutal racial factor of the southern people. Which links us back to racism again, this goes without saying that Racism played and major role in the shape of the world and the identities of the people of today’s world. Upon forming the UNIA, Garvey did not expect to receive the negative feedback he received from his own Jamaican people. He sympathized with the thoughts of the Jamaican people because if it were not for the period of the world war then he might not have received the feedback that he received.

In conclusion, it is safe to say that the book was a significant learning experience for me, for I always had in interest in the story of Marcus Mosiah Garvey. The themes were fully relatable to the course and I was able to relate the topics covered in class with the information in the book. I commend Rupert Lewis on his brilliant writing techniques which he used to write this book. The book was very rewarding in the sense that it helped me to understand the Caribbean Civilization Course more where I am able to use the knowledge I obtained to better understand this book and other books of similar aspect. I also want to thank University of The West Indies in choosing this book to be included in the course. The book has most if not all of the themes that we came across in the course. I know for sure that my classmates will have similar sentiments that I share. I would most definitely recommend this book to my friends to read because it was worth reading every word of it. The efforts of Marcus Mosiah Garvey really helped in bringing black people to where we are right now in today’s society.

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