Urges those outraged to channel energy into researching & boycotting companies employing slave labour
Man of the Cloth and ZBVI 'Honestly Speaking' radio moderator Claude O. Skelton-Cline has broken his silence regarding a Monday, June 15, 2020, cartoon published by Virgin Islands News Online (VINO) that ties directly into social commentary made by him on the Tuesday, June 9, 2020, edition of his popular radio show.
In that episode, Skelton-Cline had told his listening audience, "every time the United Kingdom uses its cohesive powers, that's a knee on our collective neck. Every time the United Kingdom threatens us or gives us an ultimatum, that's a knee on our collective necks."
The proverbial knee
The 'knee on the neck' phrase was made popular after African American George P. Floyd Jr, 46, was killed on May 25, 2020, when a white Minneapolis officer pressed a knee on Floyd’s neck for about 8 minutes and 46 seconds before he died, sparking racial injustice movements around the world.
Skelton-Cline also moved to use the Governor as a metaphor that represents the UK and its colonial heritage of enslaving people of colour and said the office of the Governor was a remnant of systematic and institutional racism against Virgin Islanders maintained by the British Empire.
"Every time in this recent history where this Governor overrides the Public Service Commission and their recommendations to honour the requests of the newly elected government for their own PS's," he said that is a knee on VI's collective neck.
It was in August 2019, when Governor Augustus J. U. Jaspert usurped this function entirely upon himself when he rejected the recommendation of the Public Service Commission (PSC) with regard to the appointment of Permanent Secretaries and made his own appointments. This was seen as a slap in the face of the VI at a time when the Territory was celebrating Emancipation from slavery.
The man of the cloth, Mr Skelton-Cline, further said it is not just George Floyd who couldn't breathe, "we can't breathe, our Premier [Andrew A. Fahie (R1)] cannot breathe because we have a Governor with his knees on our necks."
"I did not take cartoon personally" - Skelton-Cline
Skelton-Cline in the Tuesday, June 16, 2020, in breaking his silence on the cartoon controversy while on his show said, "I did not take the cartoon personal, because it's not about me... I'm a representation, as a citizen with a point of view of what I see and what we are experiencing as Virgin Islanders."
"The depiction of the governor, is a depiction, a reflection that represents the United Kingdom in our Geo-Political construct... that's the way I see it, that's the way I took it," he further explained.
A small section of the VI community had reacted in outrage to the social commentary and the visual depiction. A few persons connected to political parties in the Opposition had also publicly vowed to shut down VINO and have called advertisers bullying them to discontinue advertising on our news site.
Mr Skelton-Cline; however, urged those individuals to channel their passion and anger into identifying companies utilising slave labour and institutional racism.
"And so, what I want you to hear me say, I am not interested in a boycott against the local agency [VINO]. I'm in favour of looking at companies in our midst, across the Americas, across the UK and other countries in the earth who have systematically and institutionally deprive people of colour for promotions, for new hires, who support slave type labour."
He urged those who are upset by his comments to do the research, identify the systematically racist companies and boycott the goods they sell.
Governor fires back @ Skelton-Cline & VINO
Governor Jaspert on Monday, June 15, 2020, released a statement regarding the comments and visual depiction, saying that he was "appalled and disturbed" by what was depicted and insinuated.
He said it was grossly offensive and unacceptable to use George Floyd’s tragic death in political commentary, however, Governor Jaspert did not address documented claims his office was part of the UK's ammunition of institutional racism.
The UK Government national archives in an article entitled "Britain and the Slave Trade" listed Portugal and Britain as two of the most ‘successful’ slave-trading countries accounting for about 70% of all Africans transported to the Americas.
According to the article, "Britain was the most dominant between 1640 and 1807... It is estimated that Britain transported 3.1 million Africans (of whom 2.7 million arrived) to the British colonies in the Caribbean, North and South America and to other countries."
In essence, the British economy saw a major part of its wealth built on the backs of slave labour, from people like the enslaved African ancestors of Virgin Islanders who were forced to work the fields.
"The slave trade was carried out from many British ports, but the three most important ports were London (1660-1720s), Bristol (1720s-1740s) and Liverpool (1740s-1807), which became extremely wealthy," the article said.
Colonialism built on racism
British colonisation was built on racism and the VI, now classified an Overseas Territory, is still a colony of the UK, and overseeing that colony is the Governor's office with a Governor appointed by the British monarch to act as the de facto head of state.
As part of his role, the Governor also has certain powers to make and remove appointments in the VI while Britain maintains its political, economic, and social influences through neocolonialism in the OTs and around the world.
Mr Skelton-Cline said; however, that he does not believe the sitting VI Governor is a racist although he is empowered by the Crown, "I don't know him that well, I don't believe that, and that's why I took the cartoon as simply a representation," of the UK he said regarding his commentary.
At the same time, the man of the cloth said he believes Britain has other motives, "The United Kingdom continues to demonstrate to us in ways, where they do not intend to substantially, materially, factually, in any way, support these Virgin Islands or its OT territories in the forward motion and progress of self-determination."
Help or not?
After Hurricane Irma devastated the Virgin Islands in September 2017, instead of grants or loans, the United Kingdom only offered a loan guarantee to the Virgin Islands but at the same time refused to address the borrowing guidelines in the Protocols for Effective Financial Management, which limit the VI from accessing meaningful loans for its recovery without violating the protocols.
Additionally, as the Virgin Islands economy came to a grinding halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Premier and Minister of Finance, Honourable Andrew A. Fahie (R1) requested a grant from the UK to assist persons made jobless or made to work reduced hours; however, the UK, through Governor Jaspert, told the VI to use its own monies from the reserves and Social Security Board (SSB).