Rex Nettleford: Caribbean Nationalist

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CaribWorldNews, PHONEIX, Arizona, Mon. Feb. 7, 2010: Whenever I heard Rex Nettleford speak or read his writings, I was reassured that I was part of something special.

He appealed to three of my defining identities – Black, Caribbean-Guyanese and sufferer. One of my most cherished moments was when I interviewed him in June 2000 in Washington DC for CaribNation TV. The interview lasted half an hour but it seemed much longer. Just being in his presence was enough for me. I met him five years later at Howard University and was both surprised and flattered that he remembered the interview.

What struck me most about Rex Nettleford was his knowledge of and passion for the Caribbean. He gave meaning to the enduring Caribbean with all its fragments and genius, never falling prey to the sometimes exaggerated tension between island-state and cultural space. He was simultaneously Black, Jamaican and Caribbean and he made you want to be Caribbean and sing its praises. No one better articulated a Caribbean nationalism.

He weaved critique with celebration and elevation, always centering the labor and creativity of the sufferers who came from what he called the `cane piece.` That today the notion of a Caribbean civilization is not out of place is largely due to the pioneering work of Professor Nettleford.

Nettleford was not a political radical in the extreme meaning of the term, but his work has had a radicalizing effect on the region. Because of him the Caribbean does not suffer from the sickness of high culture versus low culture. His art, his cultural activism and his critical analyses helped to break down that barrier. His passing is a reminder that our Caribbean can assert itself and stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of humanity even when the playing field is uneven.

Professor Nettleford constantly reminded us that the legacy of slavery, indentureship and colonialism meant that our region was in a `long distance race` that requires the persistent mobilization of all our human resources. As we rally around Sister Haiti in her hour of agony, Nettleford`s example and vision are worth reaching for. One Love Rex. – By David Hinds/Special To CWNN

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