“Unlikely dialogue between an Afro descendant and a Béké”, the meeting of

Dialogue Improbable is a four-hand book written by two West Indians. One is a Béké, Emmanuel de Reynal, and the second, Steve Fola Gadet, a longtime Martinique-based Guadeloupean sociologist and writer. They don’t share the same perspective on many issues, but they show their respective communities that dialogue is possible.

Overseas the 1st: Why do you call your exchange an unlikely dialogue?

Emmanuel de Reynal: In our Caribbean society there are representations that freeze the different population groups in labels and attitudes. We recognize that talking between Martiniquan’s diverse constitutions and ethnic groups is not as natural. While these depictions do not reflect the truth of who we are. Today we belong to a society polarized and polluted by these stereotypes. The dialogue is complicated when you talk label to label.

Steve Fola Gadet: It is defined as an unlikely dialogue because we are in a specific context. History has brought us to two opposite sides. With us, people from the Béké community and Afro descendants talk to each other in private. But exchanging in this way, in front of everyone, without a specific goal, is an unlikely dialogue. What we want to say with this book is that we don’t want to remain prisoners of history and our context. We have not converted to the mind of the other. We simply compared our ideas. And we want to normalize that.

The book “Improbable Dialogue” was released in bookstores on May 10, 2022.

©CARAÏBEDITIONS / Facebook S. Gadet / Private collection E. de Reynal

Was the idea to find a common denominator?

E. from R.: The dialogue exists with us. On the other hand, there are sensitive issues that we don’t address, and have for decades, including since being released from slavery. The strategy was to remain silent to appease the populace. We created a culture of the unsaid, believing that speaking would reignite pain and tension. For me that was a mistake. Generations of Martiniquais have bathed in this culture of silence. Steve and I address sensitive issues that few people end up raising publicly.

GFS : This béké speech reflecting his sentiment in Martinique is rare. In our country, the only representations that people have of the Békés date back to the 2009 documentary broadcast (“The Last Masters of Martinique, Canal +”, February 2009). It is powerful and unprecedented that there is someone who speaks to me about sensitive issues. We say good things to each other, but in all goodwill. From this confrontation we emerge changed and decentered.

Was it the example that motivated you?

GFS : We do not engage in dialogue to negotiate something. But to listen to what the other person has in mind. The main message we want to convey is that we can sit down, talk to each other without denying each other, and leave each other in a warm way.

E. from R.: It should be noted that we started this work privately, with no intention of publishing it. So we delivered in all honesty. During the process we decided to write down our comments. Hence the unique character of this dialogue. We wouldn’t have said the same thing in front of a camera. We would have resumed our respective positions.

You can’t judge a man by the color of his skin or what you think of him these days. We must learn to unravel human relationships. It’s big business.

E. from R.: Science has shown that race does not exist. We must now become homo sapiens again and accept their small differences, which are only nuances. Skin color is no more important than hair size or texture.

GFS : I join Emmanuel. There is humanistic work to be done. It must be recognized that these categorizations have been legitimized over time. Because here in the West Indies, skin color is associated with privilege.

E. from R.: The truth is that there are class relations all over the world. These class relations are overlaid by race relations. This combination has shaped our society.

Are you inspired by the example of South Africa with its Truth and Reconciliation Commission?

E. from R.: Mandela, De Klerk and Tutu were right to organize these commissions during the protagonists’ lifetime. That’s the difference with us. We missed the boat in 1848. In South Africa we brought the executioners and the victims face to face. Whoever wanted could forgive.

There are no executioners or victims in the West Indies. How do you get a population that is not at fault to take on the problem?

GFS : There are no more victims in the US. Nevertheless, this country was able to set up compensation mechanisms under pressure from associations and after lawsuits. We can look at her side. There are tools that must be used.

E. from R.: If we want to open up the topic of reparations, we have to put scientific data on the table. I think there is a part of the history of the West Indies that is poorly understood. I know that between 1848 and 1870 all slave owners went bankrupt. French capital came to the rescue. This did not prevent slave sons and free slaves from rising rapidly in society. And then we remember the words of Serge Romana. These are the ancestors who lived through slavery. They are the ones given a name at the time of abolition. It is therefore imperative that her memory be honored in an identified manner (Allusion to the future memorial with the 200,000 names promised by Emmanuel Macron, ed. editor). Hence his census work to say they are the victims, not us.

Does racial prejudice really exist?

E. from R.: You’re right. Racism was born out of slavery. Science was used to justify the dominance of one group over another. Before slavery there was no racism. The tragedy is that this intellectual manipulation to establish power relations persists. We are still mental prisoners of this mental construct. That needs to be deconstructed.

GFS : It’s interesting to hear Emmanuel talk like this. I understand that the prevailing mentality that prevails in his community is not shared by all members of the group. One cannot cultivate racial purity and self-isolation to make human beings. We must ignore these phenotypic differences. This is the speech we carry.

One cannot cultivate racial purity and self-isolation to make human beings.

A message for the Béké community?

GFS : It’s a good thing to put our opinion into words. In building a country, silence is not a good strategy.

E. from R.: I totally agree with what Steve just said. Our country has suffered from being silent for too long. And I’m a passionate warrior of expression. Stop shocking sometimes. This way our society silenced everyone has generated fantasy and caricature. Debates can create tension, we are aware of that. It is a necessary step that must be taken.

GFS : I can die tomorrow. We must take risks with our ideas and do things knowing that we are sowing seeds. It’s really not about us, it’s about building our society and the kind of citizens we want.

Leave a Comment