Everywhere is War: Five Social Justice Warriors You Should Know for Caribbean Heritage Month

By Nia West-Bey

“Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior
is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned…everywhere is war.”
-Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, as sung by Bob Marley

“War” by Bob Marley is always one of my picks for a social justice playlist. Based on a speech delivered by Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia to the United Nations in 1963, the song brings together my Caribbean heritage, Pan-Africanism, and a searing indictment of racism and white supremacy. It reminds us that the struggle for social and racial justice is a global struggle. In moments of frustration, I play it on repeat to center myself and my place in the struggle for Black liberation. 

June is Caribbean Heritage Month, and I have been reflecting a lot on the role of people of West Indian heritage in movements for social justice and Black liberation in the United States. The Caribbean carries the legacy of both slavery and colonization—a brutal combination. The aftermath of these institutions contributed to high levels of poverty and limited economic opportunity that propelled mass migration to the United States. 

Although we rarely learn about it in school, more than 32,000 West Indians immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island at the turn of the 20th century. Among them were my maternal great grandparents who arrived from the tiny Island of Nevis in the British West Indies.  

Changes in U.S. immigration policy in the 1960s brought another wave of West Indian Immigrants, including my father and grandmother who arrived from Jamaica in 1964. 

To celebrate Caribbean Heritage Month, I wanted to (re)introduce you to five giants of movements for social justice and Black liberation that you may not have realized had Caribbean roots: 

Me and “Aunt Consie,” aka Constance Baker Motley, in 2000
Me and “Aunt Consie,” aka Constance Baker Motley, in 2000

These movement ancestors’ leadership and sacrifice in the struggle for Black American liberation remind me that we must disrupt the white supremacist narrative that seeks to divide our communities and our struggle. Any narrative that pits Black immigrants against Black Americans erases the rich texture of our history and the transformative possibilities of solidarity. Racial justice is a collaborative project, and none of us are free until all of us are free.

“We Africans will fight, we find it necessary…and we are confident in the victory”

-Bob Marley, War