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Decline of black dominance
From a high point of academic achievement, social advance and early attempts to become active participants in an emerging local economy, Afro-Trinis have been seriously outdistanced in all of the above and more during the last 30 years of the 50-year period of political independence.
Early in this series of reflective articles, it was noted that after slavery ended the freed African began gathering an education, developing economic self-sufficiency and decidedly had the first hold on political power through the Afro-based PNM.
The big point this week is the assertion that Blacks/Afro-Trinis (Tobagonians have to be dealt with separately) have had serious reversals in almost all categories of human endeavour; culture, defined in part as the performing and visuals arts, being the notable exception and that focus will also be given in future columns.
The build-up towards “Black Power” in the late 1960s was a recognition that the holy grail of economic independence and ad-vancement, social progress as a group and internal self-belief as reflected in cultural pride did not follow the acquisition of political power. The movement also charged the PNM and Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams, the all-knowing historian, for not deliberately advancing the cause of Blacks.
“We were marching for equality, Black unity, Black dignity…” is a line from Bro Valentino, one of the poets of the 1970 Black Power revolution, articulating the raison d’etre of the movement. The literature of the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) of the period and the platform speakers made the case in the immediate post-independence period, about not only the condition of Blacks and Indians, but noted too the continuing dominance of the colonial institutions and those who held power.
The reality of today is that Afro-Trinis are no longer dominant in the professions, law, medicine, engineering; they make up the lower levels of the education system, the period of distinguished scholarship having been severely curtailed. The hard evidence to substantiate the latter observations can be found in the annual scholarship results at every level of the education system. At the University of the West Indies’ St Augustine campus, the low ratio of Blacks can be easily observed.
The lag in education is a critical factor, as it is success in education which has been one of the major springboards to economic and social advancement for all of the various segments of the population. Whereas there was steady and significant advance of the freed Africans in the post-slavery period and into the first 75 years of the 20th century in agriculture, as traders, small business owners and operators, skilled artisans, emerging business entrepreneurs, that start was not converted into ownership and management of manufacturing plants and big business operations in commerce and trade.
The dominance which Blacks once enjoyed in the civil service is gradually being eroded as other population groups begin to see the possibilities of profitable and distinguished careers in the public service. The fact of having lost total dominance of political power over the last 25 years has also had an impact here; but we will deal fully with causes in subsequent columns.
If the rubric of observation is broadened to include people communities, the urban squalors of Shanty Town—now Beetham Estate—John John, Sea Lots, the behind-the-bridge Plannings, Plannings in Mon Repos, Embacadere and the slums that have emerged from the abandoned train line in Marabella-San Fernando may have undergone some marginal physical change but have declined from being poverty-ridden areas with more than a few ambitious families to what the police have dubbed “crime hot spots.”
It has reached the point where service providers, including electricity and telephone workers, have stated their reluctance to their employers about going there unless accompanied by heavy security. But there remains tens of thousands of working-class Black people who are diligently advancing their lives, having productive families with their offspring incrementally moving forward.
So too are the Black middle classes (upper and lower) continuing to progress in educational achievement, as qualified professionals; generations having migrated for advanced education and returned home with professional skills and experience. They have purchased homes in middle- and upper-class residential areas.
Few, however, have been breaking into big business operations. It’s significant that I mention, though, one Afro-Trini, Raymond Walcott, who is amongst the big traders on High Street, San Fernando. He started as a vendor on the streets and at 43 years old he now owns two buildings. Walcott told me he feels lonely on the street.
• To be continued
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