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Afro-trinis: The other side
Ironically, this column appears on Emancipation Day listing what the writer considers to be the most salient factors for the reversal of the advance of Afro-Trinis as a group during the first 50 years of political independence. It is ironic because Emancipation Day is the day which celebrates the freedom of the enslaved African from the physical shackles of slavery; therefore, given the start by the freed Africans, the post-independence period should have been a time during which Afro-Trinis advanced the inheritance received from those who began the quest to selfhood after 1834.
But instead, and as illustrated in last week’s column, Afro-Trinis as a group experienced serious reversals during this period in areas such economic advancement; education and scholarship; the underdevelopment of predominantly Afro-communities—in many in-stances the backward slide of those communities; in business; and perhaps most dramatically, a serious reversal in social and human development, in unity of purpose and in intra-community relations.
In dealing with causes for failure and under-achievement, especially amongst the lower income and social groups in the Afro-Trini communities, the reasons are many and varied: Afro-Trinis have been weaned on a steady and generational diet of political patronage by the PNM, and this culture of dependence rather than individual self-determination and enterprise has undermined the Afro-Trini community.
The development of a cultural lifestyle that values short-term satisfaction and consumption over sacrifice for long- term benefit; the under-valuing of education as a tool for self-development—Afro-Trinis have simply not made use of the education system which was expanded and liberalised at the start of independence by the said PNM Government.
Negative social lifestyles such as teenage pregnancies have resulted in young teenagers, without an appropriate value-system and grounding, becoming parents; the immersion of communities of young blacks in the ruinous sub-culture of drugs and crime has left blacks in their urban squalor in a worse condition than they were at independence.
The almost complete absence of a business culture amongst Afro-Trinis has been a major retarding factor for an almost non-showing in the big business world, with only limited success at the level of small and medium-sized business. Individual stories of blacks being shut out by ethnic cartels in business by an unfriendly/ antagonistic financial system have been documented by Ryan and La Guerre.
An over-dependence on jobs in the relative safety and comfort of the public sector, more so because the PNM (the party of their kin) held power for the first 25 years of political independence, has worked against Afro-Trinis gravitating to ventures in the world of business.
However, listed above is not the whole story of Afros in the first 50 years of political independence. In sport and the performing and fine arts they have excelled. Steelband and calypso, with their creative base centred in the Afro-T&T communities and peoples, are among the greatest achievements of Afro-Trinis and the nation of T&T. That assertion does not mean that Trinis of other ethnicities have not contributed to the artforms; be-cause they have.
What the black community, especially the black business community, has not done in conjunction with the creators and purveyors of the artforms (steelband and calypso) is to develop them as commercial enterprises which could support the artistes and advance the economic and social well-being of the communities.
Instead, especially in the instance of the steelband, the organisers have reduced themselves to being dependent on state and private-sector funding, expressed as a gratuitous contribution by sponsors and as political patronage. That having been said, rec-ognition must be given to the individual calypsonians, musicians and bands—a few steelbands/individuals such as Hugh Borde, Amral Khan and the Cavaliers, Desperadoes, All Stars and Exodus, to name a few, have attempted with a measure of success to make the artforms economically viable.
In this respect the efforts of black businessman William Munroe, a Grenadian, must be recognised. As calypso tent innovator and show promoter, Munroe has developed the Soca Monarch competition into a multi-million-dollar international extravaganza through imaginative efforts to make capital of an indigenous product.
So too have the likes of Railway Douglas, Syl Taylor, Jazzy Pantin, Sparrow and Kitchener and, in a different vein, the National Joint Action Committee sought to make viable business ventures out of the calypso. No one could question the dominance of Afro-Trinis in sport in the pre and post-independence periods—the names are too numerous to mention in this column, but space must be made for Hasely Crawford and Brian Lara.
In the performing and fine arts, the Holder brothers, Leroy Clarke, George Bailey, Irwin McWilliams, Joey Lewis and John “Buddy” Williams are national achievers of the highest order. But the overwhelming conclusion must be that Afros and the Afro-community/institutions hold the major responsibility for their general under-development.
• To be continued
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