“When Carnival come and pass de people does go back to dey Race and Class so de only ting to bring them together is mas.” Bro Valentino
In this, the final part in the series on the advances made by the different population groups of T&T during the 50 years of political Independence, the issue revolves around whether the society can cohere and is working towards achieving sustainability and viability as a civilisation. Undoubtedly a measure of social acceptance and tolerance amongst the groups has been achieved. And this is notwithstanding institutionalised structures which seed conflict. Fortunately, though, the Trini spirit has kept the society away from open physical conflict based solely on race as in other multi-ethnic societies such as Guyana and Fiji. However, aspects of the existing historical, social, economic and political structures predispose the society and its differing population groups to conflict and contestations. The mobilisation and organisation of political parties around race, on occasions in a very crass manner, is a central cause for contentions between Afro and Indo-Trinis during election campaigning. Holding political power brings prestige and cultural superiority to groups in office; it gives the parties access to the national treasury to award contracts; to make appointments in the state sector; to hand out national awards; to land grants and public-sector housing; to locate developmental projects in areas in which their ethnic and racial majorities predominate.
Arrogant triumphalism, displayed by the Afro and Indo parties and their supporters, is another source of conflict and antagonism. The failure of political alliances across ethnic and tribal groups over the last couple decades has exacerbated mistrust amongst the electorate. The holding of political power, in this tribal manner, negatively impacts on governance, race relations, social and economic equity and therefore peace. So too the resistance and at times failure of the monolithic parties (UNC and PNM) to experiment with creating multi-ethnic parties impacted negatively on developing the ground for a harmonious and productive inter-ethnic society. Another source of conflict and one which is said to have hindered Afro-Trinbagonians in particular has been the reported disposition of financial institutions to discriminate in their unspoken lending policies. Further, allegations have been made that commercial lending agencies at times confiscate business propositions brought to them by Afros and in some instances, Indos, and offer the proposals to the traditional French-Creole and new Syrian-Lebanese business elites. Institutionalised social-class divisions also contribute to widening fractures in the society. Succeeding governments and the private sector have not found ways and means to bring greater equity and justice to income-earning and productive redistribution. Attribution of social status and equally the stigmatisation of people, geographic areas, occupations, colour and other such phenomena have also contributed to conflict.
There has been much advance over the 50 years with regard to the recognition of the non-Christian faiths; and while there continues to be a measure of stigma associated with the Spiritual Baptists, there is growing acceptance and respect. The greatest challenge up ahead for the society is how to prevent the continuing slide of elements of the Afro-Trini, not Tobago, into a free fall. There are many real dangers of Afros becoming a social underclass because of underachievement in education, in business, in the professions and in the accumulation of wealth, respect and human achievement. Societies which are deeply unequal will inevitably implode in conflict; it does not serve the interests of even the dominant social and economic group for such a major population group as the Afros to continue to underachieve. Harmony cannot be achieved between and amongst unequal parts of the whole. The major responsibility for the transformation of the Afro-Trini condition lies within the group itself. Individuals, families, communities and institutions need to recognise the disaster facing them and react to earn their place in the society. One major national need is for constitutional reform to bring sanity to political governance, if not organisation. Left unattended, the ethnic political parties will continue to provoke the potential for conflict and division. But which political grouping is ever willing to voluntarily give up its source of power? Ultimately, therefore, people have to force change to achieve equity.