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Righteous indignation will not fix racism

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The concentration has been on the inappropriateness of Hilton Sandy’s warning against the ship waiting to sail from the port of Calcutta in Trinidad to Tobago if the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) were to win the THA elections. He has been deemed racist and his PNM party urged to remove him from the list of candidates.


As indicated at the start of this series of articles on the absolute need for constitutional reform and my intention to use examples from day-to-day life to highlight the areas in need of transformation, the challenge is for the polity to find constitutional and other forms of solutions to the problems of race and space as raised in Tobago.


Except for a few commentators, most people have acted as if the Belle Garden/ Roxborough/Delaford PNM candidate and his comments are alien to the politics, geography and socio-economic reality of T&T. Among those who have gone beyond rightfully saying that Sandy cannot play that crude racist game are Reginald Dumas and Hochoy Charles.


While being critical of Sandy’s comments, Dumas informed that the sentiment and fears expressed by Sandy are shared by many Tobagonians. Having done the appropriate thing by recognising only the human race, Hochoy Charles advocated that some honesty be inserted into the discussion on the race issue: “It is not only in Tobago that this is being practised by and preached by one side or the other. In Trinidad, this very People's Partnership, if you observe, they practise it blatantly.”


Only recently when Dr Keith Rowley, Afro-Tobagonian with a reputation for being Afrocentric in his political orientation, ventured into Indo-Trinidad political territory touring the NAMDEVCO market in Debe, he was made frontally aware that he was in foreign political territory.



At least a couple UNC MPs joined the chorus of those who told him he was out of place to be in UNC territory. When Rowley responded positively to an invitation to Divali Nagar in 2012, no doubt attempting to re-burnish his image, Warner, Persad-Bissessar and others could not hide their disgust with Rowley for this attempt to enter into Indo-Trini political territory.


What they were really doing was guarding political territory, likening Rowley to a marauding intruder. When Warner saw the Section 34 march he saw only one race in the march, and this is notwithstanding the fact that the TV6 video played over his comments clearly showed Indos and other ethnicities in the march.


It was Warner’s attempt to say to UNC supporters and the country that the opposition to the Section 34 fiasco was a “black people thing,” which the rest of the society does not care about.



It was yet another attempt to mark-off geo-political and ethnic territory. In 1970, when the black urban youth sought to strike up alliances with Indians in the plantation villages, Bhadase Maraj stood at the crossings, pistol in hand and shotgun at his feet to intimidate the demonstrators against going into Central. When Indians planned to come to Woodford Square, Williams called a state of emergency.


Pained by the loss of the federal elections, Williams referred to the Indian population as a “hostile and recalcitrant minority.” Recently, Persad-Bissessar, in the process of planting a UWI law faculty in Penal, criticised the historical PNM for deliberately ignoring development in rural agricultural areas in which Indo-Trinis predominate.  


Panday and Manning over a couple decades played the game: having won the elections in 1995, Manning could not find Indians to put in his Cabinet; Leroy Clarke, when he saw the first Panday Government, thought he was “in Bangladesh.”
After elections, there are the contentions: “another black man bites the dust”; or shouts of “ethnic cleansing.”


In the main, data on election results since 1961 demonstrate quite clearly the ethnic divide. It is certain that many of those who have been morally offended by the comments of Sandy have consistently voted race or for tribal predominance. That attitude suggests that it is okay to be a private political racist but people should never get caught advertising it in public. These are the realities of the ethno-political culture and they will not dissipate just by righteous indignation.


For instance, have Sandy and the PNM Assembly sought ways and means to empower Tobagonians to compete against citizens of T&T in business, academia and to foster human development initiatives to command their historical and cultural space?


On the other side, Ashworth Jack should be telling the Tobago electorate of constitutional ways and means to protect the culture and people of Tobago and how the party will work with Trinidad to ensure that Tobagonians face up to the challenge of globalisation inside and outside of the unitary State.


“We need to look at it, treat with it and get rid of it or else it can swallow up this country like in Fiji or in Guyana," is the common-sense advice given by Hochoy Charles in the television leadership debate.


• To be continued.


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