Far from dying down after being raised so notoriously by Nizam Mohammed in statements before Parliament, the issue of race relations in Trinidad and Tobago continues to be stoked in political quarters.Last week, Opposition Leader Keith Rowley reported to Parliament that he had been informed of concerns expressed by the Attorney General about the ethnic balance of staff at this country's mission in New York, predictably stoking further crosstalk and accusations in the House.
Underlying these issues is a growing sense of unease about racial imbalance in Trinidad and Tobago and an even greater discomfort about discussing these matters openly and with a view to clarification.Nothing illustrates this mortification more clearly than the fate of the President's Committee for National Self Discovery, formally convened on August 12, 2003 with a mandate to, among other things, "imagine new beginnings and ways of seeing the past differently in order to construct a new future."After hosting several symposia around the country, the committee's members quickly realised that the mission encompassed more than they were equipped to handle.
Eight years later, the committee has not been formally disbanded by order of President George Maxwell Richards, but it has effectively collapsed, not having met for several years and doesn't even have the money to package and distribute the recordings of its meetings in Arima, Chaguanas, Tobago, Cedros and Port-of-Spain.To be fair, the Committee for National Self Discovery was not a committee about race, but it was formed in the wake of an election that transferred power from the dominantly Indo-Trinidadian UNC to the Afro-centric PNM and there were concerns about national unity in the headlines of the day then as well.
The mission of the Committee, appropriately for one convened by the President of this country, was clearly one to raise the conversation about national issues beyond simplistic ethnic considerations to a larger contemplation of our achievements as a nation and the value of inclusive thinking in our cultural and educational advancement.On Friday, Reginald Dumas was all but calling for a resumption of the work of the Committee for National Self Discovery in new fora, describing the need for a new discourse on nationality that would focus on the core issues driving the current enthusiasm for conversation about racial inequality and imbalance.
Dumas sensibly called for a new discourse to be overseen by the University of the West Indies and the University of Trinidad and Tobago that would allow for a solution focused discussion of all forms of real and perceived discrimination along lines of race, gender and religion.To that might readily be added a series of studies that should be tasked with the responsibility to interrogate and report on the reality of situations of perceived racial imbalance and the cultural paths that might have led to situations where they exist and to such perceptions, where they do not.
There is surely a real need to move these inflammatory accusations beyond political rhetoric into more useful and credible realms of investigation that will advance an analytical and contemplative understanding of the contemporary realities of Trinidad and Tobago."We are not one in T&T, as is being claimed by politicians and others in society," Reginald Dumas said. Nor are we as racist and predatory as politicians with a constituency to satisfy might have us believe.
There are too many casual examples in the lives of any citizen of Trinidad and Tobago of acceptance and indeed, enthusiastic endorsement of cultural practices that are ethnically specific but widely shared regardless of race and class in this country for anyone to accept the almost weekly efforts to portray this country as racially divided.In any country as racially rich, theologically enthusiastic and culturally abundant as ours, there is almost surely room for a deeper understanding of the many skeins of difference that make up the unique tapestry of this country and that's certainly a study and intellectual engagement worth pursuing.