Although the Afro-Trinidadians have moved away from whippings, rapes and lynchings at the hands of their slave masters, 182 years later, Emancipation has not seen them hold the reigns of economic power.People’s National Movement vice-chairman Robert Le Hunte said this is not because they are lazy and lack business acumen, but because they are subjected to systematic societal issues.“We have to move away from saying black people are lazy or black people cannot do business. We have to debunk ourselves from this simplistic conversation,” Le Hunte said.
He added: “How can you have as a country that 34 per cent of the population is black and only 10 significant black-owned businesses. That cannot be right.”
Speaking against the backdrop of yesterday’s Emancipation Day celebrations, Le Hunte said believes the August 1 holiday must be more than a procession, a discussion and Bob Marley’s Redemption Song. It should be about recognising societal issues and implementing practical solutions to build a nation.
The consequences of inaction would be underperformance of Afro-Trinidadians, widening of the income distribution gap and more social unrest among disenchanted groups, leading to an implosion of T&T.
He recalled having a conversation with a friend of Syrian lineage, who remembered coming to T&T poor and how his family of eight sat for dinner at nights, and the conversation always included ways to make money.
“If others got money, what is going to be the focus? They will take the money and send the child to school. The bigger point I am making is that there is no blame game. There are factual social reasons because people were oriented in several different ways. There are reasons why today one group of people is into business and one is not.”
He commended Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley for Emancipation Day address, saying he believes young Afro-Trinidadians youths should have heroes to emulate. He recalled looking up to several businessmen as a child, including Cyril Duprey, founder of Colonial Life Insurance Company (CLICO).
“I wanted to be like them,” he said and also pointing out that he had recently been the managing director of Republic Bank, Ghana.
While he admitted that race is a sensitive topic, Le Hunte said for T&T to progress, people need to feel comfortable speaking about the issue, especially as one of the national watchwords is tolerance.
He said people of African descent should look at how other races achieved success and choose the factors they can incorporate into their nation-building efforts.
As he called upon the country to reflect on the abolition of slavery, Le Hunte said he wants Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar to apologise for comparing the government’s COVID-19 repatriation of citizens to slavery.
“Our leaders need to be leaders and stop making these wild statements. To me, when you make a statement like that, you disrespect people you want to lead and do not understand the trauma they went through. My position on that is we are all aware of the traumas of slavery. I considered it to be very insensitive at best and ignorant at worst to make that comparison.”