Trinidad and Tobago celebrates its 58th anniversary of Independence today under some dark clouds—COVID-19 and the spectre of race which continues to dominate the national conversation following the 2020 General Election.
In an unusual break from the norm, President Paula-Mae Weekes has used the traditional Independence Day message to address how, “the General Election 2020 flipped Trinidad and Tobago over and exposed what can be described as its ugly underbelly.”
The election and its outcome, President Weekes recalled, resulted in “vitriolic racist rants, complete with the most foul language.”
T&T has in its national anthem the phrase “where every creed and race finds and equal place.” But the country remains as divided along racial lines today as it was when it attained independence in 1962.
Our first Prime Minister, Dr Eric Williams, sought to warn back then about the need for unity, telling the nation in 1962 “... democracy is but a hollow mockery and a gigantic fraud which is based on a ruling group’s domination [of] slaves or helots or fellaheen or second class citizens or showing intolerance to others because of considerations of race, colour, creed, national origin, previous conditions of servitude or other irrationality.”
This country is always proud of the ‘rainbow nation,’ description bestowed on us by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. But on this Independence Day, we need to ask ourselves and our politicians if we really respect the racial heritage of this twin-island nation? Do we see each other as human beings or do we see ethnicity and race when we look at each other? As we reflect on what independence means to us, everyone needs to reflect on what Dr Williams said 58 years ago: “Democracy means freedom of worship for all and the subordination of the right of any race to the overriding right of the human race.”
In this time of COVID-19, let us also reflect on our national watchwords, ‘Discipline, production and tolerance,’ and remember the lesson that Dr Williams tried to instill in us.
Let us as a country use this observance, as low keyed as it is due to COVID-19, to look inward and reflect on whether we are model citizens committed to the development of Trinidad and Tobago or whether we encourage the things that divide us and destroy the perception that we are a ‘rainbow nation’ by what we say and do. Questions we must ask ourselves in this process are whether we are inculcating in our children the values required to build a nation and do who hold power have the best interest of T&T T at heart.
Today is the day to reflect on this because the road ahead is going to be difficult and all of Trinidad and Tobago will need to stand united and work together to bring us out of the despair created by COVID-19, which has brought untold socio-economic hardship on us and many other countries.
Happy Independence Day Trinidad and Tobago.