By Raffique Shah
August 09, 2019
Stirring racial tensions during the run-up to major elections in Trinidad and Tobago is an appeal to primal ethnic instincts as old as when adult franchise was first granted to what was then a British crown colony back in 1946 when I was born. And I dare say it’s as ancient and decrepit as I am today, so much so that it should have long been buried or consigned to the dustbin of history.
But you can trust our politicians to flog a dead horse with expectations that it still has some life in it, that it can deliver captive votes from constituencies and communities that for all their external appearances of modernity, remain stuck in a mental time warp. Therein lie many of the obstacles to progress.
Citizens bemoan the fact that T&T has long had significantly more natural resources than countries such as Singapore and The Maldives, but it languishes in an economic and social purgatory—thanks to the tribalism that so many of them revert to when elections open opportunities for betterment.
They fail to see our divisiveness as a key factor to our failure to achieve anything close to our full potential. Our political cycles are divided into self-damaging phases—”we time now” and “your time out”. Looting the Treasury and getting away with it is a politician’s pastime, and as long it’s my tribe that is doing the “t’iefing” I turn a blind eye to it. Better still, if my family and I benefit from the plunder, the merrier we shall be. And if or when we lose power, we know none of us will face criminal charges. In the remote instance that any of us is charged with fraud or grand theft, we are almost assured of a slap on the wrist if the case reaches court during our lifetime.
In Singapore, they jail corrupt, thieving public officials.
To return to race, recently, friends and acquaintances have appealed to me to write about what is ventilated on social media forums (which I hardly visit), where the combatants use the most vile language and trade insults as they engage in racial warfare. I advise the deeply-offended individuals to stop reading or listening to the racists’ rants. In fact, I counsel them to ignore certain parliamentarians whose thinly-veiled racism is more transparent than their undergarments.
I am convinced, though, that a truly cosmopolitan T&T is closer to reality than the very vocal racists would have us believe. Whether you are Afro-, Indo- or White-Trini, think of your family, your wider circle of close relatives. How many of them are of races other than the dominant one? Based on my knowledge, few families are untouched by interracial relationships or marriages. This signals that more newborns will be of mixed races, which will add to the already fastest-growing segment of the population.
More than that, fewer people are voting strictly by race as was the case 20, 30 years ago. The incumbent People’s National Movement, for example, has long lost its absolute control of the Afro votes. Proof of that was in the 1986 general election when the PNM, which had won six consecutive terms in office, was almost annihilated by the broad-front National Alliance for Reconstruction, and in several elections afterwards. The Indo-dominated United National Congress could not have won in 2000 and 2010 without significant support from the Afro, mixed and other races.
In fact, the five or six “marginal” constituencies that determine which party wins the elections are important partly because of the tilt of the mixed- and other-races votes. The influence of such electors is also impacting the results in other constituencies. And one trait that determines their suasion is their abhorrence of racism.
Among Indo-Trinis, especially those who live in monolithic communities and wider constituencies, shedding tribal loyalties is a slower process. But it’s coming. The people who communicated with me based on their disgust with racism include some very mature Indians, and many younger ones who refuse to have their children grow up in a society that is divided along ethnic lines.
Politics aside, racism is just plain ugly. In any language and of any colour, it angers decent human beings of any ethnicity. US President Donald Trump has alienated large numbers of people with his undisguised, unapologetic racial rants. In fact, his frequent outbursts can be said to have “inspired” a number of white supremacists attacks on innocent non-whites, the latest being the carnage that caused multiple deaths and serious injuries in El Paso, Texas, last Saturday.
Time was when nationals of T&T, whether they were uncomfortable with the racial tension or driven to seek better education or economic opportunities, would migrate to the US. Today, many Trinis do not consider even holidaying there for fear of being caught in the crossfire of mass murders, many of which are fuelled by Trump’s xenophobia, his tacit support for a new wave of white supremacists.
The second mass-murders shooting spree in Ohio over the weekend was the 250th such carnage for the year—a frightening statistic even here in T&T, the murder-capital in the Caribbean.
I shall not appeal to those who are fanning the flames of racial hatred here at home to be more responsible, to consider how easily this country can descend into the hell-hole of mass murders. To some extent, we are already there: four killed in one incident, six in another. Mercifully for us, the carnage is not race-driven…not yet.
But one stupid man, fired by the equally stupid rant of another stupid race-monger, and armed with the sophisticated weaponry that is in the hands of hundreds of subhuman criminals, are all it takes to reduce this one-time paradise to Hell.
Think, people, think…