Question of race and ethnicity in T&T

By Dr Kwame Nantambu
December 16, 2019

Dr. Kwame NantambuOne of the most perplexing and intractable issues/problems in T&T is the utter, total misuse albeit mis-categorization of the term “racist” to describe interaction between citizens. And this overt faux pas reared its ugly head during the recent local government elections and the puerile parliamentary squabble between a PNM government minister and a UNC opposition senator— two putatively educated grown men.

The fact of the matter is that according to the Central Statistical Office (CSO), the population census figures (2011) of T&T are as follows : Indians 35.43 %, Africans 34.22 %, Mixed-Other 15.16 %, Mixed African-Indian 7.66 %, Caucasians (White) 0.59 %.

Ipso facto, the combined majority population of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (69.65%) is non-European, non-White, Black and people of color.

The stark geographic reality is that India was never in Europe. India has always been located in Asia. And since Asians are NOT White, then, Indian-Trinbagonians are NOT White.

Africa was never located in Europe so African-Trinbagonians are NOT White—they are Black.

Moreover, China was never in Europe. China has always been located in Asia and since Asians are NOT White, then, Chinese-Trinbagonians are NOT White.

So it stands to logical reasoning that if a Prime Minister of African descent in T&T were to deny a radio license to a T&T citizen of Indian descent, then, that was NOT a racist decision simply because the two entities were of the same racial hue They were both non-White. Ergo, such a decision must only be described as a vindictive political decision. Nothing more, nothing less, according to international best practices.

Concurrently, if the opposition leader of Indian descent were to make disparaging remarks about the Prime Minister who is of African descent, then, her remarks must NOT be characterized as racist because the two entities are of the same racial hue— they are both non-White.

Similarly, the remarks by the current PNM government minister in Parliament should NOT have been describes as “racist” by the UNC opposition senator simply because the two entities are of the same racial hue— they are both non-White. Instead, the minister’s remarks should have been merely described as chupid but NOT racist.

Indeed, now is the time for Trinbagonians to cease and desist from fixating/positing local human interaction in T&T into the foreign lenses/paradigm of the United States. The fact of the matter is that T&T DOES NOT have a racial problem. On the contrary, T&T has a messed-up, dysfunctional, divisive ethnic problem. Or as C. L. R. James once warned: “The race question is subsidiary to the class question in politics and to think of (T&T) in terms of race is disastrous. But to neglect the racial factor as merely incidental is an error only less grave than to make it fundamental.”

By way of extrapolation, African-Americans account for 13 per cent of America’s population. Ergo, African-Americans are a national minority in the United States. So if a white policeman were to shoot an African-American male in the back anywhere in the United States, then, by definition, that’s a racist act. Similarly, racial profiling in the United States, by definition, is also racist.

On the other hand, African-Trinbagonians are NOT a national minority so to equate albeit juxtapose human interaction in T&T with that of the United States is akin to mixing apples and oranges or as Spranalang once aptly retorted: “like mixing roti and egg.”

Now, by interjecting international best practices a la United Nations into the analysis, it becomes very instructive to observe that conversely when in 1992, genocide occurred in Bosnia-Herzegovina during which 200,000 people were brutally killed and slaughtered , the United Nations and the international community described that gruesome incident as ‘ethnic cleansing” — NOT racial cleansing because the entities involved were of the same racial hue— White.

In 1994, the wanton slaughter/killing of 800,000 people in Rwanda during the struggle between the Hutus and Tutsis was described as “ethnic genocide” —NOT racial genocide.

In May 2005, when about 8,000 were fleeing from deadly violent clashes around Ivory Coast’s western cocoa town of Duekoue, the United Nations described those incidents as “ethnic clashes” —NOT racial clashes.

In January 2008, when violence broke out in the slums in Nairobi, Kenya, that incident was described as “ethnic bloodshed”—NOT racial bloodshed simply because the factions were of the same racial hue— Black.

In May 2008, when 35 people were killed in Rajasthan, a state in western India, the incident was described as “caste violence”— NOT racial violence. The entities were all non-white.

In August 2009, violent clashes between rival groups in south Sudan were described as “ethnic clashes” — NOT racial clashes.

Indeed, contemporary clashes between Fatah, Hamas and Palestinians in Gaza are described as “factional violence” —NOT racial violence.

In the final analysis, now is the right, opportune time for Trinbagonians on all sides of the political spectrum/divide to assiduously adhere to the lyrics of the nation’s national anthem to the extent that this country is “where every creed and race find an equal place.”

Prosecution rests.

Dr Kwame Nantambu is professor emeritus Kent State University, USA

4 thoughts on “Question of race and ethnicity in T&T”

  1. This post is naive at best and willfully ignorant at worst. While I do understand the larger argument that “race” has been limited to and rooted in concepts of blackness and whiteness, neo-colonialism (and capitalism) have encouraged an Orwellian reordering so other ethnic groups conveniently dismiss their history and genealogy to identify as “white” and to suppress ALL AFRICANA people who embrace their “blackness.” What “should be” simple cultural geometry — non-white = black + European = white — has no proof within contemporary social constructs.

  2. A rather disingenuous article with regard to the conception of race and racism. Blumenthal defined the races, describing phenotypical characteristics, and ascribing Caucasians on top of a hierarchy and Africans on the bottom. Their rationales were to facilitate the organization of the slave economy and society which afforded certain privileges and demerits based on racialized classification. However, though the concepts of black and white were birthed in the crucible of the slave institution, racism itself speaks to a hierarchy which allows for those on the too to rule unabated over those classified as innately racially inferior. This mythos permitted various stereotypes to become cemented into cultural narratives and expectations. Blacks were to be forcefully denied their equality, and other groups subordinated, but not so much. These groups were subjected to imperialistic impositions but never were they systematically dehumanized, or subjected to cultural deracination. The British in particular established the English speaking nations and norms which passed from the slaving/enslaved generations to the present. As they colonized various nations, these nonblacks were to be conditioned to know their subordinate place in relation to whites. None of these conquered and dominated peoples, however, were to experience the degradation and distance of the chattel slave. Accordingly, even an indentured servant of Asian descent would be positioned in the racial hierarchy to look down on their leaders. Everyone acquired the tacit understanding, whether spoken, written or left I expressed, that blacks, Africans in particular were the least of all men. In this context, on the point of emancipation, Asians were imported to fill the labour void left by the emancipated chattel. By this time, wholly deprived of their dignity, and cultural integrity tantamount to their labour class cohorts. It was easy for Asians to demand equality with whites, but better treatment than the blacks. This reality was evidenced in apartheid, South Africa, as even the great liberator Gandhi, was then quoted, arguing for improved conditions and treatments for his ethnic group, Indians, over the lowly Africans. He felt aggrieved by the prospect of being housed or transported with the black natives. Notwithstanding, many Indians were equally dark-complexioned. In many instances, even more so. Racism cannot be readily extricated from the sordid history of enslavement. Addionally, the mythology of racialized hierarchy and innately acquired racial characteristics of intelligence and other human capacities persist, and continue to cause social friction. Racism functions to establish and maintain racial hierarchy. In the sense that groups with lighter skin and Caucasian features are ascribed approximate equality with the white ruling classes, and those of darker hues, to be more closely aligned with the Africans, continues to manifest in cultural norms and media. Consequently,Indians can espouse racism via their acknowledging of racialised hierarchy and ideology. They can more easily appoint themselves as superiors when compared to Africans, despite their simultaneous protestations of racism against themselves from whites. In this context, they like everyone else, can find it easier to identify with whiteness, and it’s longstanding rejection of blacks. Notwithstanding, any attempt to destabilize racial hierarchy is often framed by detractors as racism itself. So if the actual creators and generational proponents of racism were to accuse blacks as the racists against them. It’s fair game for the others

    1. And even within the South Asian/East Indian community there is a hierarchy of superiority to inferiority based on caste/skin tone.
      The British in colonial times and even today accepted and joined in this caste colorism and treated their “subjects” accordingly.

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