By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
April 13, 2020
“They say the sun will shine for all/But in some people’s world, it doesn’t shine at all./ So much been said, so little been done./ They still killing the people/ And they having their fun”
—Bob Marley, “Crisis”
I have been writing about the plight of black people in Trinidad and Tobago for a while. Like Marvin Gaye, sometimes it “make me wanna holler/The way they do my life” (“Inner City Blues”). I have argued that we will never solve black impoverishment unless we see it as a national problem that demands the same resolve that we brought to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
On March 30, 1986, I addressed the 35th Anniversary Emancipation Celebration of the Spiritual Baptists. I said, “Today, in Trinidad and Tobago, the plight of the black man [and woman] is truly alarming. Most of us are at the bottom of the economic ladder, with the highest levels of unemployment, and, with the coming economic crisis we can confidently predict that we will receive the worst end of it.” (Afterword to Eudora Thomas, A History of the Shouter Baptists in Trinidad & Tobago.)
On July 2019, I wrote: “Sometimes I wonder if it won’t be better to scrap the Toco-Manzanilla highway and pump that money ($2.5 billion) into social, educational, sporting, and academic programs for our young people and our children. Might it not be better to favor young minds (spiritual/intellectual) over roads (material/infrastructural) at this point in our social development?” (Express, July 30, 2019).
Last month I visited South East Port of Spain Secondary School. I wrote: “The school’s unhealthy surroundings assume more importance in light of the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The homeless people who defecate and urinate round the school’s premises remains a substantial threat to the well-being of the teachers and the students.”
I also cited the failure of the Port of Spain City Corporation to wash down the surrounding streets although it promised the school’s PTA that it would do so (Express, March 16).
The plague arrived a week later. It was only then that the Port of Spain mayor realized his neglect had created a health hazard for all of his burghers.
Neither the PNM nor the UNC has taken the plight of black people seriously. On August 24, 2017, I wrote: “The economic disparities between the rich and the poor are becoming more pronounced while the growing poverty among Africans threatens the integrity of our social fabric. Increasingly, Africans are sliding to the bottom of the society economically. Many people argue that Africans are risk averse and hence their impoverishment….
“If there was an outbreak of bubonic plague in the Caroni area, would citizens in other parts of the country describe this catastrophe as an Indian problem which Indians should solve themselves?
“If such a catastrophe were to occur, the entire nation would come together to eliminate this plague from the land in the knowledge that if we did not get this plague under control it would spread until it engulfed the entire nation. Such a tragedy could even mean the end of our civilization as we know it” (Express).
When the coronavirus landed we did things we said we couldn’t do: paid attention to social inequalities we had overlooked and acknowledged the vulnerabilities of our poor people. The government found the money it thought it didn’t have; took measures it believed it couldn’t take; and paid greater attention to people’s lives in a way it had not done in the past.
On Wednesday, the New York Times led with the following headline: “Black Americans Bear the Brunt as Deaths Climb.” Its report opened: “The coronavirus is infecting and killing black people in the United States at disproportionately high rates, according to data released by several states and big cities highlighting what public health researchers say are entrenched inequalities in resources, health and access to care.”
In Chicago where blacks are 30% of the population, 68% of the deaths were black. In Louisiana where 33% of the population is blacks 70% of recorded deaths are black. In Michigan 40% of the people who have died are blacks even though they are only 14% of the population. In New York City black and Hispanic people are twice as likely to die from the virus as whites. Underlying health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases were major contributors to their deaths.
Asked about the disparity of deaths between blacks and whites, Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, responded: “Why is it the poorest people always pay the highest price?” (Express, April 9).
Black people in T&T will suffer disproportionately from this pandemic. More than likely they have underlying health symptoms that make them more vulnerable. They do not have the same access to medical care as their fellow citizens; their cash reserves are nonexistent; and their low-paying jobs won’t see them through this crisis.
They will go back to work in fast food joints and other low-wage jobs that keep the country running. Since they are more exposed to the public, they are more likely to become infected. As they consume Kentucky Fried Chicken, Mario pizza, and doubles, their health will continue to deteriorate and create heavier burdens on our health system.
Black people have suffered too long while our politicians keep on having their fun. The deadliness of this unseen enemy should convince those in government that they need to take their jobs more seriously. They should be doing everything to ensure that the sun shines equally in everybody’s world, no matter what the crisis is.
If they do not, more of us will die.