By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
September 29, 2010
It was one of those incomprehensible statements: “I am the Head N…. In Charge.” That was Jack Warner’s major contribution to the recent Budget Debate. If we use Jack’s logic in a society such as ours, the following corollary suggests itself: if there is a “Head N…In Charge” there must be a “Head C…. In Charge.” It is a philosophical proposition of which this is the logical conclusion.
Initially, I was intrigued by what Jack meant by this statement. As good scholar, I sought to understand the etymology of the phrase that is written sometimes as H.N.IC. Ralph Ellison, a famous African American novelist, defined the H.N.I.C. as the “lone black person whom whites have invested with voice and authority; the king of darkies.” Such a definition suggests that Indians in T&T have now given Jack the authority to speak for Black people in the country.
H.N.I.C. can also be offensive to Black people. In April 1998 the Boston Magazine described Henry Louis Gates, Jr., one of the most distinguished educators in the United States, as the “H.N.I.C.” That headline upset many African Americans. Rev. Charles Stith, a former US ambassador to Tanzania, emphasized that in its original context this phase was used to describe “the slave placed in charge of other slaves.” Mayor Tom Menino and other Boston leaders called upon the magazine to apologize for using such an offensive headline. The magazine did not apologize but it left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth.
The Standing Orders of the House of Representatives delineate words that should not be used in Parliament. They categorize such words as unparliamentary language. It is a long-standing tradition. Many moons ago Dr. Eric Williams used the term “damn” in the House and was asked to apologize. In utter playfulness he informed the Speaker that he was merely quoting Shakespeare. However, in keeping with the decorum of the House he promptly withdrew the offending remark.
Today standards have changed and greater latitude is given to what is considered acceptable language in the House. So that when a member of the House or Senate uses the “C” word in Parliament I hope it is accepted as casually and as unapologetically as Members of the House accepted the “N” word” as what can only be defined as unparliamentary language.
Apart from speaking on behalf of Black people, the H.N.I.C. also has a responsibility to protect the legitimate claims of his group so that when Dr. Roodal Monilal chastises the H.N.I.C. for seeking a job for Donna Cox in NIDCO it is the role of the H.N.I.C. to put Monilal in his place and let him know that “all ah we have to eat ah food.” After all, it was taken for granted that the H.N.I.C. had assured Donna that she had the job until Moonilal intervened. It is either that the H.N.I.C. does not possess the authority to speak on behalf of “fellow darkies” or Moonilal could not accede to the request of the H.N.I.C.
The Urban Dictionary tells us that one of the proud boasts of the H.N.I.C is that “I’m the head nigga in charge ’round here and yall gon do as I say go-dammit.” This suggests that the H.N.I.C. has an obligation to see that justice is rendered to his fellow “niggas.” Therefore, when members of the PP move with draconian swiftness to lower standards required for employment in the public service and deny citizens of their just rewards then it behooves “the king of darkies” to demand that justice is done.
Take the case of Maxie Cuffie, a loyal, well qualified citizen. In 2007 Cuffie was employed as the CEO of the Government Information Services (GIS). He was the person best qualified to do the job. His record is outstanding. From 2003 to 2006 he worked in the Attorney General’s Office providing strategic communications advice to the AG and other Cabinet ministers. From 1998 to 2003, he was the head of news and Current Affairs of CCN TV6 and the editor of the Sunday Express. During his stewardship he took TV6 to over a record 500,000 viewers.
In 1989 at the age of 29 Cuffie became one of the youngest editors of the Trinidad Guardian. He took the Sunday Guardian to the number one position in the nation and was awarded the Harry Britain Commonwealth Press Union Fellowship which took him to Westminster Press in London to learn every aspect of newspaper production. In 1996 he left the Guardian to become the managing editor of the Independent newspaper.
Such devotion to the newspaper and television industry did not prevent Cuffie from following through with his education. Having achieved a B.S.c in Economics and Accounting from UWI in 1988, Cuffie went on to study at Oxford University (1992-93) his having won a prestigious Reuter Foundation fellowship. At Oxford, he studied (the English prefer the word “read”) research on development economics as “Visiting Scholar” at Green College, one of Oxford colleges.
Cuffie did not stop there. In 2006, after he left the employ of T&T government he went to study at the Kennedy School, Harvard University that is renowned for being au courant with the latest approaches to government. Years ago, all the newly elected member of the US House of Representatives spent a week at the Kennedy School before they took up their assignments in the US House of Representatives. Cuffie was awarded a MPA from Harvard in 2007.
The PP wins election and no one is safe. Qualifications do not matter. Andy Johnson is asked to replace Cuffie as the head of GISL. Johnson is a good journalist. He does his homework and is effective at what he does. He does not possess a first degree nor does he have much managerial experience. His achievements pale in comparison with those of Cuffie which leads one asks: in the age of new politics does a person’s qualification play any part in his employment?
This is one issue in which I would like the H.N.I.C. to assert his authority and to insist on the superiority of substance over shadow. It is one case in which he should be able to assert with aplomb: “I am the head nigga in charge ’round here and yall gon do as I say god-dammit!”
And while we are at it, can I refer to the Hon. Prime Minister as the H.C.I.C.?