Is the Problem Really Race?

lettersTHE EDITOR: Within recent weeks the country has been engaged in a lot of dialogue on the issue of race relations in T&T; the many different names that this issue is called demonstrates our dilemma in having a genuine debate on the state of relations between peoples of different ethnic origins domiciled here. The situation is further compounded by those who lead the discussions and their agenda, explicit and implicit.

This is so because the average citizen takes great comfort and pride in the false notion that “all ah we is one”. Of course, all of the peoples of T&T are not one; we are of different ethnic origins, religions, cultures, classes, and so many other qualities which people identify with. Indeed, many differences exist within each group e.g. colour of skin, texture of hair etc. Bleaching of skin has reached extremely dangerous proportions among some Black people in their quest for upward mobility. Our strength as a Nation is that these differences are not fundamental between the different groups and characteristics are often shared among them. This, to my mind, is what allows for our beautiful national kalalu.

If we accept this, then the question arises as to the basis of the so-called racial tensions which arise from time to time. My view is that it is because of whom, how and for what purpose race relations (by whatever name it is called) are raised is what causes the problem and not the topic itself. My observation is that it is usually raised for narrow political reasons designed for the benefit mostly of these individuals. My definition of politics extends beyond electoral and includes the religious, class and cultural divide. Let us look at it using the electoral divide.

Since its introduction, party politics in T&T has been based on RACE. It was so in 1956 and it so today. The two major parties have always relied on the race card to secure their political turf and have exploited the differences within the society which the masses like to publicly deny exist. This is not to say that the parties are racist as those which existed in South Africa or Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

Indeed, some of their leaders have “mixed” marriages. Many of them in their business and social interaction do not demonstrate racist behaviour. It is only to secure their political spoils that they raise the race bogey. Even when one looks at their business operations and it shows a predominance of “their” own people check further on the level of exploitation and abuse that these workers are often subjected to, so that the class divisions supersede those of race and religion.

The question that begs itself whenever there is a change in Government (except 1986) is it “ethnic cleansing” or is it political cleansing? If it is ethnic then would we not see appointments of those with “WRONG” political alignments but “CORRECT” racial origin? How much of this has happened? If however, it is political and our politics is based on race, then is it not logical that political cleansing will result in “ethnic” cleansing? Is the problem really race or is it the racially divisive nature of our politics?

Really, are there any fundamental differences between the various political parties in T&T? Can we identify economic, philosophical, cultural etc. differences between them? Other than their racial appeal what differentiates any one from the other? Look at the ease with which key players migrate to and from, and “alliances” are formed and broken. It is for these reasons more and more citizens are not participating in elections as they refuse to allow politicians to condition them, even subliminally, to choose a Government where the distinction is raced based.

To my mind, it is crystal clear that the solution lies in the development of politics that is based on different pillars. It is quite refreshing to note that the youths of today are not tied to racial overtures as their parents and grandparents. This poses a grave threat as some of the older heads see their political base (electoral and religious) being rapidly eroded and are becoming quite desperate and may deliver their “dying” last kick which can cause convulsions that will permanently scar our beloved country.

Our country has been mired in many deep crises for decades: crime, unemployment, poverty;, inadequate housing, health and education services et al have plagued ALL ethnic groups in the country. None of these have been caused by race nor can they be resolved by a race war. There are key issues which affect the entire society, some are common to all and some are peculiar to certain sections, ethnic and/or geographical.

These must first be understood across the society and specific interventions made. Unfortunately, our political divide does not permit an objective analysis of our problems and politicians having won their appointments on the basis of the politics of race become “prisoners” of their own tool of trade.

In conclusion, I have a great fear that we as a Nation are in a dangerous place. Not that anything fundamentally has changed but once we are in a period of heightened political activity T&T style then this “problem” can become explosive.

The present administration seems bent on campaigning throughout their term in office. Consequently, they and their other face will keep stoking this racial bogey. It is imperative that the masses of this country MUST determine that we will not allow our country to be traumatised for the myopic benefit of a few.

A critical first step in thwarting this mischief is that new voices must be heard on National issues. Most if not all of the traditional ones have shown that they have compromised themselves and on both sides of the so-called divide they have failed to address the fundamental issues afflicting T&T. It is also crucial that the mis-leaders be silenced within “their own” constituency as they thrive and assume hero status when their critics from the “other” side are themselves guilty of the same.

Sylvan N. Wilson

9 thoughts on “Is the Problem Really Race?”

  1. “The present administration seems bent on campaigning throughout their term in office. Consequently, they and their other face will keep stoking this racial bogey. It is imperative that the masses of this country MUST determine that we will not allow our country to be traumatised for the myopic benefit of a few”

    The writer, after pretending to present an objective analysis, showed his true colours when he introduced the above biased generalization.
    What does he mean by “they and their other face?”
    The credibility of the entire article is now in question.

  2. I think you are correct in your analysis and I don’t have to pick word to try to find out what race you belong to because I am listening to what you are saying. How does the dialogue begin?? When does the dialogue begin?
    When we look at people we tend to judge what we see without listening to what is being said. We then jump to conclusions based on our own prejudices. Having prejudices is not harmful in themselves but using those prejudices to be the utmost variable in analysis of what is being said is hypocritical since it would mean unless one has met the favorable immediate characteristics the contribution is not welcomed. Lets understand our prejudices and then we can understand discussions otherwise lets not talk.

    1. Well said, Al, well said. I’ll add only something said before (March 31 1968) by one wiser, much wiser than I, and quoted below verbatim:

      On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?”

      Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?”

      And Vanity comes along and asks the question, “Is it popular?”

      But Conscience asks the question “Is it right?”

      And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must do it because Conscience says it is right.”

      Martin Luther King, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution” (31 March 1968)

  3. “Lets understand our prejudices and then we can understand discussions otherwise lets not talk.”

    Al, my friend, we must “talk” to understand our prejudices.
    We all harbour prejudices and biases.After spending three months in T&T, intermingling with all and sundry, I am convinced that the problem of race are pronounced within the intellectual and political communities than within the communities of the people.
    The Port of Spain communities of Afro-Trinbogonians are presently experiencing a nostalgic and psychological loss of power and control, but my observation is that they have nothing to fear. Despite what you read on this site, T&T is still a unified country, led by a cosmopolitan group of politicans who will never abandon the values of the nation.
    After enjoying the mass, I am convinced that calypso and steelband are the cultural souls of T&T and no one can tamper with that.Unlike most doomsday perveyors on this site, I am truly optimistic about the future of T&T, no matter which Party is in power.If the present government screws up, the people will elect a new regime.
    And those who preach race and division will be silenced since I now agree with Neal, the mixed race is the fastest growing sector of the population. The Douglas will rule!

  4. Alternating the vexing dialouge when seaseasonal pressure apparently suits the obvious interest,always cloulds the really serious underlyiny cancer that faces our national growth.big bussiness always abstain from delving into real issues as their historical well being throughout favouritism in having the most ignorant ofthose who are explioted :us ,carry the burden of expectation.
    All of us has gone through some measure of discrimination during political change.our fellow citinzens should ,and must agitate for fairplay in every aspect of people’s life and development weather orange,blue,black ,xbrown or othrwise

  5. I don’t believe that race is entirely the problem, it is (well at least to me) an issue of class distinction, social mobility, achieved and ascribed wealth, which are enjoyed by the majority of non-Africans in this country. And this, cultivates an attitude, a predisposition of envy towards the aforementioned group by people of african decent. As hard as this may be to swallow, it is indeed so, and I know unlike Nizam, I can’t be fired for saying this. We are told and made to believe that we should live together as one people, but we are not one people we are many different people, with different cultural backgrounds, we should instead of trying to be a smoothie, be a fruit salad and respect each others, identity space and property for that ideal is flawed as all the great nations with diverse people exist not by living as one, but respecting differences.

  6. Mr. Wilson has tried using many words to explain why the perceived issue was ignited. He, along with many scribes and political pundits, are keen to write and show why the present government is totally behind the sinister plot. No one is objective enough and willing to explain why there was and still maybe a preference in some government departments and state enterprises to hire more of one type over another. One just have to look at the police force, the army, the nurses, Unit Trust, Central Bank, the Embassies, NIB, TSTT – it is clear that the party which lost power in 2010 had been instrumental in ensuring that employment was skewed in a particular way. In my view, which I am sure is shared by many objective bystanders, the Nizam’s issue was badly handled by him in the first place and the political parties afterwards. We cannot have areas in the country where preference is given to persons for employment by nepotism, networks, political directives and favouritism. Rather persons regardless of their ethnicities must be hired based on merit. Interviewing panels or groups responsible for hiring should not be composed of persons of one ethnicity. T&T is not India nor is it any country in Africa. And let us not delude ourself about other races, an objective and well structured interviewing panel will always choose the best person for the job – but the perception of fairness must be visible.

  7. Bleaching of the Skin= upward mobility? Really? What do the people see? What are the images of TNT and who is where? I don’t know if it is racism or Placism. It seems fine to do something or be something if you are of a particular race, but as soon as you attempt to break the mold, you are ostracized and deterred from individual pursuits of happiness. This is also a gender issue. When groups of people control certain segments of society, it is always bad. Mixed society = mixed use = equality.

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