A full circle

By Raffique Shah
April 23, 2011

Raffique ShahFORTY-ONE years ago, almost to the week, tens of thousands of mainly idealistic young people thought we had killed and buried the “race bogey” in this cussed country. We had grown up knowing that race-tension lay beneath the veneer of peaceful co-existence that those in authority had proclaimed. Too often, we had heard the epithets “nigger” and “coolie” bandied about, suggesting that after almost 150 years of living together in this melting pot, our people of different races and cultures were clinging to prejudices of a distant past.

So we took up the challenge to right this wrong. The descendants of slaves and indentured immigrants would set right what our forebears had failed to do. We took our destiny in our hands. We confronted the politicians on both sides of the fence, they who thrived on the divide-and-rule doctrine our British colonial masters had found so beneficial to their dominance. We marched, we wrote, we shouted “Unite!” from the rooftops. We even mutinied in the military.

We were beaten with police batons. We were jailed. Some among us faced no charges, but spent months behind bars. Others faced capital charges—treason, mutiny—and ended up enduring long trials and even longer periods in jail. But young as we were, we took it all in stride. We did not cry. We did not beg. We stood defiant, proud of our actions to rid the country of racism, of inequity. We wanted our parents and their generation to rid themselves of prejudices engendered partly by history, partly by political and religious allegiances. Yes, we sacrificed our careers, our lives in instances, in the hope that we would herald a new dawn, the Age of Aquarius, an age of love, light and humanitarianism.

How deluded we were. How elusive were our lofty goals. We were fools—and worse, we did not know it.

I look at Good Friday’s edition of the Express banner headline, “Daaga: Stop race talk!” Makandal was the leader of that “youth-quake” back in 1970. Yesterday’s headline was “Race Talk in House”. The PNM’s Keith Rowley and the UNC’s Jack Warner were counting heads and hair-type. Yesterday, too, Khafra Kambon, another leader of the 1970 mass movement, was protesting the inhumane treatment meted out to illegal immigrants who happened to be Africans. On the same day, another activist protested the alleged slave-like treatment three Indian workers suffered at the hands of a local employer, presumably an Indo-Trinidadian.

Every day I scan the local blogs on the Internet, the natives are going after each other’s hair, if not their throats. A white American, Archbishop Gilbert, blames “bigshots” for promoting racial tensions. Basdeo Panday rises from the dead to inject his customary dose of poison. Race, he insists, must remain on the front burner. Translate that to mean racial strife must always be there, a jackass that politicians and human-asses would ride until they fall dead…only to allow other race-jockeys to mount and continue their campaign of hatred.

When I addressed this issue mere weeks ago, I did not think I would need to return to it so quickly. But here I am, forced by the purveyors of race-hate who cleverly disguise themselves as promoters of peaceful co-existence, having to return to the scene of the crime, in a manner of speaking. What do these people want? A racial conflagration, a cataclysmic clash of cultures that would spell the end of the limited harmony we have enjoyed?

Many supporters of the Government are calling on their leaders to cleanse the public sector of “PNM leeches”. These perceived enemies of the new government are in the main senior public servants who have served successive administrations. I, too, see many of these functionaries as a hindrance to progress, but not because of their race or perceived political loyalties. In my interaction with them, I have griped about their indifference to the people they serve because they seem to be “coasting”, waiting for retirement and the benefits that go with it.

Bureaucracy, not party affiliation, is their only creed.

Of course, they are entitled to enjoy the fruits of years of employment in a service that undervalues people’s labour. I often question, though, if many of them worked diligently at any time in their careers. But I hardly ever judge them by their race, since I have learned that that is inconsequential. We have delinquent public sector workers of every race and political persuasion.

I often wonder about people who see race in every face. Theirs must be a very miserable existence. Imagine, for example, commuters waiting for a bus or taxi or Warner’s soon-to-be-legalised “PH”, and watching the driver’s race before boarding the vehicle. Or, put in another perspective, the driver screening his passengers by race. This may well happen at times: the level of people’s stupidity must never be underestimated.

Rational-thinking people would hardly succumb to such base instincts. But when so many are blinded by race, by religion or by political loyalty, anything can happen. Four decades after the young and the brave stood firmly for equitable treatment for all our citizens, it seems that we have made a full circle.

Back then, we fought against the relics of what we thought was a dying colonialism. How were we to know that our slogan, “Indians and Africans Unite!” would fall on barren ground? Jesus, arise! Put a hand, Lord, before this society implodes. After all, this is Thy weekend, Boss.

10 thoughts on “A full circle”

  1. Indian craftsmen claim trafficking plot
    THREE Indian nationals who last week accused a Tunapuna businessman, also of Indian origin, of imprisoning them have claimed they were victims of human trafficking.

    …’Trafficked’ Indians to return home

    New wave of Chinese
    A new wave of Chinese immigration is sweeping Trinidad and Tobago, triggering a baby boom and unearthing a ring of exploitation which appear to go unnoticed by the authorities.

    Indian workmen happy to leave
    Unfairly treated by Trini employer

    End abuse of African immigrants
    Enough is enough! The United Nations has declared 2011 the International Year for People of African Descent and one of the simple-to-execute things our country can do is to recognise the fundamental human rights of nationals of African countries detained for immigration violations.

  2. Thank you Mr. Shah. Shows that you are monitoring the situation just as I have, but we need to guide members of GOVERNMENT AND THE OPPOSITION who were not directly involved in the 1970 Search for Recognition.


  3. Oh ,so that is what 1970 was all about huh? Well I’ll be dar….!Never could have guessed for a moment. Thanks Uncle Shah for the edification. It is obvious ,that T&T was not ready for that sort of social revolution as yet , especially if the Sandhurst guys at the forefront of the action , were not sure of where they wanted to take their political science / coup school 101 theories, as yet, hence the result.
    In 1986 ,we had a good chance again to walk down that part, though without violence ,and bullets , but the ballot, in the form of the NAR coalition government, and we know how that ended , and why in 1990, yes?
    Let’s just say , it was four bullets in the African leader’s knees, while 80 % of Indo Muslim, and Hindu politicians – including your Muslim President Noor Hasanalli-was conveniently away from the Red House , or out of the country,hmmmmm.
    Well , our people repudiated such , idiotic , barbarian ,Tom fooleries ,but clamored instead to loot for a few days , and in good Trini fashion ,returned most of such items to owners, in time for a jolly Carnival 1991.
    In 2010 , our people collectively ,made a brave run at saying , ‘away with race, and terrible governance ,’ as played out under a political Bobolee call Patrick Manning , and predecessor Basdeo Panday,and his bands of clowns that constituted the PNM/ UNC respective governments.
    They did this by indulging in what seemed up to that period , was the unthinkable .How you enquired> They voted for an East Indian woman, from a Party that has shown a penchant to push the race card at every opportunity , irrespective of the lack of evidence ,to substantiate their erroneous claims. Surprise , surprise , we are here today.
    I personally ,just lighted a bond fire in the back of my condo , and placed my Trini passport ,birth certificate , and anything associated with this backward country in it. I drank a Carib Beer, a Stag,followed by a Vat 19, lime , and Angostura bitters to celebrate by liberation.
    Thanks Papa V.S. Naipaul – you typical neo tribal ,Trini, self serving ,global ingrate -for showing us how it should be done. For the record, unlike him ,who plans to be an Englishman , even if he has to drain every bit of Trini blood out of his system, and Crash Prince William wedding with a boring congratulatory poem, or future Chaucer like book imitation, I have my St Lucia, Dominica,Antigua , or some similar Caribbean island, Real Estate agent, and business investment banking consultant , on speed dial.
    We will see how that end. In the mean time , I wish you and our 1.3 million and growing folks ,well.
    “Each and every creed and race , finds an equal place,”huh?Yeah right!I will check back in 2 more decades to see , how that worked out.
    Ahhhhhh catharsis is great!

    1. There is a lot of anger in your writing. I would never burn my passport, you might have something to offer and now we cannot benefit from the knowledge that you could have brought to the table.
      When I vote I would vote for someone I believe would do a good job or the best candidate. I would never vote for someone because they are my religion or of my culture or race if that person believes that they are better than I am and do not need me. But then it take many to make a vibrant world.
      The 1970 shake up of the establishment was successful, as far as I am concerned. There were major changes in the way things were perceived and there was an attempt to rectify some conditions that existed at the time. However, vigilance did not follow. As Mr. Shah, so eloquently put it, ‘We wanted our parents and their generation to rid themselves of prejudices engendered partly by history, partly by political and religious allegiances. Yes, we sacrificed our careers, our lives in instances, in the hope that we would herald a new dawn, the Age of Aquarius, an age of love, light and humanitarianism.’ No one would have ever believed that the road would have led us to this. We have gone full circle rather than moving along the slinky.
      Don’t wait for two more decades to read the history lets be part of making the history that will be read in two decades.

  4. I wish those who are arguing for ‘balance’ ‘imbalance’, ‘fairness’, ‘equity’, ‘racial equality’, ‘parity’, ‘inequity’, ‘inclusion’, ‘exclusion’, ‘Indianization’, know waht they are talking about. Trinidad is rich with it’s own history and from it there is a lot we can learn. It is ironic that those who are pushing the ugliness of ‘division’ and ‘hate’ are those who are supposedly learned, in politics or i9n the University system or have law degrees, in other words ‘educated’. It used to be the illerate and uneducated who clamoured for this type of change. The Indian has risen under the same type of people they seem to now abhor. Whilst under British rule they were deliberately kept down. A Government senator recently called for censure of the people who governed for the past 50 years. Think of where the Indian (and African) were 50 years ago and see if you want to return to that. Our true history has shown that as a people we can get along very well together (regardless of our differences), you listen to mone of the most accomplished lawyers in this couyntry and you hear that we might end up like Fiji or Rwanda, where is the local history to suggest that such a path was created by our people to end up like this? None. In the lives or the ordinary African and Indian Trinis there is no wish to get at each others throat, but there is a fear amongst the learne3d that what gthere is to enjoy can be jeopardized if there is nogt enough of them to support each other. And this is where the feasr of numbers come in. All the arguments put forard so far has been feeble and ackwarde. Whether it be Sat, Nizam, Israel Khan, Moonilal, Sharma, Ramlogan, Devant, Kamla, Jack or whoever else want to instill this idea of fear that the African will devour you if there is more of them. I was in the Army at the time Raffique was enrolled. I was in administration whilst he was in the gun companies and NEVER a word was said of his Indian race. He was young and popular (LaSalle was more reserved), yet he emerged as the conscience of the feelings of most black people at the time. This was possible without balance, equity or any of tghese foolish names being bandied around today.

  5. Raff the nation needs you to come back and end this horrible “boogey man” call race. Isn’t time people follow the golden rule “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. If that rule is followed Raff racism will die just outside balisier house. It will die a natural death. It will die just where it was started and T&T will be better for it. Rowley would not stand on a podium and demand Nizam head, he will not stand on another podium and lie about the AG going to New York. Nor will will he stand on a podium ever to raise this “boogey man” again.

  6. Raff,
    I followed 1970 closely,I was attending OsmondHigh on Chancery Lane,at the time.I saw the fights on Prince St,A French National was stabbed.This was badly organised.Mouths was running,As Was said that They were gettind ARMS from the West.I saw Woodfoot square Closed for the first time.State of Emergency and Curfew were New Words to my head.
    Then Eric summonded,Brig.Joffre Serrett to Cool things down.
    The Truth of this was never fully told.
    I remember in the Bomb News paper Headline “Your Turn to Choose”
    in early 70s,Raff you gave a Theory on that time.
    I was at the Front when The Army with You ,Rex,and Bazie was being Tried.You Told Cpl. Danjuma,and Achepong to look at their own Country,and Compare,Just as Col. Achepong returned he was Beheaded.
    Raff You all started this Revolt,and as you went to Parliament,You Faced Bas,Eric and the gang,but NO much Changed.You Knows History Of TNT,You need to Teach all these New No Nentities about Pride and Race,Raff,Time to do more.I admire all you have Started,
    Thank You Lt. Raffique Shah,aka MP.
    God Bless You. Thanks GS Deenan

  7. It is really such a shame that after 150 years of living together, we Trinidadians refuse to accept one another as equals in our own land. Racism still rears its ugly head and there seems to be no way out. We, who thought to present an example of understanding, tolerance and mutual acceptance to the rest of the world still find ourselves at loggerheads. Will we never learn?

    In this situation in which we now find ourselves, therefore, I would like to present information which, although it may be known, may not be as yet understood, believed or respected. If it were understood, then, perhaps, we might begin to accept as fact what has been discovered, to rejoice in what has been scientifically proven, and to cherish the reality of our common ancestry, the common ancestry of all mankind.

    Hidden deep within each one of us is a remarkable fact, the fact that our DNA carries with it a tiny trace of our human history. If we could analyze the DNA of individuals representing the various tribes of planet Earth, we would find therein a fascinating history of our own backgrounds. We would find that we have a common ancestry, and yes, we would find that we are indeed, brothers and sisters of one another – that we are all in fact, members of a very large, very extended family – the family of MAN.

    The National Geographic Society of the USA has completed such a study a mere 3 years ago, and its findings can be found on http://www.nationalgeographic.com/genographic where the results of its so-called “Genographic Project” are clearly displayed. I recommend that every one of us should have a look at the website and begin to appreciate what has been found and is now being made available to us.

    It turns out that, starting from the tribe we call the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, possibly the oldest known tribe living on Earth today, at least 2 migrations out of Africa, one 50,000 years ago and the other 20,000 years ago, took place, and mankind was able to populate, in the first case, Asia and later, Australia, and in the second case, China, and later, Russia and parts of Europe. Details are available on line.

    It is really true to say, then, that based on the latest scientific evidence, we are all Africans. Until otherwise is proven, we may find it difficult to accept this is so, but no-one has yet been able to find to the contrary.

    With evidence such as this, therefore, can we not now begin to respect and yes, to love one another as brothers, sisters, friends, family? Let prejudices disappear, let us accept the fact that we are, for the moment at least, citizens of a lovely, desirable piece of real estate, that we enjoy a delicious climate, that we are relatively free to live our lives out in peace and tranquility, that we have contributed our cultures, our foods, our music, our dress, our religious understandings, our faith, our histories, languages, stories, our children and our human effort to make our island home the glorious place it happens to be. Let us together make Trinidad and Tobago a great nation, built on our mutual respect and acceptance of our similarities and our differences.

    The other way, the way which we’ve so far followed, leads only to scepticism, fear, hatred, anger, disrespect, intolerance, and eventually to destruction and death.

  8. racism is here to stay…..to get rid off it,the yankees the brits, and the ruling class must go,and that aint happending,so mr,shah stick your bull crap.

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