Thinking Race/Understanding Color

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
September 21, 2020

“Nobody can be properly termed educated who knows little or nothing of the history of his own race and of his country.”

—Frederick Alexander Durham, The Lone-Star of Liberia.

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeIn his epoch-breaking work Capitalism and Slavery, Eric Williams noted that racism is a product of slavery. “The reason,” he says “was economic, not racial; it had to do not with the color of the labor, but the cheapness of the labor.” On the other hand, in White Over Black, Winthrop Jordan argued that racism predated slavery, citing three distinct prejudices that conditioned the English responses to Africans: our blackness, which signified filth, sin and evil; being uncivilized; and our not being Christian.

Cord J. Whitaker, a distinguished medievalist scholar, has argued that “the logic of race, with regard to whiteness and blackness, is already deeply ingrained in Latin Christian culture by the late Middle Ages….Whether attributed to excessive heat, burnt blood or associated with unrestrained sexual passion, blackness denotes abnormality.” Whiteness and the white racial body were usually seen as “the guarantor of normalcy, aesthetic and moral virtue, European Christian identity, and full membership in the human community” (“Race-ing the Dragon).

Racism, racial bias, and racial prejudice have been around for a long time. They manifest themselves in individuals in many contradictory ways. The great humanist Mahatma Gandhi made several racist comments about Black people while he lived in South Africa. Gandhi, however, was not alone in this regard. Frederick Alexander Durham, a Trinidadian and early Pan-Africanist, said nasty things about Indians even as he passionately defended Africans in the West Indies.

In The English in the West Indies, James Anthony Froude revealed that Stephen Herbert Gatty, T&T’s attorney general, told him (Froude) that Indians are proud and will not intermarry with Africans. Durham responded: “Let the C…give up the heathenish and barbarous custom of blackening their teeth; let them stop mangling their ears and noses and the reddening of their tongues, by giving up their customs and ceasing to partake of nauseous, unsavory, and unpalatable articles of food, because such things are distasteful and abhorrent to us Africans, who despise all things that have a tendency to degrade us, or which savor of the uncivilized” (The Lone-Star of Liberia).

In other words, Durham said the same thing about Indians that the English said about Africans. Such examples demonstrate how stereotypes are perpetuated and transferred from one group to another.

The color problem exists within T&T’s two major groups: the Indian and African groups. The Varna or caste system in India is tinged with color gradations. Varna has two meanings: caste and color. When the lighter-skinned Aryans invaded India, they imposed the caste system upon the Dravidians, the darker-skinned indigenous population. Lighter-skinned Indians belong to the higher castes whereas the dark-skinned Indians belong to the lower castes. Fair, it seems, is more desirable than dark in Indian societies.

Colorism, a judgment of Black people based on their skin tones, also exists in the African group, particularly in the Americas. Ibram X. Kendi defines colorism as “a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequities between Light people and Dark people, supported by racist ideas of Light and Dark people” (How to Be an Antiracist). When Keith Rowley ran for the leadership of the PNM, Fitzgerald Hinds complained that many of his party members did not want to support Rowley because he was too dark skinned. Hinds was highlighting the problem of colorism within the group.

This brings us to the contentious verbal sparring between the Prime Minister (PM) and the Commissioner of Police (CoP) in which the PM demanded that the police treat all citizens equally. However, the chief cop accused the PM of racism. He says: “Everything is about race, color, religion, and politics and we live on that in this country, where there is no looking at the facts or right and wrong” (Express, September 14).

The CoP should know that anything one does in a plural society-or any society for that matter- always has to do with race, color and religion. Had he been aware of this, he would have realized that calling young Black men “cockroaches” was the surest sign of racial profiling. He should remember that racial or ethnic profiling led to the killing of 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda who, before the genocide, lived peacefully together.

General Ralph Brown described CoP’s behavior as being “disrespectful” toward the PM, something that is unbecoming of a military officer and Police Commissioner. He noted, “I am certain that Commissioner Griffith was not taught to be disrespectful of authority at the prestigious Sandhurst Military Academy that he so often reminds us he attended” (Express, September 15).

Brown didn’t say that Griffith’s superiors at Sandhurst were mostly white; Rowley is dark-skinned. Griffith’s disrespect of Rowley may well be attributed to the white and/or light-skinned privilege which he enjoys in our society. However, he cannot be a good CoP if he is not sensitive to the challenges of race, religion, and color as they manifest themselves in T&T. Guns, tough talk and insulting language alone cannot solve the problems of race and racism that face Trinbagonians.

None of us is free of racial, ethnic, color or religious biases. The challenge is to understand the history of our country, where those biases come from, and how we can control them. It’s the knowledge of race and color that allows us to deal with the intractable racial quagmire in which we find ourselves.

While we are at it, wouldn’t it be nice if our ministers, public officials and private citizens temper their toxic public outbursts and allow reasoned discourses and respect for one another to guide their public debates.

10 thoughts on “Thinking Race/Understanding Color”

  1. …In other words…ALL LIVES MATTER!
    Dr. Cudjoe is trying to paint a picture that everybody is racist. He digs up a quote of an african descent man scorning indian BEHAVIOUR & CUSTOMS and tries to equivocate it with RACE-ISM…this is disingenuous and intellectually dishonest, just as equivocating the vicious RELIGIOUS brahman-ist varna system with african internalized racism. The problem with this intellectual dishonesty, is that it camouflages which ethnic group is the ULTIMATE oppressed victim, which ethnic groups BENEFIT from the system, and are the perpetrators!
    The brahman-ist (“Hindu”) varna “caste” system is NOT ONLY about colour!…Facial features and hair texture are also part of what determines your level of humanity or SUB-HUMANITY….just as in the ‘western’ white-supremacy hierarchy (racism)! This is a critical, but conveniently excluded point that Dr. Cudjoe eludes. In other words, a pitch black skinned individual who ALSO has ‘keener’ facial features (Nose, lips, skull shape) is considered in BOTH Brahman-ism (“Hindu-ism”) and ‘western’/modern european racial hierarchies to be SUPERIOR to a black, brown or even lighter skinned person with indigenous african hair texture & facial features i.e. broader nose, wider lips. One doesn’t need literature to understand these facts as simple honest observation of trinidad, caribbean, latin american and GLOBAL beauty standards illustrate this daily, for centuries. The Brahman-ist varna (“caste”) system is religiously legislated and supported with extreme violence and altogether MALICE! How can a professor equivocate the two, unless either ignorant or dishonest!If Brahman-ist racism was ONLY about colour, trinidad would have been a much more cohesive society. However, indians perceive themselves superior to africans because of their facial features and straight hair texture, which is the global standards of beauty, intelligence and humanity.
    The canadian, white supremacist founder of the Presbyterian church in trinidad, john morton, documented his choice to focus exclusively on indian children because they were more intelligent than african children, and able to grasp mathematics better. Also, morton wrote in his diaries, that indians were the distant racial cousins of europeans, and BECAUSE OF THAT “FACT”, he had a MORAL obligation to help them!…but not africans! Morton brought bhojpouri speaking missionaries from india to facilitate a ‘comfortable’ environment for indian students, and also allowed Brahman-ist HYMS (BHAJANS) and the varna sytem to be practiced among indian students at the schools and “churches”.

    1. Inconvenient, you are spot on in your analysis of Dr. Cudjoe’s speculative thoughts on what constitute racism, especially where it pertains to what he appears to be defining as “black racism” even though he did not state it as such. Once again, black people who hold this professor in high regard should be careful on how they accept his academic pronouncements as truths. What is absent in his writing (if he is trying to be fair), is what hindu and Indians comments and beliefs are about black people. Surely, he mentioned the hindu’s abhorrence to black skin, but failed to mention the behavior a government contractor’s daughter that resulted in nationwide protests because her utterances were so profoundly racist. Im not sure where this professor is taking us with his writings, because he lacks evolutionary vision of what constitutes reality as opposed to what he chronicles as base for his thoughts.

  2. I am Indian but my closest friends are Africans. (It feels awkward with such self identification). Simple reason I prefer to see people first. Yes we all do have our inherent bias, further straddled by fake suspicions of each other. I enjoy the great times of fellowship. Are some of them racist? Yes but I tend to overlook such human weaknesses. As Gandhi said “we are all human my intent is to show the British such…….”.

    What makes the difference in our conduct is the level of hate, fear and suspicion that we all have of anyone who don’t look like us…it is time we get over that.

  3. Mohandas ‘mahatma’ Gandhi didn’t merely SAY S-O-M-E racist ‘things’ about africans, he was an anti-african activist IN AFRICA. Gandhi MIGRATED to south africa, and campaigned AGAINST indigenous south africans in their country. Even after illegally occupying their land, the british decided to ‘TAX’ the indigenous south africans (zulu), and when they rose up in the “Bambaatha Rebellion’, Gandhi VOLUNTEERED himself and the indians there to enlist in the british army to ‘put down’ the rebellion! The british accepted him and the other indians, but denied them weapons (much to gandhi’s chagrin). Typical “caste-mind”
    Educate yourself on Gandhi’s racism Dr. Cudjoe and minus the cognitive dissonance!

    BEWARE! The indian government, the indian diaspora and brahman-ists in general, use gandhi’s falsified history propaganda to sell india and brahman-ism as a legitimate coloniser,and as such, the internet is LITTERED with deliberate lies to quash the truth as “negative publicity”

    Debunking the Gandhi Myth: Arundhati Roy's_GandhiMustFall_Movement

  4. Race is essentially a human construct built on pride, suspicions and ignorance. When the Belgiums went to Rwanda (all of Africa was divided up by the Europeans) they knew the best way to control these people was to divide them. So the people with obvious facial features example large noses were called Hutus, whilst the thinner nose people were call Tutsis.

    Of course this racial construct was there in Africa before the Europeans just under a different name “tribalism”. Yoruba, Somali, Ashanti, Hausa, Chewa etc. When the Europeans started the slave trade, tribal wars erupted, one tribe capturing the other tribe and selling them into slavery. Thousands of men, women and children were snatched and sold to the Europeans where they were carted off to their Atlantic journey.

    If an African does not like an African perhaps his broad nose, and ugly face that is not racism. If an Indian does not like the same person for the same reasons, the Indian would be deemed racist. I saw it with my own eyes. Black girl did not like black man for the aforementioned reasons. He found an Indian girl very beautiful they got married her parents did not approve for the same reasons the black girl had but they were deemed racist. Today the parents are okay with the union. I can’t make this up you don’t win the race battle….

  5. Africans and African women in particular have bought into European standards of beauty all the world. The hair, makeup and wig industry is a multi million industry, fed by African women trying to conform to European standards of beauty.

  6. Gandhi took on the British Raj and their racist world view, literally head on. His first encounter with racism saw him being defined as Kaffir. . He sought during his many years in South Africa to redefine that view of Indians who were brought by the British to work on the rails and plantations.
    Arguing strongly as all lawyers do against the inhuman treatment meted out to the diaspora Indians in South Africa. The White South Africans only saw black and white. To them all Indians were Kaffir and should be treated as such, something Gandhi strongly protested…

    In India on different soil he took on the British in that famous march to the salt mines where over 300 Indians felt the lathi of the British on their heads. He was a non violent determined man unlike the BLM movement that is sweeping America today. Gandhi provided inspiration to Dr. Martin Luther King, who took on segregation in America. It was an America where signs read “whites only” etc. Dr. King hero was Gandhi as he embarked on the “satyagra” (soulforce) movement. It was no easy task to deal with racism.
    Dr King through his efforts started the civil rights movement that tore down the walls of segregation. His hero was Gandhi.

    Today we live in a much enlightened era where there are many courses available online to stop racism. Systematic racism is the most dangerous one because when institutions treat people differently because of their race it is hard to combat.

    1. LIES! Gandhi and other ‘uppercaste’ brahman-ists BENEFITTED from and facilitated the british raj, as long as they were treated as superior to other indians. Gandhi was always a dishonest, racist, deceptive politician. As pointed out earlier, racist liars like gandhi, will forever try to protect his fake legacy with lies and deception.

      Give us a statue of Ambedkar, not Gandhi: Ghana university professor bádélé Kambon

      Was Mahatma Gandhi a racist? – BBC News

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