By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
March 15, 2022
I do not know Jean Claude Escalante but I am glad Prof Bridget Brereton pointed out his falsehoods with regard to Dr Theodore Lewis and his allegations that Trinidadians do not respect Fr Anthony de Verteuil’s work.
Brereton noted that over the past five years she “reviewed books by Fr de Verteuil and consistently and constantly called him a national treasure” (Express, March 10.)
I also benefited from Fr de Verteuil’s knowledge. In Beyond Boundaries (2003), I acknowledged Fr de Verteuil’s contribution to Trinbagonian literature and thanked him for exposing me “to the contributions the French Creoles made to Trinbagonian literature and for his pioneering work in the early phase of this literature”.
In his letter to the editor, Escalate claims: “Our national heroes go unrecognised because it is in the Trinidadian consciousness to celebrate mediocrity. When you have no definition of success, you’ll never know what failure is–and the slightest feat is deemed an accomplishment.” (Express, March 8.)
But what are we to make of someone who cannot get his basic facts correct but opines about things of which he knows so little? Brereton pointed out he couldn’t even correctly identify who was assigned to write a book on Trinidad history when the Government set up its education committee.
He also attacked me for offering Sat Maharaj a “backhanded compliment” when I praised Sat for the work he did for “his people”. Although Maharaj’s work ultimately benefited the whole nation, few would contest that Sat’s work focused primarily on the plight of the Hindus.
In Masters & Servants, Sat praised Bhadase Sagan Maraj, his father-in-law, for the work he did: “We, as Hindus, are duty-bound to show our everlasting gratitude to the man [Bhadase Maraj] who brought light and literacy when there was only darkness and neglect, and was responsible in no small measure for releasing East Indians, and Hindus in particular, from crippling bonds of ignorance and poverty.”
Sat saw his role as continuing the fight to uplift Indo-Trinbagonians, particularly the Hindus, which he did for over 50 years. That is why I called him “a great patriot” at his funeral service at the SDMS headquarters on November 18, 2019. I added: “No man or woman in this twin-island nation loved this island better than he did.”
There was nothing “backhanded” about these compliments. That wasn’t good enough for Escalante. He tries to demean me and my work when he says: “It is this kind of racially charged rhetoric that has been the bread and butter for race hustlers like Cudjoe who are willing to promote illiteracy to the nation for a few pennies.”
Escalante has an obligation to tell the nation why he thinks I am a “race hustler” and how I “promote illiteracy to the nation for a few pennies”. He must either produce the evidence to support his charge or apologise publicly for such libel.
Escalante also claims that Eric Williams’s Capitalism and Slavery is “amateur and laughable scholarship” that is not comparable to the works of “actual economists” such as Milton Friedman, who wrote on monetary policy; and David Ricardo, who is best remembered for his labour theory of value.
Williams is an economic historian who wrote on how the proceeds of slavery contributed to the rise of early capitalism in Europe. He says in his preface of Capitalism and Slavery: “[This] is strictly an economic study of the role of Negro slavery and the slave trade in providing capital which financed the Industrial Revolution in England and of mature industrial capitalism in destroying the slave system.”
While Friedman and Ricardo may be better economists (or so Escalante claims) than Williams, Escalante must tell us wherein lies the comparison between the work of Friedman, Ricardo and Williams. But then I suspect, “it is in [my] Trinidadian consciousness” that allows me “to celebrate mediocrity”. This leads me to ask why economic historians of all stripes have celebrated Williams’s invaluable contribution to the fields of European and Atlantic economic history since it appeared in print 78 years ago.
Escalante claims “when Albert Gomes was fighting to secure the rights of the Spiritual Shouter Baptists, Eric Williams was throwing a tantrum in England because he did not get a promotion”.
What tantrum could Escalante be speaking about? After Williams received his doctorate at Oxford University in 1938 for his dissertation, “The Economic Aspect of the Abolition of the West Indian Slave Trade and Slavery”, the following year he went to the United States, where he was appointed an assistant professor of social and political sciences at Howard University, in Washington, DC. In March 1943, he joined the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission on a part-time basis. Later he had some problems with the commission, which he documented in his 1955 speech, “My Relations With the Caribbean Commission”.
Could Escalante be confusing Washington, DC, with London?
On August 11, 1900, when Sir Louis de Verteuil, the scion of the de Verteuil family, died, The Port of Spain Gazette took pride in his achievements and the fact that he left us “a standard work on the history of Trinidad”. (August 12, 1900.) They were referring to his book, Trinidad: Its Geography, Natural Resources, Administration, Present Condition and Prospects (1858).
The De Verteuils have always contributed to the history of Trinidad and Tobago. If, however, Mr Escalante feels he should scold and malign some of us about our continuing mediocrity, he should at least get his facts right. One cannot accuse one’s fellow citizens of being mediocre but then demonstrate a woeful ignorance of the things of which one speaks.
Incidentally, I wonder what aspects of this response constitutes “race hustling” and promotes illiteracy in the nation?