By Corey Gilkes
January 11, 2015
Doh believe what foreigners do/ is better than you/cause that eh true
Is a mental block/that hard to unlock/it hard like a rock/with it yuh doh wuk (that true)
Yuh go live an illusion……..trying to be another man
Doh believe what foreigners do/is better than you/because that eh true
Profound words by one of our rap(so) pioneers (Yeah, I did that on purpose, hope it got you thinking) echoed over the years by different singers and thinkers. Last year the forever-robbed Heather Macintosh reminded us of our deeply embedded self-hate and self-doubt when she told us how we don’t see anything good in Trinbago till some foreigner say so. But didn’t Harry Belafonte and the recently departed Pete Seeger, huge cultural icons in the US, marvel at our kaiso and pan respectively years ago? In 1968 Belafonte went so far as to use selections going back as far as the 1920s to articulate the rioting and turmoil sweeping across the US and Europe in the wake of the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, the assassinations of Dr Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and the heavy-handed actions of the police and FBI within the US itself. And yet, to this day, we treat our artists and artistes, our panmen and poets with scant courtesy. Kaiso seems to be forever a quaint folk song, sung around Carnival time to amuse the tourists and pan is still “a noisy instrument.” Not even when we do oddah people ting and sing reggae and pop/rock we hardly give that any more respect. So I eh sure about Jointpop and Orange Sky go fare any better than Wildfire and Kalyan before them. What is certain is that in the “logic” of our self-contemptuous thinking, none of these disciplines have any relevance when the question of transforming our society comes up.
So too the idea of political awareness and agitation to achieve social justice. Such is the depth of our self-doubt that we ‘fraid to even get involved in the institutions we think are the only ones dat suppose to make we place better for we. So when there is some protest action and Imbert or Moonilal dismiss it as being “politically motivated,” people seldom call them out on their bullshit and brazenly say “yes, it IS political, now deal with it. You have a problem with that?” Instead we buy into the egregious lie that politics are only done by politicians; that the only place for politics is in Parliament – in the form the Westminster model (which ours is not anyway). Forget the idea of recasting it into something more inclusive, less aloof, elitist and alienating; forget changing the thing to something more in keeping with we, yuh mad or wha. We cyar even put on clothes that reflect the realities of living in a tropical environment. Jacket and tie in hot blazing sun?! Really? It seems where that was concerned the only public figure who had sense in dey head was Gerald Yetming (ah “Chinee” – what does that say about those who walk around with this view that the only people who are “truly” Caribbean are those of a certain dark ethnic extraction?). And yet when he wore it in Parliament, guess who try to “booff” him up? Patrick Manning – the then Great Black Hope. And the only thing that made it worse were the very vocal sycophants who supported him. All this can only happen when you have a people who lack self-belief and awareness.
So I guess, while I not so much into New Year’s resolutions and definitely not into the Xmas wishing, for 2015, I’d like to see a more vocal, aware and assertive population. I eh holding my breath for “good leaders” and good governance really, because none of them on either side of Parliament truly want that. And given the history of party politics going back to the colonial period, there’s no reason really for them to educate the people on whose backs they ride. So it’s up to the electorate to generate enough pressure and fear among the elites to ensure that certain progressive changes are made and maintained. But it requires a maturity and ethic of awareness and sacrifice among the people; it requires the populace to move beyond the current of self-doubt and fear and that is really not the case at the present time.
But how all this has been made to happen? I know, cause ah keep hearing from Lloyd Best to Raffique Shah, from Sunity Maharaj to S. Hylton-Edwards, that we are a people who have been subjected to a sustained campaign of psychological emasculation, being told what to do by someone else who tell we that nothing we create here is of value unless it mirrors that what is created in the land of the coloniser. But I am fast coming to the conviction that our own elites who took over from 1962 have a lot more to answer for than they already do because it seems to me that under colonialism, the people at least appeared to have been a lot more militant, focussed and vocal than they are now.
Look at the people, our great-great-grandparents, who worked on the docks in Port-of-Spain when Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935. Look at how they refused to offload any Italian ship – not to mention those who left the Catholic Church because the then Pope had blessed the troops and their weapons. Look at those who hid and sheltered Butler when he was being hunted. In spite of a very tempting reward, they did not betray him. In fact, a lot of the women especially, functioned as spies for the strikers and “Fifth Columnists” feeding the authorities with misinformation as to Butler’s whereabouts (listen to Atilla’s calypso “Where Was Butler?” it’s really informative if you know what to listen for). Compare them to the youths who turned the US upside down in the 60s protesting racism and the Vietnam war . Or our own like Kafra Kambon, Rawle Aimey, Clive Nunez, Tracy Wilson, Josanne Leonard (still in her school uniform at the time). Hell, compare them to the youths of the Arab Uprising.
What made the Trinis of Activism Past any different from us, apart from the fact that we have a lot of what they fought and sometimes died for? They didn’t have the creature comforts many of us take for granted not to mention certain rights enshrined by law. Perhaps that is the problem, maybe we have too f***ing much and need to have some of it rudely taken away.
Over and over it’s been said that we’re a society of followers, under achievers as Dr Trevor Farrel called us in his book, and rightly so; mimic men, receivers not innovators. While we can easily point to the steel pan and some lesser known innovations and inventions in the energy sector, a lot more people would find such terms offensive (and false) if a lot less would internalise such messages and project them. Indeed, the same steel pan would have reached much further were it not for us and our self-loathing.
Now of course I eh saying that EVERYBODY should be a leader – there will always be leaders and followers in one form or another – but my kinda followers would be those who understand the difference between followers and sheep; that the people who are put to run things are at best managers. And as such they are to be guided by those who elected them. Put another way, my kinda followers are people who fully understood just how powerful a follower could be in directing the leader.
My kinda follower would be a well-read (or/and) experienced person who understands that what passes for politics here is an elitist, authoritarian, top-down style of leadership. A system developed when it was necessary for an elite class that comprised a tiny minority of the country’s population to maintain power and keep the illegitimate form of governing going. In 1962 essentially the only things that changed were SOME faces and the flag. My kinda followers, recognising through the events of the last ten years alone, that the current systems of representation from Parliamentary to so-called local government are irrelevant to dealing with the concerns of the average person. My kind of followers would study the Wooding Commission on Constitution Reform, they’d study the systems of electing and removing local representatives in Cuba, of the rural legal systems on Pakistan and match it with traditional powerful councils-of-elders and titled women found all over Africa and parts of Asia so as to tease out ideas and models that will enable people to have a real say in how their spaces are governed. Then they’d go to confront government and Opposition to find out what shit they trying to pull on we.
We are told that “god is ah Trini” (perhaps that’s why he takes so frigging long to do anything), that we are a religious, praying and spiritual people. Well for some of us THAT’S the crux of the problem right there. Religion has been one of the most effective tools of enslavement by the coloniser. It has contributed in no small part to the superstitious way many Trinis “reason” what on top the Red House determines why it have so much killing in de place – an alternative reason has to do with the “heathen” religion of the Prime Minister (yes, a caller to i95.5 really used that word one Sunday morning) – and what devil sign on the new $50 bill. It’s why a National Gender Policy can’t pass yet because some religious con-artists, some of whom don’t even pay taxes, determine on the basis of decontextualized, mistranslated and often misogynist fairy-tales, that that would undermine the society’s moral fabric and the sanctity of marriage. The same marriage one faith, Catholic Christianity, refused to participate in for 900 years because that could mean a legitimising of…..y’know……sex.
However, I stop short of unceremoniously kicking religion out of the window a la Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and possibly Baldeosingh. One has to be honest and acknowledge that in the Caribbean context that same stultifying institution and retarding millstone has been used to politically organise the masses to chart their own destinies and clamour for social justice (the fiery TUB Butler was a Baptist minister, let’s not forget). So my kinda followers, my religious devotees, will transform these faiths into something truly liberating, enlightening and relevant. They would be very familiar with the volumes of religious scholarship, archaeology and well versed in the works of Bart Ehrman, Robert M price, Richard Carrier, John Henrik Clarke, Yosef ben-Jochannan, Gerald Massey, Fr Tissa Balasuriya, Rosemary Ruether, Bishop John Shelby Spong and Reza Aslan.
My kinda followers wouldn’t cower at the thought of challenging or altering Christian doctrines and teachings that have already been altered innumerable times since the very early years of the faith’s existence. Church tradition and leadership is very much in keeping with the authoritarian, top-down, male-centred ethic of the wider Eurasian culture that groomed it. That had nothing to do with any god. The almost complete erasure of the Mary figure and other feminine concepts of the Divine was in keeping with patricentric cultural ideas of women and femininity. So my kinda followers, drawing from traditional Africa and Asia, will change it back and push their clerics in the desired direction…..or leave them to wither in irrelevance.
How often have you heard that Trinis have a “Carnival mentality”? The context of course being that of a people who never serious, pandering to mediocrity, of making everything into a joke when what is required is a serious, mature approach. Mind you, that eh always a bad thing eh; if we was as serious as some people want us to be, this place woulda bun down long time with the members of the kleptocracy put up against a wall somewhere. So careful what yuh wish for.
My kind of follower is a person who would know how to flip that phrase “carnival mentality” over to mean instead the creativity and innovativeness for which we have always been known. Given the dire predictions due to the fall in oil and gas prices, that may be the very thing we need to tap into heavily. In fact, they’d find inventive ways to capitalise on that very negative connotation. Carol Boyce-Davies in her book on Claudia Jones made a very important point about how the injecting of Carnival and all its gaiety and colour by West Indians in England, subverted the staid, dour, melancholy, depressing asceticism that many Westerners deeply believe is the proper way to live. Think of the immense potential if we see did it here and offer it as a form of escapism from the industrialising regimen and fast-paced capitalist ethic that exists in the industrialised West. Has anyone studied the figures for depression and suicide in the US, Britain and Japan? Does no one see the immense potential of extending the invitation to them to “come lime with us”?
Of course to do that, it calls for a mindset that sees in the culture of Mas something other than a lazy, shiftless turning away from industriousness. It sees in our liming culture a therapeutic means by which to escape the daily grind, often by the demands of faceless executives. The “Carnival mentality” should be re-defined to describe the intimate, human-focussed openness that is going to be increasingly desired as the Western world becomes more and more immersed in a virtual reality that spurns human contact as a commercial is now boasting on cable TV.
This calls for a breed of followers who will demand that the political and business elite refocus and not just see development through the eyes of 19th century lens of industrial asceticism. These followers will be very vocal about their desire to hear the leaders speak more about pertinent issues facing the whole society and exactly how they plan to deal with them. 2015 is an election year and the party many believe will form the next government is just as ideologically bankrupt, courting with corruption and overly industrial-oriented as the current government. The demon of Doctor Politics, top-down singular leadership, inherited from the coloniser, is as strong there as it has always been and as it exists in almost every institution and organisation in the country. Indeed, Dr Williams put the “Doctor” in Doctor Politics.
Therefore, pegging the hopes that meaningful progressive change will come from that party (currently headed by another Doctor), or any one party is a dangerous delusion, an escapist pandering to that pathological messiah syndrome we are better off putting well behind us. Any change that is to come must be generated from below, not from above. And that calls for a vocal, informed electorate who are prepared to face down both sides and withhold votes if certain clear demands along the lines of transparency, accountability, good governance and forward social and economic thinking are met.
Oh yeah, Happy New Year allyuh.