Small group ‘fanning the flames’ of race in T&T—UWI lecturer

By Rhonda Krystal Rambally
October 04, 2015 –

PeopleAnthropologist Dr Dylan Kerrigan says racist posts on social networking site Facebook are a cultural manifestation of the political climate and is suggestive of how T&T’s society might become.

He described this cultural manifestation as “dangerous” and attributed this to failing social and educational institutions, the media, disconnected and irresponsible politicians and a lack of general critical thinking among the population.

He said the grassroots, who were political operatives and less educated, were being fed messages by the higher-ups who wanted social destabilisation to bring together their ethnic in-groups.

He found that the middle class was not engaged in racist talk.

Social media, he said, could be an avenue for sensationalism.

“While you can use it in certain ways to get reactions, what Facebook does is it removes context and back story. So what you see is the trending thing. You see name and picture but we don’t really know the back story to the person and you don’t get the larger context of Trinidad and Tobago’s multi-cultural reality.”

He was interviewed last Monday about the surge of vitriolic comments and at times racist posts circulating on Facebook before and after the general election.

According to him, it’s a minority of the population involved in “fanning the flames” of race and racism.

He said, “The problem with Facebook is it’s not set up for people to have discussions. Instead, it’s set up for users to fire in with their comments.

“Facebook is a technology…a bunch of servers somewhere. How societies use Facebook is culturally relative. So Facebook postings are always shaped by the wider culture of a society. Before the recent explosion of racist postings, Facebook locally was understood as ‘Macoobook’.”

He said while T&T was not about to explode into ethnic violence, there were political cycles where tensions surface and seem “really bad” but that tended to dissipate.

“That’s really the history of our nation for the last 53 years,” he said.

He said T&T’s ability to live and co-exist in a multi-cultural setting was one of its many strengths as a nation and was something we should teach to other societies.

Kerrigan is a lecturer in anthropology and political sociology, attached to The University of the West Indies, St Augustine campus.

Among some of his areas of focus are social change, power relations, race and class, class and culture, inequality, multiculturalism, and culture and politics.

Facebook not safe to discuss race

If the ground doesn’t shift, and no effort is made to improve the situation among top-down institutions in the country, Kerrigan said he would be concerned the problem could worsen.

“That is a massive responsibility politicians need to take on,” he said.

He said politicians were disconnected from the masses and were inside echo chambers surrounded by advisers.

He said the population also needed to become more critical of things affecting them.

Kerrigan questioned, “Can we say in the era of Facebook people are less critically engaged?”

Before the Facebook generation, the world was different.

“There was more depth to thinking. Think of the Caribbean in the 1970s. Now there’s shallowness” he said.

He said many Facebook users regurgitate what they hear in conversations and younger users are not thinking for themselves.

Kerrigan said, “What is needed is classroom space where young people can talk about these topics.

“Facebook is not a safe place to discuss race.”

Understanding racism

Racism is a learned behaviour. It’s learned through groups, family and social institutions, said Kerrigan.

He said, “Racism is a very emotional thing and can stop people from thinking rationally. It is built on stereotypes which produce prejudice.”

He said racism was a complicated matter in T&T.

“We can’t say what is going on really fits the academic definition of racism because we have had Indian governments, Afro-governments and both groups have had access to cash and power. So we have a very specific type of race politics that does not fit the academic definition of racism as exclusion and oppression.

“We call it racism because that’s the word for us but really, it’s a sort of racial back and forth built off stereotypes and anecdotes from people’s lives.”

Explaining the complexity of race talk locally, he said some people can choose to be mean and horrible against others, while there are also times and spaces where some people have the social and cultural capital to make racist jokes and use racist language based on their affiliation and long-term history with people.

For example, he said, “With sports groups, family and friends, or a close lime, you can say things but if you took those same words into another space with other people they become racist.”

Kerrigan said locally there are spaces where ethnic humour and picong can be quite playful but then there’s spaces where it can be “straight up negative.”

Racism is inward looking, where people tend to say things like “I am part of this group and you’re not.” “You’re on the other side.”

On the other hand, there’s a positive, outward looking multi-culturalism, where all people are different. “That’s what everyone has in common. We are all different from each other.”

“Difference is the common factor of humanity we all share,” Kerrigan said.

“Politically we’ve tried recently to play the politics of multi-culturalism, and of course it’s in our national anthem and coat of arms too, but obviously in day-to-day life it does not always work.

“One political problem is that our political system is designed to pick a winner based on a first-past-the-post system which essentially shares political power between two large ethnic groups, so our politics is always going to be about race,” Kerrigan said.

He said it is in the interest of political groups to mobilise and develop “a type of race talk” and racism because that’s how “we decide who gets what, where and when in the country, depending on who is in power, they’ll dish that out.”

While it seems disheartening and people worry about ethnic violence and explosion, it’s all about the game of power, money and politics, he added.

“If the political system rewards racial groups, of course those political groups will make sure, perhaps indirectly and through their grassroots people, that race is at the fore and centre. That our country has seen a spike in racism on Facebook post the general election should be an obvious sign of this.

“It emerged at a time when these elements of our society, our race and our culture are central to how power functions.”


24 thoughts on “Small group ‘fanning the flames’ of race in T&T—UWI lecturer”

    1. Our genetic composition is preset to determine what we are going to look like…thanks to our ancestors and evolution, but our neurological development is based on our physical encounters in our environment. We are all the same genetically, but neurologically, we differ and it comes out in our perception, our thinking and our memories…all of which have an impact on who we are and what we will become later in life. Our brain is extremely powerful and was biologically created to acquire knowledge and information…unfortunately lack of correct information and education leads to the point of view of many folks on this blog…racism will come to a grinding halt one day…as more schools are developed and access to education increases….

        1. Like Mohammmed Ali, I am beautiful and people gravitate towards me simply because of the way I look. It is quite possible that one of my ancestors was a white man who had sex with my great grand mother when she was on a boat to Trinidad with a bunch of Dalits rejected by India. I refuse to apologize for my very light complexion. Indians in T&T think that I am a Brahmin, but they do not realize that I am a Brahmin by boat. I am a Hindu fundamentalist and a firm believer in the caste system , and I have the audacity to rank Blacks in T&T at the bottom of the caste classification. I am lucky that some white man gave me some land which I cultivated at the expense of all the Blacks in T&T. I am also a filthy racist who is preoccupied with making sure that Blacks in T&T would never prosper as I exploit them. I want political , educational and cultural dominance in T&T even though I know that I do not deserve it. I know that I am superior to everyone and I use my racists traits to express my superiority. I am devious, crafty, corrupt, dishonest and will go out of my way to deceive you. I love to drive my Mercedes because it gives me the opportunity to show how powerful I am and how lucky I am as compared to all the untouchables around me.I am also shifty, crafty, dishonest and because of my Indian heritage I am willing to bribe anyone to achieve my goals. And I want you to know that I do have a lot of Black friends. I try not to look at many people around me because they are all so ugly in T&T, especially in Tobago. I have very high standards of beauty…all Caucasian. Man , I love to be racist!
          I recognize that Indians are a bunch of opportunists in Trinidad and do not deserve to part of the society. I will spearhead a movement to expel them. They do not belong here. Let’s find a new island for them. It cannot be Guyana, Fiji, Surinam or places like that because they have already infested those places with their foul habits.

          Endorsed by Rodwell Paton and Alyssa(Cudjoe)
          Part 2 will follow after my Baltic cruise.

          1. Thanks for finally baring your soul Tgirl. It’s comic relief from you usual intellectual bobbing & weaving.

          2. Tman/Tgirl/Sasha, is this the part where i backstep & beg you to taKe back your post? Keep on writing sister! Why not make it 10 parts instead of 2?

  1. Oh please. That is the “I have a black friend” traditional excuse, and has become quite lame today. Racism is a product of religious and cultural beliefs that exist in groups who feel they are superior to others who are not of the group. The best counter to that, is to expose it, to confront it, to take it our of the closet and force people to deal with it.

    Because they walk around as repositories of these centuries old traits attempting to obfuscate them by pawning them off on others with no such links, culture of history. Bringing it out into the open, exposing it forces people to deal with their racist traits.

    1. I am looking forward to the day when you will say something new.You have been repeating this tired, old thesis since time immemorial…a theory now irrelevant in T&T.

      1. Ahhh tman and he, me and ‘we’ will continue to repeat it over and over til it registers that we will not be your dalits! This is not a game…it’s not about ‘mixing it up’ to keep things interesting…the truth needs no gravy! It is neither exciting nor boring…the truth is nourishment!
        it’s amazing how your parents taught you all these techniques to steer people off the path of truth….you are like that famous person who tried jesus in the desert during his 40 days…

  2. Mamoo says “The best counter to racism is to have friends of different races”…that depends on your definition of ‘friend’…also having genuine friends of different races is as a result of not being racist. However many known racist claim to have friends and bring persons to vouch for them e.g. remember mel gibson was taped telling his girlfriend a couple years ago that because she was she dressed loosely, she would be gang raped by “A bunch of niggers”… remember that? Whoopie goldberg subsequently vouched for him as a ‘friend’ of many years and claimed that he wasn’t? The term racism has been deliberately politicised over the years to mask what was known as racism in the 60’s and 70’s this is why i prefer to not use the word racism, although it is necessary at times,….i prefer to say that such and such person is scornful and hateful of dark skin and thick curly hair.

  3. Once again the assumption is that this small group is an Indian group.Those who monitored this small group would know that people of all races, mainly Indians and Africans were involved in these vitriolic, ignorant, vulgar and hateful exchanges.It was a back and forth of the most despicable nature. I wondered why the major newspapers permitted these sorts of uncouth exchanges.

    1. Wow…even your sugar mommy kamla was called upon to denounce the racist epithets from her supporters (tman) for THEIR racist outburst after sourly losing the election. It has been neither ‘a small group’ nor a mixture of ethnic groups responsible…it is the racist indian support base of the unc (indian community) that has been identified as being the instigators…in fact, a well known unc radio host commented that if the african community RESPONDS things will get ugly…he even commended and urged the african community to resist RESPONDING! Now tman is trying to spin this and spread the blame…is this the only time you were raised to share? With blame?

      1. Your information is as usual, blatantly and lamentably biased. If you vision were not so clouded by prejudice and if you were awake and aware when these exchanges were occurring in T&T, you would realize that both groups were unfortunately involved. The majority of right thinking citizens openly rejected and condemned these exchanges, without taking sides like you. Thank God.

        1. Tman Tman….you have the gall to use words like ‘prejudice’, ‘biased’ and ‘clouded’ on this forum? Haaaaaaahhh…

          1. Someone once said:

            “The true definition of mental illness is when the majority of your time is spent in the past,preoccupied with negative thoughts of others, but rarely living and adapting to the realism of NOW or confronting your own obvious faults and those of your kin.”

  4. Someone calling me a “n*gger” while highly objectionable, actually does not bother me, once that person does not back up his or her bigotry with institutionalized racism, i.e. preferential job considerations for people of a race other than my own, disproportionate levels of effort in teaching students of different races,etc.

    Jaishima Leladharsingh’s comments for example were extremely troubling to me given the position of power that he occupied. The fact that he left his post A YEAR after his odious comments offer scant comfort to me and are even more troubling as it suggests that his comments were condoned by the government.

    The last five years has offered enough evidence of the institutionalised mistreatment of Afro-Trinis and the electorate responded accordingly.

    In the words of Yahoshua ben Yosef, “He who has ears to hear let them hear”….

    1. He did not leave his post. He was fired… “asked to resign”
      I do agree that his removal should not have taken one year, but investigations in T&T take forever. We are still waiting for the Police to conclude emailgate and Kamla’s pot discovery.

      PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (Trinidad Express) – Board member of the Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA) Jaishima Leladharsingh has been fired for posting racist statements on Facebook.

      Leladharsingh, who is also a senior United National Congress (UNC) activist and former marketing manager at the Agricultural Development Bank (ADB) on April 12, 2014 referred to Anthony S Mcleod as a “stinking nigger” on Facebook.

      Messages sent via Facebook to Mcleod yesterday for a comment were unsuccessful.

      Speaking briefly with the Express yesterday afternoon, Minister of Planning and Sustainable Development Dr Bhoe Tewarie under whose portfolio CDA falls, said the posting by Leladharsingh had been under investigation and following its completion, he was asked to resign.

      1. Tman even raffique shah pointed out that the person who asked him to resign is the person who put him there in the first place (Bhoe Tewarie) and according to mr. Shah jaishima and bhoe and his wife are good friends….bhoe tewarie should have resigned himself…

  5. Why say something new about a practice, behavior and attitude that is a thousand years old TMAN. Don’t hold your breath.

    The time for what you hope for, what you wish for, has passed. People have woken up. They will no longer suffer your inverse proportional ethnic ego masturbation any longer. You brought the conversation to where it is, because you claim the right to feed that hole in your psyche. The fact that we refuse to cooperate brings anguish and dissonance of course. That is how it always is with those who awake one day and discover that people have become tired of massaging their egos.

  6. TMAN wrote,

    Someone once said:

    “The true definition of mental illness is when the majority of your time is spent in the past,preoccupied with negative thoughts of others, but rarely living and adapting to the realism of NOW or confronting your own obvious faults and those of your kin.”

    A pity you did not allow that to influence and negate your obsession with Rowley. Like most people for whom hypocrisy has become a way of life, preaching values that you violate is normal.

  7. Lol…this is the same tman that obsesses over every post that i make ?isn’t that ‘the past’?…tman is mentally ill? Not surprised

  8. Berry Gordi jr. founder of Motown did state ‘it is not what you say but what you mean’. It is clear that there is a spirit of intolerance developing in T&T as reflected in these many blogs. I truly desist making generalized comments based on ethnicity and race because I have worked with so many different types of people in my lifetime, I respect them for their valid and positive contributions and not what racial background they are. Case in point, when you become a casualty and need an emergency operation, you do not get up from the operation table and ask who is operating on me and whose blood I’m receiving. I saw these 2 articles in the BBC this morning and thought these do bear relevance to the bloggers. Can they see themselves or only possible in the eyes of other people? and

  9. The first link about india’s “rising intolerance” is strange or just plain ignorant/dishonest…how can intolerance in india Rise when it never FELL in the first place? Reading news about india one must take it in context this is a PUBLICIZED POLITICAL attack! Because hindus control the media in india there is a 24/7 news blackout on daily acts of violence against dark skinned people in india…in fact…news like this gets preference to the REAL EVIL underbelly of caste violence there. Every x amount of seconds a rape of a dalit takes place but is not reported to police under threat of further violence by the caste minded police…who uphold caste…there is a video of an african being mob attacked on a subway by swarms of young indians in full view of the smiling police because he looked at an indian woman …did THAT make news? GIVE ME A BREAK LYAL TO CASTE TRINI
    The second link is about religious intolerance to islam because of the rising attacks by Islamic terrorists that claim the lives of people all over the world…her being african means nothing…in fact whether or not most people admit it they are becoming afraid /intolerant of islam because of negative publicity…religion is not a race…at least outside of hinduism…so i fail to see the relevance of your post…in fact…’LOYAL to caste and unc TRINI’…why don’t you post a link to the racist posts by that (surprise surprise) pundit who is a close associate of kamla?…pundit rambally-maharaj….! “Afro trinis should suffer…” …have you heard anyone on this blog inciting harm or maliciousness to indians? No? But what your stink mind has a problem with is highlighting & criticizing behaviours & mentalities as demonstrated publicly by that pundit….lol…what is somewhat amusing & irritating is to hear african trinidadians say things like…”a pundit? A pundit saying that?..”…i say…who better to say it? Who do you think preaches to the flock about superiority & inferiority of caste & skin colour?…the notion that a pundit & priest are similar in ideology is silly?…A pundit’s ideology & demeanor is based on the religion…right & wrong is based on the teachings of the book (s) that he reads from….the baghavad gita & the bible teach opposing ideas of society & right & wrong…i say the pundit who preaches racism is an honest to faith pundit. …a pundit that preaches against racism is akin to a priest that preaches that homosexuality is good…both will be speaking out of both sides of their mouth & taking popular opinion over their faith & its teachings….or being deceitful…you pick

  10. Google “quincy kendall charles – The Colour Of My Skin”
    Quincy is a 35 year old african trinidadian who went to india to fulfill his dream…becoming a traditional Kathak Dancer!(I.e. where the women wear a skirt over the sari with beads on the ankeles) anyway read about one particular incident where whilst riding his moped a car wrongfully hit him in the street…here this…in other societies onlookers would volunteer as eyewitness to the car being at fault…well not in india…yeah…many onlookers who knew the driver of the car was wrong VOLUNTEERED to lie & blame Quincy for being hit…surprise surprise….he graduated from a prestigious british university and had a career in a bank…he cannot even get to rent a decent place fitting of his finances…so he has to live like a pauper…tiny room even though he can afford much better and wants to…
    eh loyal to unc trini? Eh? Why don’t you post that link?

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