By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
June 13, 2016
Last Sunday, in this newspaper, Sat Maharaj mentioned casually (or perhaps not so casually) that he couldn’t possibly be a racist since I was his best friend and Desmond Hoyte was a close friend. Most of my friends were aghast that Sat should consider me to be among his best friends and, even if we are, they asked, why should he use our friendship to camouflage his racism?
The same morning I appeared on “Showdown” on i95.5 fm. One of the hosts asked if I believe Sat is a racist. I answered No! The listeners’ responses were fast and furious. The next day (Monday) the offending clip was replayed as a news item after which listeners were asked if they agreed with my position. I was at the National Archive so I did not hear the responses. However, I was told that many listeners disagreed with my assessment of Sat.
As early as 1994 George “Umbala” Joseph in his own Inimitable manner asked me the same question. My response was the same: I do not believe Sat is a racist. Sat advocates for his people, the Hindus, as loudly as he can. I do not believe that makes him a racist.
I have been doing a similar thing for my people for the past fifty years. I have devoted my entire academic, political, and social life advocating for the rights of my people, at home and abroad. That does not make me a racist.
A racist is someone who believes that his or her racial group is superior to another group and deliberately discriminates against that group purely on the basis of a person’s racial origins. Moreover, a racist has the power to withhold certain goods and services from others simply on the basis of the power he holds over them solely because of their racial origin as was/is practiced in places such as the United States and South Africa.
I am not aware that Sat believes that his group is superior to my group (even though he has said some unfortunate things) or that he possessed the power to withhold (or has withheld) goods or services from the black community simply on the basis of our skin color, especially when Indians from Madras (we called them Madrasi or Madras Indians) are even of darker hue than many Africans.
I am aware that color plays an important part within the Varna, the Indian caste system, and that the word “varna” itself is taken from the Sanskrit, the literal meaning of which is “color.” Necessarily this has led to much speculation that within the various castes there has been much discrimination based on the difference in skin color. This itself may have led to various levels of color prejudice within the Hindu group itself.
But then again, that’s nothing new. Within African groups in the Americas the question of colorism remains a chief concern in that one is more likely to gain certain economic and/or social benefits the lighter one’s color is. This has led to the saying, “If you’re White you’re alright; if you’re Brown stick around; if you’re Black get back.”
When Sat’s wife died I was the only black person (as far as I remember) who attended the wake at his home in Champs Fleurs. The following day I attended the cremation in central Trinidad. I sympathized with Sat as I would have with any of my friends, black, white, or pink, who lost a dear one.
Correspondingly when I launched my book, Indian Time Ah Come, at the Port of Spain Town Hall, during the first months of UNC’s reign, Sat delivered a major address even though he disagreed with some aspects of the book and found the title in bad taste. But he came to support me and that was important.
Although Sat says offensive things, that does not necessarily make him a racist. Sometimes he is even unaware of the hurt he causes others. In spite of these shortcomings, Sat will go down in our history as someone who worked arduously for the betterment of his group-that is neither a bad nor racist thing to do.