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Confusing Race Relations with Racism
Posted: Saturday, August 23, 2003

By Stephen Kangal

I wish to voice my strong objections at the turn of events that allowed a group of UWI theoreticians/academics to obfuscate, dilute, hijack and gloss over The President's original motivation for embarking on his race relations demarche that he announced to the Mahasabha on 29 May.

The Anglo-colonial plantocracy not only failed to treat with race relations but on the contrary it appeared to have fanned the flames of Indo-Afro separation (the divide and rule policy) by richly rewarding African urbanism at the expense of callous Indian rural neglect.

For 41 years independent Trinbagonians have stigmatised the concept of race. We have avoided and failed to face full frontal nudity as well as the strains and stresses of Afro- Indo relations in spite of our growth to maturity. We avoided calling a spade a spade. We allowed ethnic polarisation to fester and grow in the interest of political supremacy.

The President's National Self- Discovery Committee (NSDC) should have signaled its intention to initiate this fundamental departure from the past in its modus operandi. It should have agreed to address the issue of race relations frontally and unambiguously calling a spade a spade if anything of any consequence is to emerge from its deliberations.

Instead the Chairman of the Committee Senator Ramchand (Guardian Aug. 14, p.12) committed a definitional faux pas by agreeing to sweep "race relations" below the carpet. Accordingly we cannot expect free and frank disclosures and contributions. It is not business unusual.

He euphemistically substituted " national self-discovery" perhaps confusing race, an accepted sociological concept with racism. This self-discovery label is not only misleading but also unnecessarily meaningless and confusing to the average Trini.

Since 1956 the term "national" caused to be incubated and spread in cosmopolitan T&T a notoriously virulent strain of ethno-nationalism that contributed to and brought us to our current parlous state of ethnic bi-polarisation. We can still see manifestations of this policy of cultural assimilation dominating the cultural landscape. "Multicultural", if this were necessary, would have been more appropriate than "national".

National is a term that may compromise the future recommendations of the Committee relating to the imperative of multiculturalism that would appear to be road map to inclusion of all as well as the institutional response conducive to the removal of alienation amongst all facets of our cosmopolitanism. Once people feel excluded and marginalised this society will continue to be polarised. We cannot appear to Africanise our external cultural image as we have done with our Carifesta production especially at a time when the issue of equity, equality and harmonious race relations has been given front burner status by both The President and The Prime Minister. This will telegraph the wrong signals relating to the credibility of the exercise to our multicultural community.

Chairman Ramchand emphasised that the Committee was "…not a race Committee". If in his own words the end product of its work is "… not to make African and Indian relations better" then pray Senator what is your Committee's objectives? That was the genesis of His Excellency's Mahasabha intervention.

Research into, understanding and dissemination of knowledge on ethnicity cannot be undertaken in vacuo. They must be premised and conditioned on achieving identifiable and relevant social objectives of expected group and individual behavioral outcomes and changes i.e better race relations. This cannot happen by accident or be a spin-off effect as Ramchand indicated. We are therefore wasting time by emasculating and deflating the President's original race initiative. We are going to generate unfulfilling hopes and undeliverable expectations on taking our cosmopolitanism to new frontiers of peaceful and harmonious cultural co-existence, cross fertilisation, fusion and interpersonal harmony and understanding.

We have to be wary of taking the work of the Committee to the media in a careless manner because it can be counter-productive and aggravate the tone of our race relations. The work of the Committee must first be presented to His Excellency before any public exposure can be made of its findings and recommendations. The Committee should not be used to promote the political aspirations or ego trip of its Chairman as surfaced during an interview conducted on 730 Radio on the morning of Monday 18 August.

In examining the prospectus for the conduct of the proposed ethno-socio inquiry as outlined by Senator Ramchand I asked myself in the face of a non-existent budget who will fund the much-needed PR/Media practitioners, the sociologists, the social psychologists, the pollsters etc to allow this National Self Discovery Committee (NSDC) " to go below the surface" of racial conflict and tension and arrive at meaningful and usable data? Professor Ramchand does not seem to appreciate the enormity, the depth and the challenges posed by the subject. We need to remind him that this is not a matter of fiction a field in which he has excelled but a matter on which hinges the future destiny and economic and social viability of multicultural Trinbago. Accordingly we have an interest in insisting that the matter be treated with the care, sensitivity and professionalism that recognises its importance for us.

With the membership of the NSDC fully engaged in fulfilling their demanding academic/political responsibilities and without the requisite supporting Secretariat facilities, how can it deliver anything of substance and meaning on its broad, convoluted and diffused mandate within an initial limited time frame of 12 months? This period is scarcely adequate to conceptualise the mandate effectively. How can the NSDC maintain its independence as the Chairman asserted, without an independent/available source of funding to project its message on ethnic knowledge and understanding to its multicultural audience via the print and electronic media? Will it rely on the goodwill of Gov't's PR machinery and the private media? They will have their several conditionalities since the issue must encroach on politics, the Constitution and almost every facet of our multiculturalism. I hope that this will be another an academic talk-shop because the issue of race relations is of paramount importance in our journey to peace, prosperity and social and economic stability.

Finally there is an indisputable correlation between ethnicity and geography in T&T. Who speaks for Tobago as well as for the rural T&T heartland - the victims of the most clandestine and widespread geographic/ethnic discrimination?

Must UWI and the East-West Corridor constituency continue to define and dominate the contours of our cosmopolitanism under a misleading façade of nationalism to the deliberate exclusion of the rest of Trinbago?

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