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Is the Problem Really Race?
Posted: Monday, April 18, 2011

THE EDITOR: Within recent weeks the country has been engaged in a lot of dialogue on the issue of race relations in T&T; the many different names that this issue is called demonstrates our dilemma in having a genuine debate on the state of relations between peoples of different ethnic origins domiciled here. The situation is further compounded by those who lead the discussions and their agenda, explicit and implicit.

This is so because the average citizen takes great comfort and pride in the false notion that "all ah we is one". Of course, all of the peoples of T&T are not one; we are of different ethnic origins, religions, cultures, classes, and so many other qualities which people identify with. Indeed, many differences exist within each group e.g. colour of skin, texture of hair etc. Bleaching of skin has reached extremely dangerous proportions among some Black people in their quest for upward mobility. Our strength as a Nation is that these differences are not fundamental between the different groups and characteristics are often shared among them. This, to my mind, is what allows for our beautiful national kalalu.

If we accept this, then the question arises as to the basis of the so-called racial tensions which arise from time to time. My view is that it is because of whom, how and for what purpose race relations (by whatever name it is called) are raised is what causes the problem and not the topic itself. My observation is that it is usually raised for narrow political reasons designed for the benefit mostly of these individuals. My definition of politics extends beyond electoral and includes the religious, class and cultural divide. Let us look at it using the electoral divide.

Since its introduction, party politics in T&T has been based on RACE. It was so in 1956 and it so today. The two major parties have always relied on the race card to secure their political turf and have exploited the differences within the society which the masses like to publicly deny exist. This is not to say that the parties are racist as those which existed in South Africa or Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

Indeed, some of their leaders have "mixed" marriages. Many of them in their business and social interaction do not demonstrate racist behaviour. It is only to secure their political spoils that they raise the race bogey. Even when one looks at their business operations and it shows a predominance of "their" own people check further on the level of exploitation and abuse that these workers are often subjected to, so that the class divisions supersede those of race and religion.

The question that begs itself whenever there is a change in Government (except 1986) is it "ethnic cleansing" or is it political cleansing? If it is ethnic then would we not see appointments of those with "WRONG" political alignments but "CORRECT" racial origin? How much of this has happened? If however, it is political and our politics is based on race, then is it not logical that political cleansing will result in "ethnic" cleansing? Is the problem really race or is it the racially divisive nature of our politics?

Really, are there any fundamental differences between the various political parties in T&T? Can we identify economic, philosophical, cultural etc. differences between them? Other than their racial appeal what differentiates any one from the other? Look at the ease with which key players migrate to and from, and "alliances" are formed and broken. It is for these reasons more and more citizens are not participating in elections as they refuse to allow politicians to condition them, even subliminally, to choose a Government where the distinction is raced based.

To my mind, it is crystal clear that the solution lies in the development of politics that is based on different pillars. It is quite refreshing to note that the youths of today are not tied to racial overtures as their parents and grandparents. This poses a grave threat as some of the older heads see their political base (electoral and religious) being rapidly eroded and are becoming quite desperate and may deliver their "dying" last kick which can cause convulsions that will permanently scar our beloved country.

Our country has been mired in many deep crises for decades: crime, unemployment, poverty;, inadequate housing, health and education services et al have plagued ALL ethnic groups in the country. None of these have been caused by race nor can they be resolved by a race war. There are key issues which affect the entire society, some are common to all and some are peculiar to certain sections, ethnic and/or geographical.

These must first be understood across the society and specific interventions made. Unfortunately, our political divide does not permit an objective analysis of our problems and politicians having won their appointments on the basis of the politics of race become "prisoners" of their own tool of trade.

In conclusion, I have a great fear that we as a Nation are in a dangerous place. Not that anything fundamentally has changed but once we are in a period of heightened political activity T&T style then this "problem" can become explosive.

The present administration seems bent on campaigning throughout their term in office. Consequently, they and their other face will keep stoking this racial bogey. It is imperative that the masses of this country MUST determine that we will not allow our country to be traumatised for the myopic benefit of a few.

A critical first step in thwarting this mischief is that new voices must be heard on National issues. Most if not all of the traditional ones have shown that they have compromised themselves and on both sides of the so-called divide they have failed to address the fundamental issues afflicting T&T. It is also crucial that the mis-leaders be silenced within "their own" constituency as they thrive and assume hero status when their critics from the "other" side are themselves guilty of the same.

Sylvan N. Wilson

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