Crabs in a barrel

By Raffique Shah
September 16, 2019

Raffique ShahI had no prior information that the Express had commissioned a poll on Dr Keith Rowley’s performance as Prime Minister after holding office for four years, far less that publication of the results would coincide with my return as a columnist in last week’s Sunday Express.

So you can imagine my shock, having written on the propensity of politicians to use race as a weapon in the war for power, on reading responses to key questions in the Nigel Henry poll, based largely on race. In fact, the race-lines were so sharp, they startled many people who thought we had long overcome that primal instinct, that we were well on the road to electing politicians based on their policies and performance, or potential to perform, rather than their colour of skin or texture of hair.

Some friends of mine thought that pollster Henry should have excluded the race factor. I disagreed with them. Patching a problem does not eliminate it. You merely cover it where it festers, infecting the body politic. Better to bring it into the open, hoping that its stench would shame those who live a lie about Trinidad and Tobago being a truly cosmopolitan country even as they surreptitiously engender racial hatred in their homes or social circuits.

David Rudder, casting a calypsonian’s eye on this socio-political contradiction, sang a few years ago, “How we party is not how we vote.” So true. Year-round, but mostly at Carnival time, Trinis of all ethnicities wine and jam together, chanting, “All ah we is one family”, although I should point out that the past decade or more has seen socio-economic and racial segregation return even to this festival. Colour of skin or people’s pay-grade often exclude “certain types” from fetes or mas’ bands or venues.

But back to race and politics: we naïve utopians thought that by the process of evolution, if nothing else, we were demolishing the walls of segregation, only to find that resistance to integration was hereditary or acquired, somewhat like a taste for rum, only in this case puncheon rum. Some parents or self-proclaimed community leaders teach children hatred for human beings who are not of their race, of that I am convinced. I am told that there are trolls on the Internet who sow discord by posting inflammatory messages that all but call for ethnic purity, and by extension, ethnic cleansing.

I find it incredible that young people who have enjoyed the benefits of tertiary education cannot think rationally about the future of this tiny country, cannot understand that its future lies in all 1.4 million of its citizens working together towards defined goals that do not exclude inherited cultures, religions and so on, but also goals that jettison negative traits that have had us, for generations, divided, clawing at each others’ throats, virtual crabs in a barrel going nowhere, but getting there at an increasingly frenzied pace.

Let’s face the realities: people of my generation (65 years and over…I’m 73) should hardly be planning the future of this or any other country. We belong to the past. If we haven’t changed our country yet, especially if we have been part of government at whatever level, what can we do in the twilight of our lives that will make a difference? While we should share our experience and expertise with any government or agency, we’ve had our day. Leave it to the younger, energetic people to chart their future.

But we cannot abdicate our collective responsibility of striving for the elusive rainbow country, leaving behind a hopelessly divided society that is reflected in the results of the Henry poll. Ours will be a tragic legacy should our message to the inheritors of this blessed-but-cussed land be, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” They will be trapped between Dante’s Inferno and his Divine Comedy.

As to what can be done to save the country from degenerating into a failed state—and despite pronouncements to that effect, I disagree with those who argue we are already there—and putting it on the road to recovery, to realizing its true potential, I do not have the answers.

What I can say without fear of contradiction is that the whole lot of them who have already had a chance, or several chances, to effect changes that were critical to carving out near-Nirvana, but blew it, should be subjected to a no-confidence tsunami.

But that is mere hope on my part. This population remains mired in the victimhood syndrome, a nation of “bobolees” flogged by smart-men and women, begging to be beaten over and again. The race-blinkers that the majority wear when they vote will keep us forever trapped in a political trance from which mediocrity comes across as excellence.

I remain thankful to my late parents that I have never been trapped by the race bogey. Indeed, most of my extended family and all of my immediate family are free from this self-consuming virus. I often wonder what it must be like hating another human being because of his outward looks, ignoring his inner character.

That must be the closest one can come to self hatred, to Dante’s Inferno.

6 Responses to “Crabs in a barrel”


  • “Colour of skin or people’s pay-grade often exclude “certain types” from fetes or mas’ bands or venues”.

    Have you considered that the exclusion of “certain types” from fetes or mas bands or venues is primarily based on the destructive or negative behavior displayed by these “types”, past and present/

    Is this racism or protectionism?

    • It is plain old racism to exclude people on the basis of their phenotype. It is also racism to act on the assumption that all people who share a similar look or live in similar areas are predisposed to similar behaviours.

  • “But we cannot abdicate our collective responsibility of striving for the elusive rainbow country,” really means our generation has failed to effect corrective action or maybe being provoked by the marabuntas attack on the southland. However, this was well answered by yourself – “Some parents or self-proclaimed community leaders teach children hatred for human beings who are not of their race, of that I am convinced.”

    This begs the question why graduates that have supposedly received a balanced tertiary level education propagates this negativity? We will discover this may appear to have some genotype and phenotype reasoning but the answer lies with the parochial minded ness of the individual himself with respect to bitterness, iniquity and greed. Simple! E.g., look at the US evangelical movement behaviour and it’s interactions with the LGBTQ movement in the upcoming US elections.

  • Shah’s commentary is now even more relevant in light of the vitriolic barrage delivered to the country as the Chief Justice emptied his deadly chamber on the legal profession.
    His speech was reminiscent of the verbal assault favored by the Prime Minister when he scolds the country, the Media and the Opposition
    The Chief Justice mowed down everything in his path. By the way, is this annual speech a “thing” of the past which should discontinued? Should a Chief Justice be provided with this sort of platform to blast the country in such negative ways?

    He criticized other judges for expressing job assignment preferences. He accused employees in the justice department for being under qualified. He tore into the Media for being irresponsible. He lamented the absence of qualified judges to fill senior positions. He accused the legal profession for a lack of productivity. He even called out the country for “malady”, tribalism and for having “disdain” for institutions.
    Missing from his speech were any references to the accusations made against him. The direct implication is that he is above the law. The tribalism of which he spoke was a dog whistle directed at the Indian lawyers within the law association who are attempting to hold him accountable for the behaviors of which he is accused. The Prime Minister also made similar previous inappropriate remarks directed at the Law association.
    These are the kind of speeches which perpetuate division within the country. It’s taking a page out of Trump’s playbook.

  • This article look like it was written by a naive 17 year old. The PNM support base has always vote on race. The PNM receives 32% of the votes in 1986, that year they held on to 3 seats. After 1986 the PNM has consistently received 45 to 46% of the vote, except in 2010 when they received 40% and in 2002 when they received 50%.

    To play jab jab and pretend that racism does not play a role in polls or voting is to ignore the data. Without racism the PNM could not rule this nation for over 40 years out of 57 years. They know and have mastered it very well. Even now Rowley is treated like a man who knows what he doing (hahaha) by the balisier brigade.

  • Whenever Shah discusses race and politics in his articles, he implicitly tries to disguise his preferences.
    Regular readers of his articles know where he places blame even though his attempts at impartiality are so transparent.
    Shah will always be a PNM apologist who believes that the blame for racism in T&T rests heavily on one side only, as he keeps referencing his experience in the T&T Regiment.

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