By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 25, 2020
“All that is needed on the part of the Negro to attain his rightful place [in this society] is to embark on a wild binge of destruction and plunder.”
About five years ago several Eric Williams scholars were invited to investigate Eric Williams’s work at Oxford University before continuing on to Senate House, London. Brinsley Samaroo, one of the invited scholars, gave an illuminating lecture on Williams after which I asked him whether Williams had called Indo-Trinidadians, rather than a segment of members of the Democratic Labor Party, “a recalcitrant hostile minority.” His answer was an emphatic “No. He did not.”
Raoul Pantin, a former Express columnist, was sitting in the audience. He felt betrayed when he heard Samaroo’s response. After the lecture, Raoul and I went up to the podium to talk with Samaroo. Raoul said: “Brinsley, you knew this all along and never said so publicly at home,” to which Brinsley responded: “I never had an opportunity to do so.”
Brinsley has never made such a statement in Trinidad and Tobago but such silence pollutes national dialogue, sets up needless tensions among various groups, and enshrines/cements needless lies at the heart of the society. In fact, we utter these lies so often that we take them to be the truth.
On April 11, Trevor Sudama repeated the “Williams lie.” He noted: “Eric Williams excoriated Indo-Trinidadians as ‘the hostile and recalcitrant minority’ for not voting for the alleged progressive, patriotic and enlightened PNM in the federal election of 1958…. Given its history the PNM could hardly claim to be a party espousing racial harmony, national unity, and a co-operative ethos” (Express.)
Fitzgerald Hinds objected to Sudama repeating “the big, fat, old lie about Dr. Williams” and reminded him that Williams never said that “all Indians of T&T were a recalcitrant minority” (Express, April 17).
On May 12, Sudama responded to “Hinds’s perverse denials and blatant misrepresentations” and offered Winston Mahabir’s response to Williams’s speech as evidence of Williams’s excoriation against Indo-Trinbagonians. Sudama asks: “Is he [Hinds] calling Winston Mahabir an outright liar as well as those Indo-Trinidadians who accompanied him to protest to Dr. Williams about his speech?” (“Get Real, Mr. Hinds,” May 12, 2020).
This sleight of hand is unacceptable. The question is not so much what Mahabir heard but what Williams said on April 1, 1958. In this instant, as in others, context is important. While Sudama and his colleagues are hell bent on exploiting that phrase (“hostile and recalcitrant minority”) for their own advantages they fail to examine the larger context in which it was used.
Contextualization is important in understanding what Williams said regardless of how Mahabir received the message. In 1957, Williams defended Indo-Trinidadians when the British Caribbean Federal Capital Commission alleged they had “ideals and loyalties differing from those to be found elsewhere in the Federation and they exercise a disruptive influence on the social and political life of Trinidad.”
Williams dismissed the Commission’s views. He queried: “Why should the PNM burst a blood vessel over this? Over a year ago PNM specifically rejected the view that the Indians are a danger to the Federation” (PNM Weekly, January 28, 1957). Daurius Figueria noted that Williams uttered that infamous phrase “to demonize the DLP as a force of backwardness, indecency and reaction…. In no way was it the ranting and raving of an inebriated racist as he flayed away at his perceived enemy.” (The Politics of Racist Hegemony.)
Sudama is a direct ideological descendant of H. P. Singh. On March 31, 1969, he wrote that “the ‘Negro’ is a specific type of human given over to ‘boundless emotionalism, blind irrationalism, and a volatile temperament.” He possesses a capacity for “‘a wild binge of destruction and plunder’ and the ‘callous expropriation of non Negro belongings.”
Sudama saved his most savage condemnation for Black Power adherents. He said: “The cry of Black Power is simply a mechanism being used to create space at the feeding trough for the ‘Negro.’ In short, Black Power’s objective is to share more fully, if not dominantly, in the physical reality of American opulence rather than inculcate a psychology whereby the Negro asserts his own dignity and liberates himself from a depreciating self-consciousness” (Quoted in Figueria, The Politics of Racist Hegemony).
Sudama was equally derisive of carnival. Afro-Trinbagonians, he writes, elevated carnival “to the pedestal of cultural primacy…from the crisis of cultural identity.” Raymond Ramcharitar re-echoed many of these sentiments in 2002 (Express, October 26-28, 2002).
One would have thought this view of “the Negro” would have died a natural death by the 1970s but it continued into the 1990s. It undergirds Sudama’s thinking about Afro-Trinbagonians and Williams. Figueria writes: “The core discursive structure of the East Indian as a victim of racism in post-Independence Trinidad and Tobago is the resilient core of Sudama’s worldview which has remained unchanged from the decade of the 60’s to the decade of the 90’s.”
Sudama is neither a reliable interpreter of what Williams said nor a believable commentator of Afro-Trinbagonian reality.
Indian Arrival Week imposes an obligation upon us to examine how Indo-Trinbagonians made the society of which they are a central part. It should also allow us to critique ideologies that are harmful to our development. Nothing can destroy a society more than false conceptions of one another especially when the post-coronavirus era bids us to build a new society.
Scholars and thinkers of all persuasion should raise their voices to eliminate poisonous doctrines that can feed dangerous impulses in our society. This should be a major concern as we enter into the new phase of our social and political development.