Ethnicity versus race in T&T

By Dr. Kwame Nantambu
May 03, 2011

Dr. Kwame NantambuWithin recent times, issues of ethnicity versus race have been discussed and bandied about in T&T without any clear, professional/intellectual/historical delineation.

The fact of the matter is that official 2000 census figures reveal that about 42 per cent of T&T’s population is of Indian descent while 38 per cent is of African descent.

Ergo, the majority population of T&T (80%) is non-white, Black(African), non-European, people of colour. Put another way, African-Trinbagonians are Black, non-white while Indian-Trinbagonians are people of colour.

India is in Asia. India was never in Europe. Asians, as in Indians, are therefore, neither white nor European. They are people of colour, regardless of their sometimes very pale complexion.

The historical reality is that the ancestors of Trinbagonians of African descent were brought involuntarily and violently from Africa; they were not brought from Afro-Land or Negro-Land. There has never been a land mass or continent called Afro or Negro in world history. Ergo, the descendants of these ancestors are now African-Trinbagonians, whether they like it or not, period. You are an African… ‘deal with it’.

You are definitely not an Afro-Trinbagonian. Such a label is an ahistorical, Euro-centric misnomer which must be expunged from T&T’s societal lexicon.

The fact of the matter is that if one wants to insult, demean and/or disrespect a Black person in the United States today, then, one would address that person as an ‘Afro-American’. Let’s be very, very, very clear… those are ‘fighting words’ in America today.

Furthermore, the label ‘Afro-American’ has been expunged from America’s societal lexicon since 1988. Now is the time for Trinbagonians ‘to get with the program’. The stark historical reality is that we are African-Trinbagonians and Indian-Trinbagonians, period…half measures avail us absolutely nothing.

Indeed, Mrs. Beatrice Wilkinson- Welters, the American Embassador, to T&T is the ultimate, superbly distinguished, proud African-American and conversely, it would be the supreme insult and total disrespect for anyone in T&T to refer to her as an ‘Afro-American-‘… total disrespect, period.

Similarly, Barack Obama is America’s first African-American President. He is not America’s first ‘Afro-American’ President.

More specifically, what racial hue is considered ‘Red’ in T&T is Black in America— let’s be very, very, very clear about that. T&T is not the world.

Ipso facto, Barack Obama is not America’s first ‘Redman’ President. He is America’s first Black President. Now is the time for all Trinbagonians “to get with the program”. One may be referred to as ‘Red’ or ‘Reds’ in small T&T but in the wider, outside world, one is very Black, period… “Nah leave.”

Or in the poignant lyrics of our deceased grandmaster, Kitchener (1950):

“Your father is an African
Your mother maybe Norwegian
You pass me, you wouldn’t say goodnight
Feeling you are really white
Your skin maybe a little pink
And that’s the reason why you think
Dat de complexion of your face
Can hide you from the Negro (Black) race
No!, you can never get away from the fact
If you not white then you considered Black”

Now is the time for all conscious Trinbagonians to stop this insane, albeit small-minded ‘race’ “chupidness”, period.

The fact of the matter is that the official census stats prove that T&T has an ethnic, not a racial problem.

By way of elucidation, when violence erupted in Pakistan in 2007 as then President Pervez Musharraf removed Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, “ethnic bloodshed” erupted… not racial bloodshed.

In May 2008, when 35 people were killed in Rajasthan, a state in western India, that incident was described as “caste violence”… not racial violence.

In January 2008, when violence broke out in the slums in Nairobi, Kenya, that incident was described by the international community as “ethnic bloodshed in Kenya”… not racial bloodshed. Similarly, in August 2009, violent clashes between rival groups in south Sudan were described as “ethnic clashes”… not racial clashes.

Finally, in June 2010, 77 persons were killed in southern Kyrgyzstan during what was described as “ethnic riots”… not racial riots.

Indeed, what the above-mentioned litany suggests is that T&T does not have a racial problem but an ethnic divisive problem that was purposefully and vindictively enshrined by the Euro-British colonizer into the psyche of the colonized.

The fact of the matter is that the ancestors of African-Trinbagonianas and Indian- Trinbagonians were both colonized and enslaved by disparate European powers and it is this specific common denominator that should serve as the glue to keep African-Indian-Trinbagonians solidly united at the historical-cultural hip.

Now is the opportune time for all Trinbagonians to relegate the so-called ‘race problem’ to the ash heap of T&T’s cultural history.

As the slain African-American Civil Rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King once warned in his apocalyptic admonition:

“Now the judgement of God (24 May, 2010) is upon us and we must either learn to live together as brothers (and sisters in common struggle)) or we are all going to perish together ( in coalition) as fools.”

Truth Be Told: The politico-cultural landscape in T&T suggests that Trinbagonians should be judged/respected by the “content of their character” and neither by their skin colour nor how they look. Now is the time to treat/respect each other solely based on each other’s depth of humanism rather than on each other’s extent of crass materialism as “in making a statement without saying a word”… total cultural backwardness and madness, period.

What is good hair, any way?.

Shem Hotep )”I go in peace”).

Dr. Kwame Nantambu is a part-time lecturer at Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies.

4 thoughts on “Ethnicity versus race in T&T”


    In April, 2011, The Government of Trinidad and Tobago (GOTT) Health Minister Therese Baptiste-Cornelis, said that as at December 2010, there was a shortage of 275 medical staff, 2,517 nurses and 161 pharmacists, making a total shortage of 2,953 personnel in the health sector. The GOTT last year put out requests for Doctors, to different countries. The request was not put out to Cuba for a 4th Cuban Medical Brigade.

    Trinbagonian Doctors educated in Cuba are being denied the opportunity to join the work force. These Doctors are experiencing hardship because of harsh, oppressive, and discriminatory measures imposed against them by the Medical Board of Trinidad and Tobago (MBTT).

    Trinbagonian Doctors educated in Cuba who have already served a 1 year Internship in Cuba, and another 1 year Internship in Trinidad, were found to have performed satisfactorily and were offered House Doctor positions by the Regional Health Authorities. However these doctors have been out of employment since November 2010, because their Licences are not being renewed by MBTT.

    The MBTT appointed in January 2011 by the present Government of Trinidad and Tobago, has decided not to allow these Trinbagonian Doctors educated in Cuba, to practise medicine, until they have written further examinations and done practical exams. Meanwhile, they are being kept out of the hospitals so that they would become rusty. The argument presented by the newly appointed MBTT, is that Cuban Medical Schools are “Non-Traditional”. These are Cuban Medical Schools that have been accredited by the Accreditation Council of Trinidad and Tobago (ACTT) even before the University of the West Indies (UWI). Founded in 1728, 283 years ago, The University of Havana, is the oldest university in Cuba and one of the first to be founded in the Americas. UWI is now 60 years old. Which university is more traditional? MBTT omitting Cuba from their list of “Traditional Universities” smacks of “ethnocentricism”.

    The ACTT, the governing body for the assurance of quality post-secondary and tertiary education in Trinidad and Tobago, was established to monitor and evaluate the quality of educational programmes, to safeguard the interests of students and the public, and to provide an assurance of, and improve the quality of education and training offered to consumers in this country. One of the two reasons cited for establishment of the ACTT is that the UWI Medical Faculty was informed (around 2003) its programmes would no longer be accredited by the General Medical Council (GMC) of Great Britain. Accreditation status with the GMC normally allowed graduates the opportunity to register to practice in most Commonwealth countries without further scrutiny.

    Further MBTT arguments against issuing Licences to the Trinbagonian Doctors educated in Cuba, is that the Language of Instruction of their medical training is not English.

    We have been informed that:
    1) The Trinbagonian Cuba trained Doctors, have successfully completed a 1 year Internship in Spanish in Cuba, and another 1 year Internship in English in Trinidad.
    2) Cuban Doctors and nurses whose native language is Spanish quickly acclimatize and learn to speak Trinidad-English, and work without difficulty. Cuban doctors are granted Special Temporary Licences for 3 years to practice medicine.
    3) Doctors from certain foreign Medical Schools, (for example India, and Pakistan), whose native languages and languages of instruction are NOT English are allowed registration by the MBTT without having to write further exams.
    4) Doctors from certain foreign Medical Schools, (for example Nigeria), whose native language and language of instruction is English are NOT allowed registration by the MBTT without having to write further exams.
    5) St. George’s Graduates are given Provisional and Temporary Registration for 3 years.
    6) UWI Graduates are automatically given Full registration on completing Internship.

    Based on the above, the Medical Board of Trinidad and Tobago (MBTT) (2011-2014):
    President Professor Surujpal Teelucksingh, Vice President Professor Samuel Ramsewak, Secretary Dr. Adesh Sirjusingh, Treasurer Dr. Anton Cumberbatch, Members of Council Dr. Colin Furlonge, Dr. Dev Ramoutar, Dr. Shehenaz Mohammed, Dr. Vin Sein Chiang, Mrs. Lynette Seebaran-Suite, Mr. Sharma Maharaj, Pundit Lutchmidath Persad-Maharaj. Maharaj, are acting in violation of The Equal Opportunity Act No. 69/2000.

    MPATT: The Board of Medical Professionals Association of Trinidad and Tobago August 25, 2009, are:
    President – Dr. Colin Furlonge;Vice Presidents – Dr. David Josa, Dr. Steve Budhooram, Dr. Saroja Rao Suryadevara; Secretary General– Dr. Balkaran Ramkisson; Treasurer – Dr. Shehenaz Mohammed;
    Trustees – Dr. Hughley H. Hanoman (Snr), Dr. Lakhan Roop; Immediate Past President – Dr. Rajendra Persad

    Most MBTT board members come from UWI School of Medicine, and MPATT; and (not counting the Lawyer, Pundit, and Accountant), almost all MBTT board members are MPATT members.
    Thus the power brokers who determine who become doctors in Trinidad and Tobago are MBTT and MPATT. This MBTT/MPATT combo, is maintaining “their” status quo by using their own yardsticks to determine who get into UWI Medical School, and who get Medical Licenses.

    When the GOTT looks to fill the gap with foreign doctors. the end result is that certain Doctors are being blocked from Medical Services, and Trinidad and Tobago being short of Doctors to serve The People, who end up in the blockers Private Hospitals to be bled of their money.

    The GOTT has given MBTT the responsibility of regulating the Medical Services, and at the same time, MPATT (the alter ego of MBTT) has the responsibility of making money in the same sector. This mingling of
    two distinct roles (making rules and making money) — like the mixing of oil and water, has led to the ineffectiveness of the GOTT Medical Services.

    Bad governance in T&T, and discrimination, are the root causes of the ethnic imbalances and the total shortage of 2,953 personnel in the health sector that we are seeing today.

    The MBTT/MPATT combo does not respect the principles of fair play, nor give equal opportunity to all Doctors.

    The Medical Board of Trinidad and Tobago, has evolved into an oligarchy, because of weaknesses in the
    Medical Board Act, Chapter 29:50, Act 35 of 1960.

    Based on the above, Act 35 of 1960 must be amended to end the oligarchy, and thus end the ethnic imbalances and thus end the total shortage of 2,953 personnel in the health sector, IN THE INTEREST OF THE PEOPLE !! END THE OPPRESSION !!

  2. “One of the two reasons cited for establishment of the ACTT is that the UWI Medical Faculty was informed (around 2003) its programmes would no longer be accredited by the General Medical Council (GMC) of Great Britain. Accreditation status with the GMC normally allowed graduates the opportunity to register to practice in most Commonwealth countries.”

    Was this because of falling standards?

  3. Trinbagonians receive the “Doctor en Medicina” degree, accredited by Junta de Acreditacion Nacional (JAN) Cuba. This degree is recognised by the Accreditation Council of Trinidad and Tobago (ACTT) which visited Cuba about four years ago and assessed medical universities and their course contents.

    I expect the MBTT, MPATT, UWI and the Minister of Health would never to go to Cuba to do a similar assessment. It is in their interest to stay in Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) and pretend ignorance, to spread rumours that Cuban doctors have a language problem, and to keep Trinbagonians ignorant of the quality of health service in Cuba. Visitors to Cuba can receive top level care at prices that are far below those in North America. The network of specialist medical and health centres ensures that foreign clients receive the best care through the most advanced medical treatments, technical equipment and tranquil recuperation resorts.

    Cuba has the highest doctor-to-population ratio in the world. Cuba has over 80,000 doctors, and has sent more than 30,000 Cuban doctors currently work abroad, in 40 countries around the world, such as Venezuela and Zimbabwe. How can doctors experienced in working in 40 countries have a language problem? Trinidad & Tobago recruited its First Cuban Medical Brigade of 45 doctors and 35 nurses in 2004.

    With the more than 50,000 doctors remaining in Cuba, there is 1 doctor / 200 people as compared to T&T‘s 1 doctor / 1000 people. While the quality of health service in T&T is poor, the financial status of the UWI doctors is high, because their patient population is high. That is why UWI maintains a shortage of doctors.

    UWI/MBTT/MPATT do not resist foreign doctors Pakistanis, Indians, Filipinos, Nigerians .. who are allowed to work without writing CAMC exams, because these are temporarily employed doctors who move on to more lucrative markets in Canada, USA, Europe… The Cuban doctors are allowed to work without writing CAMC exams. The doctors who UWI/MBTT/MPATT consider to be threats to the UWI/MBTT/MPATT-CACADA, are the poor Trinbagonians who they block from getting into UWI, and more so those who go on to get their accredited degrees in Cuba.

    Unlike Capitalist-T&T, Socialist-Guyana sends about 100 students annually to Cuba to study Human Medicine, not for love of money, but for love of The People. UWI/MBTT/MPATT is afraid that if they open the door to Trinbagonian Cuban trained doctors, other poor Trinbagonians would go to study there, opening a floodgate which would threaten the UWI/MBTT/MPATT-CACADA.

    The Caribbean Association of Medical Councils (CAMC), which comprises mostly UWI connected doctors, and sets “exams” at UWI (Mona, Jamaica), is the protection of the UWI/MBTT/MPATT-CACADA.

    On Tuesday, September 9th, 2003, In a media release, the T&T Health Ministry said Cubans are not required to do the Caribbean Association of Medical Councils (CAMC) exam as the MBTT has registered graduates of Cuban Medical Schools and graduates of medical schools in foreign countries.

    The Health Ministry said there is no legal requirement for the CAMC exam. “In order to register doctors to practise, all that is required is a proper assessment of the doctors’ training, qualifications, experience and competence and this has been the procedure in this country for the last 40 years,” the release stated.

    An official of the Council of the Medical Board said those graduates referred to were Trinidadians who study in Cuba. Other foreigners registered would have been graduates from the list of schools recognised by the Medical Board. ..As pre-requisites for registering the Cubans, the Ministry had only to certify that the Cubans could communicate in English and that their schools were recognised…

    Today in T&T, the Cuban doctors are granted registration and allowed to work for three years without having to write CAMC exams, while identical Trinbagonian Cuban trained doctors are denied jobs.

  4. Am a nigerian who is a medical graduate from the caribbean and have passed all my usmles i.e united states medical licensing exams and am provisional registered in nigeria but like to apply for housemanship in trinidad. How do i go about it.f

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