Everybody Is Somebody

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 28, 2020

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeThirty years ago, the Jamaat-al-Muslinmeen, under the leadership of Imam Yaskim Abu Bakr, attempted to overthrow T&T’s elected government. They failed. Yesterday, President Paula-Mae Weeks called upon the group to make an “unequivocal apology” to the people of the country for its actions” (Express).

The President noted that “the assault shook the country to its core and robbed many people of their livelihoods, dignity and peace of mind….A commission of enquiry appointed in 2010 provided some chronology of the events but, without the testimony of the principal, did not offer the full understanding that the nation and, in particular, the victims rightly deserved.”

Eleven years ago PNM brought a measure to parliament to relieve the sufferings of the impoverished youths of Laventille. UNC objected. PNM left the project alone. Today, it has appointed a committee to come up with solutions to deal with this persistent challenge. It took a disturbance/an insurrection to remind the country that the poverty of Black people, particularly Black youths, still remains a problem.

The youths who followed Abu Bakr in 1990 and those who took to the streets a few weeks ago tried to tell us about their abject conditions and something about ourselves. It was not simply an attempt to loot and to shoot but a need to remind the world that they exist.

In 1957 Albert Camus, the existentialist philosopher, examined the important role rebellion plays in our lives. He said: “In order to exist, man must rebel, but rebellion must respect the limit it discovers in itself—a limit where minds meet and, in meeting, begins to exist….

“In our daily trials rebellion plays the same role as does the ‘cogito’ in the realm of thought: it is the first piece of evidence. But this evidence lures the individual from his solitude. It founds its first value on the human race. I rebel&mdaqsh;therefore we exist” (The Rebel).

Twenty-two years later, Bob Marley, our Caribbean philosopher, spoke of the value of rebellion and how it undermines and challenges the systems of inequity and inequality. He sang:

“We refuse to be/what they wanted us to be/We are who we are/That’s the way it’s goin’ to be./”

“You can’t educate I/for no equal opportunity (talkin’ ’bout my freedom/ people freedom and liberty.”

“We have been trodding on the winepress much too long/Rebel, rebel!”

“Me say de Babylon system is the vampire, falling empire,/Sucking the blood of the sufferers.”

“Tell the children the truth….” (“Babylon System”).

In 2004 the Mighty Shadow, our home-grown philosopher, reminded us that “Everybody is somebody.” He rhapsodizes: “If a man is born in luxury,/They prove to me in history,/He is somebody./But if a man is born in poverty, starvation and misery/He is nobody.”

He summarizes: “Everybody is somebody/Nobody is nobody/The pauper, the wealthy/Everybody is somebody.”

This need for recognition and liberation—that is, the need to be somebody—is at the heart of the human experience; rebellion is one of its principal ways of expressing that truth. It has nothing to do with good or evil or even the need to apologize for simply being. It’s a humanizing activity. No one can dictate how these acts of rebellion take place.

This is why one should object strongly to the nihilism that Fitzgerald Hinds and his PNM colleagues offer when they seek to explain the behavior of Black youths. Says Hinds: “A growing ‘army’ of idle young men in East Port of Spain poses a danger to TT.

“And I urge them to root out of their spirits the spirit of evil and the spirit of idleness and the spirit of jealousy, and imbibe [in them] instead a spirit of hard work and a spirit of prayer and a spirit of love for yourself, for your family, for your community, for your country.”

One may ask, “Why did God make them so evil?”

Hinds continues: “They spend their day looking at the ground, looking at the sky, or watching other people and the world go about its business and doing preciously little on their own and for themselves” (Newsday, July 5).

These are things a slave master would have said about the enslaved two hundred years ago. But the enslaved or even an alienated being was never inert and unthinking. They may be idle, doing nothing seemingly, but they were observing the injustices practiced against them. This is why Camus noted that “the history of mankind also demonstrated…that the first movement of rebellion was the rebellion of the slave.”

In 1955 Eric E. Williams, one of the preeminent scholars of his time, made two important observations. He wrote: “The recognition of racial equality is a part of the larger world struggle for freedom in general” and “The Negro will not achieve moral status until he achieves economic and political status” (“The Historical Background of Race Relations in the Caribbean”).

No one can deny that over the past fifty years the overall economic conditions of all Trinbagonians have improved. While Black people have achieved a certain degree of political power, they have yet to achieve economic power commensurate to their numbers in the society. Nor, for that matter, has their relative condition vis a vis other groups changed very much.

The measure of any group in a society cannot be reduced exclusively to its economic position but it helps to understand that its economic status is essential to its well-being and how it feels about itself. That is the challenge our society faces if it wishes to keep its faith with Black people.

A people dies when it fails to rebel against the injustices that are practiced against them. That’s just the way it has to be.

20 thoughts on “Everybody Is Somebody”

  1. I beg to disagree with the esteemed Doctor on several points.
    1. PNM has been in power for 50 plus years and if they really wanted to help out the poor fellas in Laventille they could have easily done so in all those years. Why blame the UNC? If the PNM Government could shut down the Sugar Industry and the Oil Industry and throw thousands of families out of work I am sure they can spring some money to create sustainable and meaningful jobs and careers for the residents of Laventille.
    2. What is this constant lament about Black Poverty. This is T&T not the US. Afro Trinidadians and Tobagonians have been beneficiaries of PNM Gov’t largesse since Independence. They dominate the Police Force, the Army, the Post Office, and all State Institutions and are the primary recipients of subsidized Government housing. Where is the poverty?
    3. I think the problem lies somewhere else. Part of it could be that some fathers do not fully support their children. A second explanation could be that there are no suitable role models in the communities where they live. A child living in Mayaro, Moruga, Point Fortin Cedros etc sees their parents and neighbors waking up early and going to work-fishing, planting crops, working in the oilfield etc. Maybe the child growing up in the depressed communities of the East-West corridor do not have similar examples and are only exposed to the “easy life” of crime, violence, liming and Bling.

    On a more positive note, I think with sincere leadership and good policies even the most poverty stricken communities can be revitalized. Why not Laventille? or anywhere else in T&T.

    1. Tariqandalus, My friend, why spend so much time on the internet spewing your hatred for african trinidadians with your lies and deception?? What did african trinidadians do to diturb your psyche so? This cannot be good for your health…my friend….you need to go out more, and make more friends besides me. Oh, how those plants in your oil drum garden have wilted so! Learn an instrument like the steelpan and culture yuhself…don’t mind you hate africans, they don’t hate you. All this bitterness, envy, bigotry and hatred you have for africans cannot be good for your soul, heart, mind or health. My friend…grow up!

      1. Sorry to disappoint you Inconvenient, but there are in my life a number of Africans whom I admire and respect. In my village in South Trinidad there was an African man we called Brother Joe. What I admired about Brother Joe was that he was among the hardest working person in the village. Even though he was a poor farmer, his daughters were always well dressed and both him and his wife very soft spoken, humble and respectful. Brother Joe was also the only Black person I know that planted rice which is real backbreaking work.

        Then there were my two African friends Guns and Desmond, both brothers, who in the school holidays would pass by my house and collect me to go in the forest to scrounge for cocorite, yams, mangoes, and whatever else that is edible and even though they were stronger than me and carried most of the load always split things three ways.

        In highschool there are my African teachers who shared their knowledge freely, one in particular, my math teacher who lent me his personal copy of all the math exams from the previous ten years so I could practice my problem solving skills.

        All good people.

        In the wider world we have Nelson Mandela whose sidekick Mac Maharaj, from a brahmin family, who smuggled Mandela’s diary from prison, Martin Luther King, Barack Obama, King Sunny Ade, and more closer to home, Mia Mottley.

        Hopefully one day you will learn that everyone are indeed somebody, like yourself, and avoid making false assumptions about people based on race, gender, religion or other criteria.

        1. Nelson Mandela was a sellout, self loathing COON (Winnie publicly said this) , and Mac Maharaj was a boat brahmin just like sat Maharaj et al.
          Furthermore, just as in trinidad, there’s always one or two indians, who join african movements for self political interest and the masses of indian people, who do NOT participate, want to be GROUP beneficiaries of specific individuals’ actions. B**L**IT! Group behaviour is how COMMUNITIES are judged!

          East Indians and the Black Power and the Black Power Revolution

          Aside from his typical mis-information about the how and why, Kumar Mahabir got one fact in his propaganda piece
          INDIANS DID NOT JOIN THE BLACK POWER MOVEMENT! a handful of straddlers is irrelevant!

          1. My friend Inconvenient for the benefit of our readers I will give this one last shot. Also I will restrict my observations primarily to Trinidad and Tobago. What may be history for you I actually lived through.

            The 1970s was a very interesting time world wide, politically we had the Cold War, the Iron Curtain, the Vietnam War, Che Guevara, revolutions in Africa, Latin America and elsewhere. On the social scene there was Woodstock, the Beatles, Bob Marley, James Brown, Santana etc.

            In T&T, PNM was fully entrenched in power. After two successful elections after independence no opposition could dislodge them. Our Prime Minister, Eric Williams, an internationally acclaimed historian, was a great orator who could mesmerize any audience when he spoke. Finally after more than 400 years of slavery and colonialism, in T&T a Black Man not a Blank Man was controlling all the levers of power; the police, the army, the Treasury, all the state lands etc, etc, In those days Dr Williams could confidently say in public ” When I speak not a damn dog bark”.
            Another of his comments was ” Money ain’t no problem”
            With PNM in power, Afro-Trinidadians had and continue to have privileged access to the resources of the state.
            As I write this I wonder where this word Afro-Trinidadians comes from. In those days we were all Trinidadians or as the saying goes “Trini to the bone”
            In those days we were a young nation and one people full of hope for the future. Unfortunately today we have reverted to tribalism and our nation hijacked by selfish persons.

            One unexpected and beneficial outcome of the Vietnam war was the rise of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and its more radical companion the Black Power Movement (BPM). Young Black Americans returning from risking their lives in Vietnam became more assertive in demanding their legitimate rights regarding housing, equal employment, education etc.

            As the Black Power Movement grew in popularity in America it also spread around the world. However there was a key difference between the Black experience in the US and those in the Caribbean and parts of Africa.
            In the Caribbean and Africa , Black people were not at the back of the bus, they were driving the bus.

            In T&T, we are still a young nation with the unique opportunity to create a diverse, multicultural and prosperous society if only we could unload our cultural baggage and fears and suspicion of each other and work together.

            My view is that racism stems from ignorance and ignorance is a by product of laziness whereby one relies stereotypes and on opinions of others ” Everyone has a black friend” rather than making the effort interact with people of other cultures on an equal basis.

          1. Seems like black folks are global victims of some suppression plan. Judging from your posting you need to go out there and find a job. A real job like the honorable professor instead of posting such terrible diatribe.

      2. hmmmm . . . the author opened that door. He is the one talking about black poverty. You only choose to see what you want to see.
        It is a logical response to the article with evidence to back it up.
        It is you who are mired subjective criticism as to judge the heart and soul for others – it is you who is full of bigotry and hatred . Stick to the subject.

  2. Selwyn Cudjoe has changed his mind. In the previous article “Truce with reality” he advises blacks that they have to make a “truce with reality” and accept the “inevitable rule of Indo-Trinidadians”, even, as he extends James Baldwin’s advice, while they contest “racism and economic oppression”. Now, showing no intellectual integrity but plenty of intellectual opportunism, he is advising “rebellion”. But not rebellion in Guyana against the ethnic based government who under Bharat Jagdeo has had a history of oppressing and marginalizing blacks in that tragic place of constant racial turmoil – Guyana. No. He wants rebellion because of Fitzgerald Hinds who is telling blacks to seek work in order to make something of their lives, Hinds who is telling blacks in his constituency that work can make your lives constructive, it can make it meaningful. That Cudjoe calls “nihilism” a total misuse of the concept. Cudjoe seems to be drawing on Albert Camus writings to back up his ideas. In this response to what can only be called the intellectual opportunism of Cudjoe, I want to start by looking at the context of what Camus statement “I rebel therefore I am” derives from and what it really means because it says that rebellion justifies your existence. Camus was very much influenced by the idea of nihilism that he got from Nietzsche. Nihilism means the inability to believe in anything, nothing has any value. Nietzsche had diagnosed what was called the crisis of European civilization as that inability to believe in anything, originating from what Nietzsche has called the death of God, or the inability to believe in God after the skepticism of the Enlightenment. Camus grappled with this problem, life had no meaning, life was absurd. In “The Myth of Sisyphus” Camus described how life was like that of the mythological Sisyphus who every day pushed a huge rock up a hill, only to have it roll back down in the night, so that he would have to repeat the same futile action each day. For Camus, the fundamental question was – why not suicide in the face of the absurdity of life.
    Both Camus and Nietzsche sought to come up with an answer to the problem of nihilism. For Nietzsche, the answer was the will to power, where nihilism was seen as the weakening of the will, its decadence, and the solution was to enthrone the will to power. Misinterpreted (or not) this became the cornerstone of Nazi philosophy; Leni Riefenstahl’s film “The Triumph of the Will” for example was one of the important Nazi propaganda tools . For Camus, the problem was the hegemonic nature of thinking, of reason; as an existentialist Camus wanted to restore be-ing. The “cogito” in Descartes, “I think therefore I am” was replaced by “I rebel therefore I am”. Thinking was replaced by rebelling. The authority of the mind, or reason, was overthrown by making rebellion more fundamental than reason. So to escape the nihilism that came with the skepticism that the Enlightenment rationalism culminated in, Camus sought to overthrow the authority of reason by glorifying rebellion as it rejected all authority. Camus could be, with good reason, called the intellectual godfather of anarchism.
    So the reality is that rebellion for Camus was no different from screaming out loud and blocking you ears so that you would not hear the persistent and inexorable drone of reason that showed that nihilism and the crisis of European civilization meant that life was absurd and meaningless. It did not solve the problem of nihilism; it was just another form of nihilism. And that is why Camus’ philosophy could be used to critique any truth, because any truth that is claimed represented an authority to rebel against. It may be quite appropriate to tear down an oppressive structure, but you should have something better to replace it with. You can’t keep tearing down everything, at some point you have to build better structures. At some point you have to construct rather than destroy. Saul Alinksy, who was quite famous in 1970’s political circles in the US, wrote about the first ‘rebel’, “from all our legends, mythology and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins – or which is which), the very first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom – Lucifer.” For those who know the mythology or history, Lucifer was an angel of light who rebelled against God because of his pride, and he was cast out of heaven down to the earth where he is destined to wander tormenting and tempting those hapless ones who are willing to exchange their souls for promises that cannot be kept. These days we have La Diablessse, or as they say in T&T, Lajablesse, still tempting those who will sell their souls for empty promises.
    I want to say replace “rebel” with “vote”; I vote therefore I am. For in these days of life changing and apocalyptic politics, you affirm your existence by voting. So forget the naysayers who want you to deny your social existence and social responsibility by telling you don’t vote, by telling you voting doesn’t matter, all the parties are the same. John Lewis, a great black American who passed away a few days ago, was almost killed 55 years ago, on Bloody Sunday, when he led marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge fighting for the right to vote. That’s what many of our ancestors fought for, and died for – the right to vote. The right to affirm their existence as human beings. When you vote, you have to choose, you have to decide, you have to commit yourself to making a decision. That’s what the existentialists advise. It is committing to a decision that makes life meaningful. So go out and vote. That’s what can change your life and make it meaningful, so that we can live up to the inspiring words of St. Paul quoted by Dr. Eric Williams in his Independence Day speech. “By the Grace of God we as people are what we are, and His Grace in us hath not been void.”

    1. Well said Birdie. Hard work is the only means of true emancipation, self esteem and escape from poverty.
      On the theme of work, Khalil Gibran, the Lebanese philosopher said the following and I am quoting from memory “When you work you should work with enthusiasm as though you are creating a fabric for your beloved.
      When you work with enthusiasm you become one with yourself, the universe and your creator”

      You see this attitude in all succesful people, they give everything their best shot and are happy in life.

  3. “Hinds continues: “They spend their day looking at the ground, looking at the sky, or watching other people and the world go about its business and doing preciously little on their own and for themselves” (Newsday, July 5).“
    In La Horketta JJ started a farming project got the unemployed youths some work. Within a month no bullets wizzed by. Hinds is an Oreo like Rowley only working for the 1%. He lives in a multi million dollar mansion and shows up around election time to insult his supporters. Not knowing anything better they support him.

    1. Pay attention folks…Mamoo uses racially abusive terms to describe Fitzgerald hinds. “oreo” has a different context when used by non-africans, particularly colour conscious, caste minded indians…It mocks dark skin by comparing it to a snack. Don’t blame mamoo though, he learned oreo from his leader kamla.
      Look at what Dr. Cudjoe is siding with :

      Rowley: Kamla’s slavery comments offensive

      ‘Black’ man or ‘Blank’ man? Social media calls out Kamla for comments about Rowley izzso

      Why white supremacists and Hindu nationalists are so alike | Far Right | Al Jazeera

      Racism is Every Bit a Part of “Indianness” as Religious Bigotry, Sexism

      The dark face of Indian racism | India Gulf News

  4. inconvenient truth have a monkey on his back!Truth ,you shoulld vote for an IndiAN.It will set you free and get that monkey off your back.You may also get some water and good government!

    1. Bobby Singh or bobby ramgoolam?

      Why is it that so many indians process criticism of their racism AS racism and hatred of them?
      Think about that…It’s a defence mechanism to protect an ancient religiously derived culture of anti-black, anti-african racism. Also, there is this obnoxious, wannabe slavemaster/Aryan complex, that doesn’t like narratives that contradict their own, when coming from people perceived as black and african and therefore ‘out of PLACE’…as in, how dare this inferior ‘chamar’ ‘talk back’ ! Although mamoo is a pathological liar and sociopath, he uses the word ‘diatribe’, not to describe his ceaseless injection of shamelessly dishonest, hateful rhetoric and lies on this forum, but the act of pointing out this:

      African victims of racism in India share their stories | India | Al Jazeera

      Being African in India: ‘We are seen as demons’ | Racism | Al Jazeera

    2. Bobby Singh/Bobby ramgoolam uses a thinly veiled, racially abusive term (Monkey) to describe me and references to the enslavement of aricans as a taunt…
      Here’s where his mindset comes from:

      Why Hinduism And The Violence Of Caste Are Two Sides Of A Coin | HuffPost India

      How Racism And Casteism Feed Into Each Other In India | HuffPost India

  5. Wow! This is crazy. The white man create a divide an conquer situation and the people of color falls right into it.
    Cudjoe, you are spending so much time of your internal dialogue holding up a reality of hate that I wonder if you have any level of higher consciousness. Fee your mind, man – go to Liberia and see what black liberation is. Ain’t no indian out there. Peace out!

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