Racism and Forgiveness: Token Apologies Are Not Enough

A Dialogue on Ramsaran’s Racist Rant

No RacismThe discussion below took place on 13 August 2020, in light of a racist rant by top level employer and close blood relative of the owners of the Ramsaran’s company, Naila Ramsaran, following the defeat of the United National Congress at the 2020 General Elections on 10 August 2020. On Facebook, she referred to supporters of the People’s National Movement as cockroaches and advocated for adding contraceptives to their water supply as a form of racial genocide. This was among a plethora of post-election racist commentary, including those of a secondary school teacher, making the rounds on social media. A host of a morning radio programme called on the Prime Minister to calm the waters and instruct the public to forgive Ms Ramsaran and for others for their vitriol.

Radio host’s comment:

I am actually calling on the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago to fix this situation. I believe, if anybody has it within him right now to fix this situation, to show that Trinidad and Tobago is moving forward, that we are out of the silly season and we talk about healing, I think the Prime Minister has it within him, right now to say to these people, “Well hear what going on, let’s move forward, let’s not create more hardship or more spite and hate that is brewing in this country. Let’s forgive, let’s move on.” Talk to the Chamber [of Commerce]; talk to whoever is responsible. Let’s not force this kind of hardship to come on other people because of one individual. And I am wondering if the Prime Minister himself has it within him, as the leader coming out of an election asking for healing, has it within him to say to Trinidad and Tobago, “Let’s forgive; let’s move on,” and encourage others to stop that. Let’s demonstrate that. And we have the opportunity right now to heal this country. Let’s all do our part to start to heal Trinidad and Tobago. Let’s stop it! This is not what we are accustomed to and this is not what we want for Trinidad and Tobago. Let’s not fuel that fire anymore.

Mr Hotep’s response on the radio:

Good morning. Permit me to wholeheartedly disagree with you. You are painting a picture of the sensible African people who understand racism as being the aggressors in this scenario. So, you are saying that we are the ones who have to be forgiving when other people push their nastiness on us? And we must go back to how things were, where people were less informed, and people could perpetuate racism against you over and over, and we roll over and say “well let’s forgive them” and “let’s accept a token apology?”

I totally disagree with that approach!

I think people must learn that there are consequences for perpetuating racism, and the price should be high. People have to learn that. And when some of these companies, with their close family and friends like the Aboud’s, the Kentucky’s and others get caught like that, they should pull out their cheque books and be prepared to fund programmes that deal with addressing racism and the depressed communities who support their business over and over. If they are only prepared to give token apologies, I say they should be boycotted! They should pull out their cheque book and offer restitution. In other words, fund the very programmes to inform you, your daughter and your family, and all of them, why these ideas are flawed, and not just simply stifle these views and suppress them, and when you get in a rage spew it out as if it didn’t exist before.

The politicians may capitalise and exploit racism, but racism existed before. You know, it was never really addressed in this country. So, I take umbrage to the idea that the people who are opposed to racism must somehow be the ones to be forgiving without people offering the requisite restitution. I totally disagree! And then this case is particularly dangerous. You are talking about poisoning water, and you are in the business of providing beverages? You just interfered with the integrity of your entire company and what it serves the public and School Feeding programme.

Many of us have spoken about racism in this country for years. My approach has always been dialogue, programmes to educate, not to burn down the place, not to mash up companies. That is my approach, but nobody wanted to take that seriously. So when people are called upon to pay a price now we must turn around and be forgiving? I will forgive you when you demonstrate that you are willing to put your money where your mouth is: to fund the very social programmes to root out the inequities that allow your people or whoever it is you have on your team that feel they can get away with speaking like that. That is what I would like to see: companies not just apologise but pull out your cheque book.

And if you have a school teacher who gets caught spewing racist things online what you think is the attitude of that teacher in a classroom when he has to deal with African students? You think people could separate the things they put online from their general demeanour? What we will go back to is mere tolerance. We have a high degree of it in Trinidad and Tobago where people tolerate nastiness all the time. But it doesn’t mean that people should continually get a pass on it and they should be called upon to pay a price so people will learn that this should not exist in this country. Racism has always existed here and has been tolerated for way too long.

12 thoughts on “Racism and Forgiveness: Token Apologies Are Not Enough”

  1. Although i like the spirit of tacling this issue, the idea that finacial restitution is the be all, end all, is dangerous. They must admit their racism’s true core and origins..their eons old sacred religion and culture! Trinidad must confront the truth that “Hindu-ism” a.k.a Brahman-ism, TEACHES racism and,anti-blackness as DIVINE concepts! They will never stop being racist, only more covert and efficient at it.
    https://www.dalitcamera.com/indian-racism-towards-black-people-is-almost-worse-than-white-peoples-racism/

    https://www.hudson.org/research/4575-hinduism-and-terror

  2. These are the words of the Leader of the UNC.
    The Prime Minister could only say, “Great is the PNM and the PNM shall prevail” on election night.
    The next day he fired accusations against the UNC” people” in an antagonistic tirade.
    “I know many people are hurt and disappointed over the results. Across the country, many citizens have expressed serious concerns over the fairness and transparency of the voting and overall election processes.

    “In the meantime, I wish to urge all citizens to please try your best to work past this very painful time in our nation’s history. I know you are disappointed, hurt and angered, even, at the blatant discrepancies in Monday’s electoral process, but we must not let this get the better of us.”

    She said people should not demonstrate hate, divisiveness or any form of “unproductive discourse. “Do not let our beloved nation’s long-standing tradition of harmony, tolerance and unity be jeopardised at this time.

    “Please be mindful of your words and actions, and know that at the end of the day, with our enduring faith in God, we can get past this trying, painful time as a people and nation, united always in our common bond of patriotism, compassion and humanity.” (KAMLA)

  3. Great calypso! Celebrate and quit complaining.

    Intro Bang Bang Ba dang ba bang ###

    Stop all house working yuh doing
    Tonight we going and have some fun
    I just feeling to party
    The way we used to when we was young
    Just put on something sexy
    So you’ll be free to move around
    Make sure the children okay
    We eh coming home til morning come

    Tonight the black man feeling to party
    Tonight the black man feeling to jam jam jam jam jam
    Tonight the black man just here to boogie woogie
    Come on come on hold on to yuh man
    And leh we do
    Leh we do
    Leh we do ah little oy!
    Bang Bang Ba dang ba bang ###

    Leave we worries by the door steps
    For that tonite we have no time
    We go deal with that tomorrow
    Tonight we going out to lime
    We go do ah little soca
    We will do ah ittle grind
    We go do a little back back
    And show them youngsters how to wine

    Tonight the black man feeling to party
    Tonight the black man feeling to jam jam jam jam jam
    Tonight the black man just here to boogie woogie
    Come on come on hold on to yuh man
    And leh we do
    Leh we do
    Leh we do ah little oy!
    Bang Bang Ba dang ba bang ###

    Remember when we was courting
    Before we had this family
    Anyway tune playing
    Two people sure to be there was we
    But since we start having children
    To make them strong we give dance up
    So tonight tonight meh darning
    We turning back the hands of the clock

    Tonight the black man feeling to party
    Tonight the black man feeling to jam jam jam jam jam
    Tonight the black man just here to boogie woogie
    Come on come on hold on to yuh man
    And leh we do
    Leh we do
    Leh we do ah little oy!
    Bang Bang Ba dang ba bang ###

    When meh fans and them tell meh
    They fine meh career going rel fine
    I does simply have to tell them
    You is the driving force behind
    You is the one that give meh courage
    You is the one that have me great
    So for that meh darling
    We going out and celebrate

    Tonight the black man feeling to party
    Tonight the black man feeling to jam jam jam jam jam
    Tonight the black man just here to boogie woogie
    Come on come on hold on to yuh man
    And leh we do
    Leh we do
    Leh we do ah little oy!
    Bang Bang Ba dang ba bang ###

  4. Racism in TT is nothing new
    NEWSDAY 7 HRS AGO
    THE EDITOR: Sometimes it takes distance and time to see things clearly.

    Just as you don’t notice the age lines setting in on your face, it’s hard to spot the slow cultural shifts taking place when it’s part of your daily reality.

    As a Trinidadian expatriate, I’ve had that distance. My visits home have served as snapshots – moments in time that can be neatly packaged and compared to the ones that came before. So to my peers who find themselves shocked at the current climate, I say (with admittedly too much hubris) – you were just too close to see it coming.

    For many, our refrains of “rainbow nation” and “cultural melting pot” have long rung hollow. Ethnocentric cultural divides were always clearly (although quietly) delineated and were reinforced through self-selective residential, educational, and religious homogeneity. Divisions were to be expected in a society where core aspects of our identity were centred in experiences shared predominately (and often exclusively) with members of our own race.

    My generation, the millennials, saw the racial divides in subtle ways – parental dictates that governed relationships or the unspoken code of how long you spent in the sun. But we were “modern” (we thought) – products of a society that evolved beyond the “old world” racism of our preceding generations. We were content to work within the system and reassured ourselves that it would transform as the older generation aged out.

    Then a shift occurred. The advent of social media breathed new life into racism in TT. The impersonal nature of online commenting increased the disconnect between hateful rhetoric and the all too real impact of the words we utter. If Gen Zers (broadly speaking, those born after the mid-90s) seem less surprised by the racism now on display it makes perfect sense. The only world they have ever known is one of cyberbullying and toxic rhetoric.

    With each of my visits home, I observed an uptick in racial tension. Racists became increasingly bold in their public statements and, more distressingly, met with greater support and approbation. Each time, I saw an increase in the scapegoating of ethnic minorities; xenophobic views towards recent immigrants; and the public and private airing of racist sentiments (this last point most recently highlighted in the use of overtly racist slurs on political platforms and the revelation of WhatsApp groups dedicated to sharing racist sentiments).

    So no, I’m not surprised to hear an educated woman call for involuntary sterilisation or a young man ridicule a religious icon. I’ve spent the past decade watching these sentiments be passively condoned by an increasingly polarised population.

    For my peers who now wonder what their friends of other races truly think of them, my heart breaks for you. No one should have to live with distrust and cynicism. The only consolation I can offer (and it is small) is the hope that things are not as dire as they seem. Amidst the rise in racist statements and online hate speech, there is a glimmer of hope in another upward trend. Demographic data show a consistent rise in the percentage of our population identifying as “mixed.” It isn’t much, but it’s something to hold on to.

    Maybe we really are more modern than those who came before us. Maybe future snapshots will reveal that the hateful voices were the loudest, but they were not the strongest. For the sake of our nation, I hope so.

    ASHLEY-ANNE ELIAS BOHNERT

      1. On Nov 8 1966, I was standing in a line outside the old block at Presentation College, San Fernando, the day after the 1966 General Elections.

        One of the students from the Mon Repos area, walked up and down the line shouting at the students at the back of the line:
        “Allyu coolie lorst”

        Nothing has changed in fifty plus years.

        The only difference is that he was an 11 year old boy who probably did not know better. Today we have more than 300,000 PNM supporters singing the same song.

        Wake up people. Before you accuse others of being racist look within yourself.

        1. An incident dating back to the 1950s, as related to me by my (deceased) mother.
          South Trinidad. My mother (of afro descent) and another woman (of indian descent) are both market vendors. It’s election season; PNM won over DLP. Her words to my mother were along the lines of ‘Ah gyal, if we dee win, ah wouldah wine on yuh today. We wouldah put ring in nigger nose.’ I’ve stepped out and engaged in this point-counterpoint to substantiate that these stories abound in great numbers over time. It’s a personal decision to use such incidents to negatively broadbrush ‘the other side’, or not. Lots in life hinge on the personal: to accept what we’re ‘fed’or to collect info, weigh, sift and arrive at our individual decisions or opinions before any action that follows. Education that continues to spawn critical thinkers will, over time, help to curb this racisim thing.

  5. Winston for the record, in the 1950s Trinidad and Tobago was still a British Colony and it does not matter who won the elections since no one could put a ring on any nose without the permission of the British authorities.

    The only elections that really matter are those that occurred after Independence (August 31, 1962) and since then the PNM through various stratagems have been in power for more than fifty years.
    The first strategy is to create more seats in the PNM strongholds. Port of Spain(2), Laventille(2), Diego Martin (3) ,Tobago (2) and San Fernando (2) have a total of 11 seats. With 11 seats locked down, getting to 21 is much easier.

    The second strategy is to sprinkle the marginal seats with HDC housing complexes filled with PNM supporters.

    A third strategy is to pull out the race card which we saw in 2015 with the “Calcutta Boat”, and the situation we are experiencing right now.

    When applied in tandem the PNM is able to easily overwhelm any opposition.

    The real question though is whether the citizens of the country are getting the best government they deserve, or is one group of elites successfully manipulating the system, from one generation to the next, for their own benefit.

    Notwithstanding the above, my view is that given that PNM received more votes than the UNC in the recent elections, the PNM should be forming the next Government.

    Who knows what the future holds for all of us.

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