By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 21, 2022
There is a wonderful exchange in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland between Alice and the Cheshire Cat that is relevant to Karen Nunez-Tesheira’s quest to become the leader of the People’s National Movement (PNM).
It goes like this:
Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
The Cheshire Cat: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
Alice: “I don’t much care where.”
The Cheshire Cat: “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
Alice: “…so long as I get somewhere.”
The Cheshire Cat: “Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough…”
Nunez-Tesheira’s long-shot challenge to Keith Rowley’s leadership led me to ask: “how do you pick a road to somewhere when you don’t know where you are going? How do you get there when you don’t know where there is?”
Anyone in T&T who wishes to lead the PNM (and/or the society) must address three questions—How do we empower black people in the society? How do we tackle the spate of crimes in the country and the constant flooding that is our daily lot? And how does one approach the under-performance of black children in the under-performing schools?
Over the past few months Prof Roger Hosein of The University of the West Indies has been linking the spiralling of crime with the decline of our society. A few weeks ago, he asked: “How can you have an intelligent conversation with anybody when the murder level is so high? Who in their right mind will invest here in the way they will want to invest? Half the money will go into burglar proofing, another part has to go for security guards. Every time you hear a noise, you have to go outside and check. If you are a researcher, what type of productive output will you get? If you are a shopkeeper and every ten minutes you think someone will rob you, how much economic activity will you get done? Your talent and capacity will be diminished by fear.” (Guardian, October 30.)
There is much truth in Hosein’s observation, although I am not too sure crime necessarily diminishes the intellectual output of a serious scholar. Sometimes it increases it.
Hosein also claims T&T’s economy has been on a downward slide since 2015. He asks: “What has been the impact of seven consecutive years of decline on T&T’s economy? In particular, how has it affected the distribution of income across different occupations and industrial groups and across geographical lines?” (Guardian, November 17.) I would have preferred if Prof Hosein had told us how such a declining economy impacts those black males who live at the precarious edges of the society and the commission of crimes.
Just as important: do these young black men commit crimes because of the colour of their skin; the social conditions in which they live (poor, under-served communities); or because of certain biological impulses? In this context, Richard Dawkins, the author of The Selfish Gene, argues that we are not talking so much about “conscious motives”, but of “the basic impulse of biological drives”.
Since Nunez-Tesheira wishes to lead our country, I was wondering what her thoughts were on the questions posed above. Since economics alone cannot explain human behaviour, I was wondering if she had given any thought to a more comprehensive solution to these fundamental problems.
A few days ago I was speaking with a medical doctor. He informed me that the social environment in which young men live can increase their testosterone levels. People with higher testosterone tend to be more violent and are more likely to survive in a calamitous environment. Dawkins reminds us that “you can make some inferences about a man’s character if you know something about the conditions in which he has survived and prospered” (The Selfish Gene).
The second question has to do with the under-performance of black children in under-served communities. Over the years commentators such as Theodore Lewis have talked about how the constant diminishment of our human talent in these schools has left a large proportion of young black people uneducated and prone to violence. Almost always, they end up working at fast-food joints or as security guards, guarding the very properties that were responsible for their debasement in the first place.
This situation is not unlike what we find in many American communities. In spite of all the attempts to raise the academic standard for African American students, and the use of race as one of the criteria to increase black enrolment at the university level, “US primary and secondary schools are still highly segregated by race, and the situation is worse today than it was 30 years ago” (Financial Times, November 14).
In our case, it may be a combination of race, class and an indifference to the sanctity of these young lives that keeps us from advancing their well-being scholastically, socially and culturally. How, indeed, can we grapple with the urgency of this problem?
As Nunez-Tesheira asks PNM members to support her candidacy, is she willing to stand up for the improvement of black people? Is she willing to articulate a programme that speaks to the rampant crime, the miseducation of black people, and the flooding that has become so prevalent in the island?
Like Alice, I ask Nunez-Tesheira, “Which way should we take from here” and what is the vision of the society you wish to create?
Like the Cheshire Cat, I would advise: “Whatever you do, please speak your truth firmly, publicly and privately, and be prepared to defend the interests of all people, no matter in which circle you happen to find yourself.”