Dem people

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
February 20, 2024

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeAfter my column “Rowley cannot fix the crime problem” appeared in the Sunday Express a few weeks ago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Jearlean John, leader and deputy leader of the United National Congress (UNC), respectively, invited me to share my views on the crime situation in Trinidad and Tobago in its Anti-Crime Conversation that it was conducting. I accepted their kind invitation without reservation.

I did so because I believe every citizen of this twin-island republic has an obligation to share his views on this matter with his fellow nationals whenever he or she can. As the great-grandson of an enslaved person, I wanted to add my two cents to this important national debate that faces the society today.

From the time I told my family that I will be speaking on a UNC platform, one of them exclaimed: “Yo’ mean yo’ speaking on dem people platform.” Another exclaimed, “Yo’ ah think yo’ say enough on that subject already? Why yo’ have to go and speak about it again?”

One day after the announcement was made that I would be appearing on the UNC Anti-Crime Conversation, a radio listener remarked: “Academic Selwyn Cudjoe appearing on the UNC Crime Talk because he have a tabanca because he didn’t get what he want from the PNM.” That might be true, but shouldn’t he wait until he hears what I say before making his judgment?

I do not accept the “dem” of the conversation nor the notion that personal gain drives me on these matters. I have always seen UNC members as fellow Trinbagonians even though I have disagreed with how they think about how social development should proceed in this island.

Although I disagreed with “dem”, I will always defend their right to express their opinions. I am sure that some Indo-Trinidadians describe us (Afro-Trinbagonians) in the same derogatory manner, but the point is to find ways to bridge what seems to be an unbridgeable gap.

I dedicated Perspective on Crime in Trinidad and Tobago to Jerome Lewis, Jearlean John and Foster Cummings—three of my good friends because they are all trying to build a better T&T. When another friend objected to my dedication to these three people (two members of the UNC and the secretary of the PNM), I had to remind them that I have always tried to be consistent in my political and social commentary.

In 2010, after the UNC ascended to government, I put out a short booklet, Indian Time Ah Come in Trinidad and Tobago, that I launched with the late Sat Maharaj. I dedicated it to “Kamla and Sat and the East Indian Struggle”. It included Persad-Bissessar’s “Swearing-in Speech”, and “Indian Day Arrival Day Speech”, Keith Rowley’s “Reflection and Resurgence”, and Eric Williams’ “The Last Lap”.

On August 4, 2010, in my “Emancipation Lecture” at the Centre of Excellence, I said: “After completing the first draft of this book [Indian Time Ah Come], I sent a copy to Prof Arnold Rampersad of Stanford University for his comment.” After reading the book, he said: “We must all wish Kamla well and expect her to do the best for all of us as a nation. Whether we are PNM, COP, or PP, we should not want her to fail because if she fails, it means all of us fail.” Similarly, we should all wish the UNC well in its Anti-Crime Conversation.

I was invited to express my observations on a matter of vital national importance and I will do so. I speak all over the world on different matters; why should I not share my viewpoint with my follow Trinbagonians on this matter?

On Wednesday evening I saw One Love, a movie that celebrates Bob Marley’s commitment to his craft and his belief that music can change the world. Even after criminals tried to kill him, he had the courage to hold his “One Love Peace Concert” (1978) in which he brought Edward Seaga (leader of the JLP) and Michael Manley (leader of the PNP) together. It was a symbolic gesture but it spoke to his courage.

Bob was also a compassionate person. On his European tour “some guy came backstage and confessed to Bob that he would have been part of the people who came for him that night but he just couldn’t find his gun that evening. Bob forgave him and brought him on the rest of the tour with him and gave him a job on the tour. (Pubali Dasgupta, Far Out, December 3, 2012).

During World War II, a demagogic US congressman, Joseph McCarthy, was accusing everyone in his House Un-American Hearings of having Communist leanings and being disloyal to the United States. However, Edward Morrow, a famous reporter, stood up against McCarthy’s ruthlessness.

He remarked: “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes which were, for the moment, unpopular.”

People will always have their doubts. My detractors should listen to what I say tomorrow night and then make their judgment.