By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
September 14, 2011
William Hardin Burnley was the biggest slave holder in Trinidad and Tobago. In 1813 Sir Ralph Woodford arrived in the island as the governor. One of his first tasks was to secure sufficient laborers for the island, Trinidad being notorious for not having sufficient laborers to till its soil. One year after he arrived he asked each member of his Board of Council to come up with suggestions to induce laborers to settle in the country.
Mr. Bigge, the Chief Justice favored the importation of Europeans. John Nihell, the former chief justice, suggested that Africans be brought into the island as indentured laborers for a period of ten years. Burnley rejected the introduction of African laborers whom he felt were “so grossly ignorant that they are required to be taught everything they were to do.” He suggested the importation of Asians, “a docile and intelligent class of laborers, already accustomed to agriculture, to whom the climate would present no drawbacks and whose very prejudices of caste would keep them from combining with the slaves, who, so long as slavery should exists, would be always more or less disposed to revolt.”
Through this act, Burnley became the first person to advocate bringing of East Indians to the island to deal with the labor situation. He was also the first person to understand that “the prejudice of caste” may have prevented the Indians from coming together with the Africans to transform the political culture of the island.
Over the past two centuries, the Africans have accommodated the Indians in the island. Generally, we have lived harmoniously together as brothers and sisters. Then the PP came into power and everything they have done since seems a conscious effort to vindicate Burnley’s predictions.
The first act was to inaugurate a multicultural policy. Henceforth, T&T was not to be a homogenous society where we strove to be one society as Eric Williams enunciated in his History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago. Such a policy was an attempt to fragment the society by promoting division over cohesion.
It is important to note that the impetus for a multicultural strategy came from Sat Maharaj, the leader of the Maha Sabha.
Fourteen months after that declaration came the crushing blow. The declaration of a state of emergency (SOE) in which an overall onslaught was made against young black men from black neighborhoods: Beetham, Maloney, Morvant, Laventille. In the process, they built detention camps to warehouse these young men. Detention camps are associated mostly with places like Germany (where the Jews were interned) and the United States where Japanese were summarily rounded up and detained.
Such an act, no matter how much relief it brings to a crime-weary society, does not contribute the ethnic cohesion of the society. The United States thought it was doing the best thing for the war effort when they interned Japanese. It left a nasty stain on the society they are still trying to heal.
Imagine the possible out come of our action. Trinidad and Tobago consists of 1.3 million persons of which 38 percent are Africans which means that approximately 500,000 Africans live in Trinidad and Tobago. According to the 2000 census, there were 476, 000 persons within the ages of 15-34 years of age. Since Africans consists of 38 per cent of the population there are approximately 180,000 Africans within the ages of 15-34 years of age.
If approximately half of this population are males then we are speaking of approximately 90,000 young black men.
Thus far the government has picked up approximately 1,340 black young men. We do not know how many of these young men have been brutalized but let us say that by November the PP government picks up about 5,000 young men then the government would have managed successfully to criminalize and brutalize fully six percent of the black population between the ages of 15-34 age population.
Let us suppose that each of these 5,000 men has a brother, a sister, a mother and a farther. Then it means that close to 20,000 Africans would have been touched personally by the SOE in a negative way. If each of these young men has an aunt and/or an uncle, a grand father and a grand mother then the SOE would have touched the lives of another 20,000 Africans bringing that total to close to 40 thousand Africans who have been and are touched directly by his brutal program.
And there have been arbitrary detentions. Take the case of John Gill of I 95 fm. He is a regular guy who dejays and plays his music. He is at home. The police knocks on his door and picks him up. He can’t even put on a shoe. He is asked to come as he is, in his slippers.
He is thrown into a cell with two persons accused of murder. Next day he is taken to court. His infraction. He did not pay a $200 parking ticket. That is enough to make him a criminal and let him feel the wrath of the law.
I am not sure that John would ever be the same again. He is not likely to look at an Indian person again with the same directness and trust as he did before this assault. Such an arbitrary use of the law cannot conduce the improving the race relations between the group. The same I suspect is true for the 50,000 persons who have been touched by the SOE.
Burnley died in 1850. But the building of detention camps to house Africans may constitute the second act in the fulfillment of his predictions.
Even if about 70 per cent of the population supports the SOE let us hope that we do not reap the whirlwind in the next generation as the society continues to divide and fragment upon itself; and as black people become more alienated from the system.
The PP is doing everything in its power to authenticate Burnley’s words. How much does it take to say, “Slow down, you are moving too fast.”