By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
August 22, 2012
I do not envy any of the honors or pecuniary rewards Keshorn Walcott received. He deserves them all. It is an extraordinary achievement to bring home a gold medal to a country of 1.3 million persons when countries as large as Nigeria and India with a combined population of approximately 1.6 billion persons did not win a gold medal. Keshorn should be showered with our congratulations and our prayers for a long life and continued success. The government should be congratulated for recognizing his contribution to our national pride.
Thousands of Africans turned out to welcome Kishorn. He arrived at Piarco at one in the afternoon and did not get home until midnight. From Piarco to Toco every brother, man and woman came out of his/her hole to pay tribute to his great achievement. One fifth of the crowd that came out to honor Keshorn was Indians although they consist of forty percent of our population. Bhoe Tewarie should offer a sociological explanation for the non-showing of Indians at such a time of national (or was it African?) rejoicing.
Such a non-showing might be another manifestation of multiculturalism in action: you have your champions; and we have ours. Kishorn might be a part of you; he is not a part of us. However Kishorn’s victory serves once more to highlight the richness of African culture and what it has and can produce. As other commentators have noted, it was in Toco that Melville Herskovits studied elements of African survivals in the 1930s.
Keshorn’s achievement suggests that Africans, like all other citizens, are capable of achieving excellence once there is a level playing field and they are judged fairly. The name Keshorn Walcott did not mean a thing to me until I saw his colors and heard that he won Olympic Gold. Yet he existed in our midst.
This raises the question: how many precious jewels are left to die by the indifference of a society that knows how to adulate winners; cry down losers; and determine that one group of people is on the decline because of the absence of family values and other such things. That is not the full story.
There are many more Kishorns in the country, waiting to be discovered, if only we, as a society, search out promising young persons, in sports as well as academics, and place them in programs to ensure they achieve their highest potential. They do it in Jamaica.
We can do it in the field of education as well if we really had the will do to do so and if our teachers, Indians as well as Africans, recognize that these are children of our nation and everything must be done to make them realize their potential.
But there is a strategic bad mind taking place in our country. It revolves around a kind of selective national memory. We tend to remember every crime Africans committed against Indians, and then proceed to unravel a narrative that suggests Indians made in spite of, rather than within a social, political and cultural space that made it possible for them to succeed.
This assault against Africans is especially visible in the attempt to down play Dr. Williams’ contribution in our national formation. We swear that he is only one of the many heroes who were responsible for our independence and there is nothing really spectacular about him. Some even dig into his personal life to besmirch his character and deny the claims of many citizens that he is the father of our nation.
On Friday last I attended a South African production of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at the Noel Coward Theatre in London. I know that George Umballa Joseph wished he was there. It was a part of the World Shakespeare Festival in which some of the world’s leading artists and producers were asked to interpret Shakespeare’s play as the Royal Shakespeare Company attempts to demonstrate the universal applicability of some of Shakespeare’s themes.
Julius Caesar seemed an appropriate production by artists from the African world. Several African leaders were inspired by Shakespeare’s plays. Sol Platje, the founder of the African Congress, translated of Shakespeare’s plays into Sechuana; Julius Nyerere, the first President of Tanzania, translated Julius Caeser and The Merchant of Venice into Swahili.
Shakespeare’s plays were Nelson Mandela’s guiding texts while he was a prisoner at Robben Island. Lines such as “Cowards die many times before their deaths: The valiant never taste of death but once” inspired him. Even Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s recently deceased prime minister, easily quoted “large chunks of Shakespeare” at will (New York Times, August 21).
Elements of this play seemed relevant to our T&T situation and the life of Dr. Eric Williams. Such sentiments dramatized themselves when, in the playbill, Michale Dobson, professor of Shakespeare Studies at the University of Birmingham, argued: “The psychological process known as ‘transference’ can be crucial to both political life and political drama. A group of people—a party, a nation, a theatre audience—projects its aspirations into a single man, who becomes a larger-than-life personification of their ideals and of their collective identity, and perhaps a substitute father at the same time. In the theater, this figure may be a tragic hero; in politics, a head of state. In either arena he is liable to be sacrificially martyred and then elaborately mourned.”
This notion of “transference” is important to understand Dr. William’s centrality to his generation’s consciousness. In this context, he is not just one of our heroes but a figure upon whom many of us, particularly those of my mother’s generation, transferred their aspirations, their hopes and their dreams. Desecrate his memory and you diminish our collective store of wisdom and remove any source of inspiration that the Keshorns may find in their group. I wonder if the US would ever be that savage to Abe Lincoln or George Washington.
It’s no good to honor Keshorn and discard a major source of our collective inspiration. It’s no good to celebrate Kishorn and then systematically poison the source of his inspiration. Kishorn cannot be separated from Eric Williams as the Northern Range cannot be separated from Trinidad and Tobago. And did I say we love to kill our heroes.
Don’t tamper with the good things of our nation.