By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
Submitted: July 31, 2016
Posted: August 02, 2016
Tomorrow (August 1st) is Emancipation Day. It’s a day on which the formerly enslaved commemorate their freedom; a practice they have undertaken since 1848 although there have been interruptions over the years. Generally, two different strata (those whose bread had been better buttered and those whose bread have been larded) have celebrated their emancipation in different ways.
On August 1, 1849, when the upper stratum of the black society-that is, those whose bread was buttered–celebrated emancipation, they drew on the achievements of Alexandre Dumas, the black French writer, to demonstrate pride in their people. They emphasized their achievement in spite of the cruelties of slavery. They had done well and were improving the quality of their lives with every passing day.
At the other end of the spectrum were the blacks whose bread was pasted with lard. It couldn’t be buttered with lard since that is a contradiction of terms. But these blacks, especially those who had come from America-the Merikins–celebrated the achievements of Frederick Douglas, emphasizing the need to revolutionize the society from the bottom.
As the society evolved, these strata took different trajectories: those who mastered various forms of book learning (for want of a better term) and became the doctors, lawyers, accountants, school teachers and so on and those who formed a solid peasantry, planting their gardens, working in the fields, feeding the population and taking care of the society’s daily needs. They might be called the soul of the nation.
The PNM came along in the 1950s and drew its strength on the nationalistic fervor of these two groups: the first proving the leadership of the movement while the other stratum followed, providing the fodder as it were for the movement.
The strength and well-being of the first group could be seen in the progressive tendencies of the school teachers, the civil servants and the pharmacists. Their successes were manifested in their commercial enterprises along the Eastern Main Road from Arima to Port of Spain and High Street, San Fernando.
The second group was more grounded. Its solidity and self-respect were manifested in the lands they possessed; their provision gardens; their blacksmith shops, their skills in carpentry, masonry and other such trades. They were also the sugar cane and oil workers and the creators of our culture.
These working people laid the foundation for our prosperity. They personified self-reliance and displayed their activism in the water riots and other social rebellions. These efforts to improve the economic conditions of the citizens culminated in the 1930s when they struck for the social improvement for all. The women were in the forefront of this movement.
Gradually the contributions they made to our development faded within the national consciousness. Today, their bread is not well buttered and, in some instances, they have no bread at all.
In his address to the PNM Women’s League, Prime Minister Keith Rowley assures us he will protect Tobago’s interests by building a Sandals Hotel there. (Express July 25). He is correct to insist on Tobago’s economic development if the island is to come out of its economic doldrums.
But what about those who live in Laventille, Morvant and other depressed areas of Trinidad? They need similar assurances. It is contradictory to suggest that while Tobago needs to improve its economic infrastructure to ensure its continued development that the people of Laventille, Morvant and other black depressed neighborhoods need lectures on parental or even self-responsibility to turn around their economic and social lives.
The economic and social future of these people will be transformed only through significant economic projects and more pointed educational programs. In the same way the Prime Minister is committed to the construction of Sandals in Tobago, he must be committed equally to the construction of large scale economic projects-such as the building of a hospital, etc.,-in depressed black areas. It is the only way the lives of those people can be turned around.
In his response to Sat Maraj’s charges of racism against the late Patrick Manning the Prime Minister boasted PNM spent $2 billion on Caroni 1975 Limited. One wonders how much money was spent on Laventille and Morvant when the Port Authority was mechanized and the workers were sent home to start a new life.
The PNM will have to invest millions in the Laventilles and Morvants of the society. Not only will they have to butter their slices of bread that are now covered with lard, they will even have to provide the bread. If they don’t, the society will eat the bread the devil kneads.
On Emancipation Day we hope the bread of our less-fortunate black citizens will be buttered in all the places that are now larded over.