Horizon at Sandy Point

Saturday, November 19, 2016

How we are racist

Trinidad and Tobago prides itself on being the most ethnically diverse nation in the world. Tolerance is one of our watchwords. We are remarkably harmonious in our interactions. We have perfected the art of getting along; and it's no artifice, we genuinely like each other. To be Trinbagonian is to be an amazing amalgam of Afro, Euro, Indo, Sino, Amerindo, Christian, Hindu, Orisha, Muslim ... We wear the garb of many continents. We enjoy all foods with equal relish. We are oriented from birth with an array of multi-lingual multi-cultural words, sensations and responses. We are curious about all tribes and appreciate differences. Our ability to discern roots, mixtures and bloodlines extends to fine shades of distinction, especially in skin colour: high brown, darkie, blue-black, yellow, brown, cream; hair texture: kinky, natty, straight, fine, naturally curly... . By and large, such knowledge which is innate in the average Trinbagonian is a source of enjoyment, amusement, even superiority over other nations.

However, the same enculturation provides us with the means to taunt, to undercut, to undermine the close-woven fabric of our harmony. We become savages with our tongues: picong we call it, or fatigue, or joke. Witness the current debacle over the expenditure on "roti," where the leader of our country is able to question, humble, demean not just the opposition, but the tribe, the perceived sector of roti-eaters and their partisans. Truth is that I - like all Trinbagonians - enjoy a good roti, it's not just part of our tradition, it is part of our diet. The tone, the taunts, the remarks, about roti, now sully all of us who take delight in the traditional style of eating, with our hands, off a leaf. It picks at long-healed scabs where roti in your lunch box was something you hid to eat. It marks and subliminally separates those who eat roti, those for whom Divali has special significance. More than that, it is deliberate, orchestrated, a politician's strategy.

The other side is no better in its racial stereotyping of the other's "outside children."

The defence might say: "but look, is true, they did spend that amount on (mere) roti," and we have already lost sight of the actual issues, overspending, waste, failures of accountability, behind base schoolyard heckling. Truth is bi-partisan politicians' platform agendas are seldom about cohesion to create the common good. And when the electioneering is over, winner takes all, the slurs remain. It's hard to remember what the way forward together might be when what you are feeling is victory over the other, or the hurt of the taunt. 

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