What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet
Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
—“Harlem” by Langston Hughes
The 2020 general election is finally over.
It was a keenly contested battle where important polices were hotly debated, such as who had the better zesser song, did Kamla Persad-Bissessar say black or blank, and how many power lines can a People’s National Movement music truck tear down in one afternoon? Never in T&T’s history did two political parties enter a race doing their best to shoot themselves in the foot. And, who could blame them? After all, T&T was facing a serious economic crisis even before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Now, the situation is even worse. That’s why immediately following the election, public attention has turned to the pressing matter of taking screen shots of racist trolls on Facebook and then self-righteously shaming them. In fact, this endeavour appears to be turning into a national pastime, alongside calypso and limbo.
The latest social media offender sentenced by the court of Facebook for public humiliation is a relative of the owner of the Ramsaran drinks company, maker of the popular Ramsaran’s peanut punch. This person apparently made nasty remarks online alluding to PNM supporters being cockroaches, among other comments.
The perpetrator later wrote an apology for her statements. And the Ramsaran company itself put out a statement apologising, disassociating themselves with her views and firing her. But in 2020, these old-fashioned pleas for clemency won’t satisfy a social media mob out for blood and points-scoring.
However, soon other screen shots began being shared. These ones had PNM supporters saying nasty things about Unc supporters. One person wanted to kill the entire Ramsaran family. Another wanted Prime Minister Rowley to deport Indians back to India. Where was the outrage of these persons demanded? And why wasn’t anyone calling for a boycott of KFC after their Emancipation ad? Clearly there were double standards.
And so, like mentally challenged schoolchildren flinging mud at each other while occupying the same pen, social media warriors went to war. But this absurd scenario is important to understand. That’s because it not only perfectly illustrates the preceding election campaign, but the entire ethos of T&T politics. Forget peanut punch, whether you’re Indian, African, Chinese, Syrian or miscellaneous, local politics is all about reaffirming one thing: “I am a victim.” “Oppression punch” is everyone’s favourite drink here.
Despite what we love to believe, our racially polarised politics in T&T is not unique or particularly interesting. In democracies across the world, people of similar demographics, age, race, region tend to vote in blocks. In the United States, Jews overwhelmingly vote for the Democratic party, while evangelicals lean to Republicans. In African countries like Kenya and Ghana, voting is divided along ethic tribal lines. There is nothing particularly sinister that the PNM courts a majority support from Afro-Trinis and the UNC draws on mainly Indo-Trinis. What is perhaps really sinister is that race appears to be the only idea that both parties care to dispense. But even that may not be their fault.
The PNM didn’t even offer a manifesto until the last minute. Even then it contained so few policy ideas that it should have been written on a KC Dinner Mint wrapper. The UNC, to its credit, at least tried to inject some economic ideas into its campaign, which all drowned under the crushing sounds of people going, “What the hell are these Trinity ads? Oh my God, are those bananas?”
But you can’t blame the PNM or UNC. Race is the only commodity Trinis are interested in. The PNM and UNC are not going to start having deep, thoughtful discussions on policy for the same reason my doubles man is not going to start using whole wheat flour. Who wants to explain the merits of devaluing the dollar when you could just say Kamla coming to thief your money?
Trinidadians have never dug mass graves to put other Trinis in. Trinis have never had to hide other Trinis from machete-wielding mobs because of their tribal ethnicity. There have been no religious fanatics bombing churches, temples or mosques here. The horrors of the 20th century passed T&T by. But there exists here this festering petulant racial resentment. Brewed out of stupidity and absurdity. It’s the punch we all love to drink.
When you’re an eternal victim, it frees you from responsibility of having to think for yourself. And that’s what makes oppression punch so addictive. But like all punches, sooner or later it’s going to go bad, and continuing to drink it means you’re only poisoning yourself.
• Darryn Boodan is a freelance writer