Selwyn Cudjoe

Selwyn Cudjoe

AS Boris Johnson, UK prime minister is finding out, and Keith Rowley, T&T’s prime minister has found out, it’s easier to be on the opposition benches and spout invectives than it is to be in the driver’s seat making consequential national decisions.

Boris lost pivotal votes last week in the British parliament as his Tory diehards voted against him. Even his brother—Jo Johnson—resigned from his ministerial post and his seat in Parliament. Boris is likely to have the shortest tenure as a UK prime minister.

I was reminded of this scenario when I read the missive Kamla Persad-Bissessar delivered at her Monday Night Forum. She criticised the government for charging Watson Duke with sedition and rightly compared Duke’s remarks with Fitzgerald Hinds’ previous remarks. For the record, I think the “sedition law” is anarchic. We should get rid of it.

Hinds claims that Kamla’s comparison of his remarks with those of Duke’s is a gross misreading of what he intended. He says he was “speaking in metaphor”, could not understand how Kamla misrepresented “an ordinary, innocent, colourful, wonderful , sweet metaphor” (Express, August 4), and called on a professor of English at The UWI to adjudicate his excellent use of that figure of speech.

As a professor who taught literature and literary theory at Harvard, Cornell and Ohio universities, I am willing to argue that Duke’s and Hinds’ remarks can be placed in the same category: “Kill them dead!” “Drive a PNM balisier deep into the hearts of the wicked UNC vampires,” “take a stake with a balisier on top and drive it deep within their heart and finish them off once and for all” have the same effect as Duke saying “the day will come for us in WASA, (when) we are prepared to die and the morgue will be picking up people.” Given the loose manner in which Duke and Hinds use language, their remarks can be read as harmless comparisons and outlandish braggadocio.

While Kamla is prepared to excoriate the government’s shortcomings (she says her duty is “to hold the Government accountable”) I wonder if she is willing to tell the national community, in concrete terms, what the UNC is willing to do about the disturbing disparities that exist in our society with regard to young black people.

I refer to a photograph of the participants of the Three-Tier Mentorship Programme for Energy Professionals that was taken at its first launch at the Hyatt Regency on August 8, 2019. Five of the 29 professionals were black; the rest were non-black (Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries, Facebook Page, August 15.)

There they stood with the PM, Energy Minister Franklin Khan, and Parliamentary Secretary Nicole Olivierre, and I wondered: “Did any of the officials see anything wrong with this picture,” especially as the PM proclaimed that “a cadre of energy-sector professionals is to be built in T&T, the objective of which is to build capacity in the energy sector in key technical areas” (Newsday, August 8.)

My fight here is not with a government that does not think this discrepancy matters even if young black professionals are overlooked in the process. One Government Minister saw “nothing wrong with this photo”. As far the Government is concerned, we can file that photograph “Not Important” and carry on with other important matters.

I am interested to hear Kamla’s response to this anomaly: five young, black professionals in a cadre of 29 professionals in whose hands the future of the energy industry is placed. I don’t know what criteria were used for selecting these young professionals, the members of the selection committee, and the composition of future cadres of professionals but it would be nice to know.

Duke’s freedom of speech is important and must be protected but what about the necessity, perhaps the inherent fairness of future mentees in these programmes, to reflect the ethnic diversity of the society and to ensure we do not create two Trinidad and Tobagos: one black, unskilled and poor; the other, non-black, prosperous and privileged.

In her speech, Kamla differentiated between “covert” and “overt” discrimination. She described the latter as a situation in which “one finds a deliberate policy of denial, omission, and obfuscation of issues/persons/and groups.” She says, “persons in the haves or elite, use their influence...to prevent conversations” about those groups who “benefit economically at the expense of the society at large”.

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I do not mean to criticise Kamla’s formulations of the problems she outlines but while the argument against archaic laws (the past) is important it would be nice if she examined present discriminatory practices, inherent in what she terms “covert racism”, which is dividing our society into two. Such divisions could have devastating consequences for the future of our society.

It is one thing to call oneself, “Trini to the bone” and to label the present government Rowley’s “tyrant’s society”; it’s quite another thing to create a society in which covert discrimination does not show up in the tiny nooks and crannies of the society. As a leader who is committed to the elimination of covert discrimination, it would be nice to hear Kamla’s response, in concrete terms, to this nagging problem that is endemic to our society.

I don’t know if the photograph of the Three-Tier Mentorship Programme can be described as a metaphor of the discriminatory nature of our society but I am inclined to believe that it fits beautifully into the adage: “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Mr Hinds and his government may not want to see this photo as a metonymy but it hurts nonetheless to see it.

Prof Cudjoe’s e-mail address is

scudjoe@wellesley.edu. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.

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