I hadn’t intended to write a word; my feelings were raw and I felt that everything I could possibly say had already been expressed. I had already begun writing about something else for this column, but I couldn’t do it. I didn’t feel that it was right to let my exhaustion with the ongoing brutality of humankind shunt me away from a principle I hold fast. I believe that it is important to let our voices be heard. I believe it is our responsibility to declare ourselves; to speak out lest our silence be misinterpreted. Silence can be a dangerous thing.
George Floyd has been immortalised in a way that will be a perpetual reminder of the most hateful aspects of humans. The violence and rage that has been spewing forth since his murder are an eruption triggered by a history of systemic and institutionalised racism that will not bow its head any longer.
Tack on to it the oppression of being under lockdown, of losing your jobs, of the reality that those with money and power will be the ones whose idea of hardships will be what you would consider luxurious living. Tack on to it the helplessness you feel as you try to survive, and you know that an explosion had to come.
Who can honestly expect that the forces of “law and order” have any moral right to bleat about the need for restraint? Even if you do not live in a society where the truth that is self-evident is that all are not created equal; and that they do not all have the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, you cannot pretend that it does not matter in your space.
In Trinidad and Tobago, we play along with the fallacy that we are a rainbow nation—that glorious marketing term designed to peddle us as a tourism destination. We boast about the melting pot of cultures that peacefully and harmoniously exist here and we celebrate ourselves loudly.
In many ways, at so many levels, it is true. As individuals, we interact closely with each other: we break bread, we socialise, we work and play together. But there are enclaves. When groups congregate, when communities of like minds form, people forget about their personal relationships—the ones where their friendships are found.
On Wednesday, as its “Big Question,” the Express asked its Facebook readers “Do you think Afro-Trinis are under-privileged and discriminated against in T&T?”
The answers were mixed, but a fair amount of responses remarked on the prudence of putting out such a “bold” enquiry as one responder put it. One asked, “Really Express, what can of worms you trying open eh?” Another: “What are you all trying to create?” Another said: “Must be a slow day to be encouraging more racial talk in Trinidad.” And another proposed: “Tomorrow’s question…Do you think Indo-Trinis are under-privileged and discriminated against in Trinidad and Tobago?”
The night before, a friend had shared some revolting comments that had been made on a chat group. She related a bizarre story of how a young recording artiste exposed this group that had added him, she felt, simply to say racially insulting things to him. It seemed like he had been thrown into a bullring with many bulls just ready to gore him.
What is evident is that despite the façade of harmony, a significant amount of animus prowls, thinly masked within our midst. Social media has provided a megaphone to blare out the crudest of the vitriol, but it seems to me a national conversation needs to be had at a different and productive level.
The people who believe that to discuss race relations in Trinidad and Tobago is to open a can of worms, may be right. But that does not mean it should not be done. We have to move past the name-calling and idiotic stereotyping that has so far been the basis of these exchanges and get to a place where we try to understand the history and the reasons for the distrust and dislike.
A cursory look at our past easily tells us that the connections go way back into the depths of slavery and indentureship. We cannot gloss over the inequities wrought by these epochs. We cannot deny the different levels of inhumane treatment meted out to the ill-fated ones—once their lives were put upon from as early as the Columbus mission that trampled our first peoples.
The George Floyd eruption graphically demonstrates the impact of festering wounds; we have to know that because we have not even tried to treat them, they are suppurating boils that are poisoning us even as we pretend they are not there.
With the anxiety and despair enforced by the pandemic and its effects, people are already at their breaking points. These are not the good old days when we can sing about how we can fete together and that makes everything alright.
This is a different world. We need sober analysis to understand the dichotomies, to try to come to terms with the past. Everything has a root. It might be worth looking for ours.