The Express editorial yesterday (Monday) was surprising for calling out Maxie Cuffie for his letter published on Sunday, since applying choke-holds to facts is how he did journalism from the days of “Chutney Rising” at the Guardian so long ago (1996) and the TnT Mirror more recently.
But the letter was more than an individual statement. Cuffie is a sitting MP and a former member of Cabinet. It must be read as an official position. It also illustrates the way Trinidad/PNM blackness culturally appropriates American and British blackness. This means Afro-Trinidadian racial opportunists use emotive responses to racism in the US and UK to fuel claims of racism in Trinidad and Tobago. The Trinidadian claims are largely hysteria against Indo-Trinidadians, as Cuffie displayed, inserting the UNC in his letter.
He’s not alone. Theodore Lewis and Selwyn Cudjoe (and many more, less prominent) routinely channel ethnic rage from the US into Trinidad, ostensibly on behalf of Trinidad blacks, against Indians. And it works: many black Trinidadians are angry, and believe themselves to be racially oppressed by Indo-Trinidadians.
Many Afro-Trinidadians seem willing to suspend disbelief that Trinidad isn’t the US or UK, and Afro-Trinidadians are not African-Americans, or black British, and have never experienced this kind of racism in Trinidad. Racism is based on state and majoritarian power, and Trinidad blacks are neither politically nor numerically a minority. (African and mixed populations, which by US definitions are all black, sum to about 60 per cent of our population.)
Black men and women in Trinidad have been brutalised by the police, the State, and the society generally. From the numbers of the institutional (prison) population, they are treated this way more than other citizens. But the police, government, judiciary, and civil service are not only majority black, they’re designed, managed, and controlled by black people. This is not racism; it’s another social problem.
Apropos, many black Trinidadians might not realise they, and PNM nationalism, have much more in common with white nationalism than they do with the Black Lives Matter movement. Afro-Trinidadians are a majority population with a minority attitude.
This absurdity has lived in plain sight since 1970. Black Power rhetoric is obsessed with the “liberation” of black people. But how could a black state, ruled by a black government, and a formidable black intellectual who campaigned as a black messiah, have enslaved black people? To avoid this question, black Power keeps going in circles. This gap in consciousness allows opportunists like Cuffie to sling their own interpretations. The most popular is that racism is the UNC’s fault. The UNC doesn’t even have to have existed. Cuffie locates them in the 1980s (the party formed in 1989, their first election was 1991), so pushing them back to 1970 is not a leap.
The result? Many black people believe the UNC’s two terms in office destroyed 50 years of PNM achievement in education, healthcare, economic growth, and social integration, and destroyed black Trinidadians. This, again, mirrors the American majority fear of the minority: as white America projects its paranoia onto Black Americans, Afro-Trinidadians project their fears onto Indo-Trinidadians.
These practices are enabled by a few things and people other than politicians/journalists like Cuffie. Other enablers are media houses who uncritically broadcast and publish this relentless stream of idiocy; academics and prominent spokesmen/surrogates who either tacitly support, or endorse the enormity; and Indians who remain silent.
The media at least have a reason: it’s better to know what the racial agonists are thinking rather than to not know. However, when does presenting all views become enabling hate speech?
The PNM is more multi-racial now than it’s ever been. But Cudjoe (who, presumably, speaks for all Afro-Trinidadians) complains it’s deserting its Black base. In a column in this newspaper (September 16, 2019, “Misplaced philanthropy”), he writes: “It is legitimate that Afro-Trinidadians should expect nay, demand, that a PNM government look after their interests…. Promoting the group’s interest is not necessarily incompatible with promoting the national interest.”
That might be acceptable if the group were an oppressed minority. But Afro-Trinidadians are not a minority here. I can only assume Cudjoe makes these statements (as in his current laughable “debate”, in these pages, about Williams’ use of the term “hostile and recalcitrant” in 1958) to get attention.
And finally, what about the Indians, for whom this whole performance of racial rage and oppression is being staged? The Indian community seems incapable of coherent speech on this. A few “Indian” columnists comment, and pander to mainstream pangloss-ism. That is, saying anodyne things to the effect that all o’ we is one. When in power, the Partnership/UNC used this strategy. They accepted the PNM discourses on race, citizenship and nationalism. They seemed unwilling to control the symbolic and cultural machinery of the State, as they were entitled to do.
So what’s the solution? One cure for this ethnic insanity is education, which The UWI is paid to do. But where are the statistics, analyses, history, theory and facts about the ethnic situation in Trinidad and Tobago? I can’t find them, and I look.
No help from The UWI, then. A good start to improving Trinidadian lives is for the black majority to admit they are not African-Americans, this isn’t the US, they’re not a minority, and Indians aren’t the oppressors.