Last Saturday, three men were shot dead in their neighbourhood around 2.30 p.m. Six hours later, the newspapers went to press not knowing the identity of two of the men while the other one was more likely to be named as “Warlord”. They were nobodies.
On social media, some rejoiced and wrongly accused them of criminal acts, including the shooting of a police officer. How could we not know their names? How could we callously kill them and not know their names? Easy. They are nobodies.
Sadly, they are not the only nobodies in our country. Nobodies are found everywhere and from every ethnicity. They are the poor lagoon dwellers. They are the peasant farmers who can no longer make a living by feeding us because of large scale theft of State lands.
They become invisible since to acknowledge their presence is unsettling. They are bullied and we remain silent when state violence pushes them off the land which is then given to large business interests.
We retrench them but never speak their names. It does not matter, a circular letter would work. Or so the story goes...for now.
In 1962, there was a dream that every child, regardless of their family or social background, would have an opportunity to improve their lot in life. Educational opportunities expanded. Rich and poor lived side by side without the poor having a sense of inferiority. All went to the same schools and churches.
If your parents did not have an idea of where you could reach, the priest or teacher knew and mentored you. If your mother worked for a wealthy family, you were often cared for as a child of that family.
You were somebody. We were told that “our future was in our schoolbags” and we had “boundless faith in our destiny” even as we dared to believe “here every creed and race find an equal place”.
Now? Black holes of death and despair. Not just in Laventille. Despairing poverty knows no race nor political party. It is a myth that there are no poor East Indians. They too are invisible to all, scorned by all. The uncomfortable vision we filter out.
Poverty is a family tradition, solidified in the family structures, and by religions that offer no social support and by politics.
Poverty breeds pessimism, negatively impacting masculinity and thereby destroying homes. Children and wives are abused even though the abuser’s drug of choice may differ.
In some communities, it is alcohol and in others, marijuana and cocaine. They live in hovels or in an HDC development and can scarcely do the schoolwork yet the well-intentioned pontificate about the chances that are available but never recognise the handicaps which hold the nobodies back.
Nobodies are not chauffeured in fancy cars to school. They have full-time jobs, “mothering and fathering” their siblings, which robs them of the joys of childhood. They cower when the “rum talks”.
Their hopelessness leads to a lack of imagination and robs the will to take on life. The teacher, no longer the mentor, is as hopeless as they are, and the church is silent in observing their pain. The dice is loaded against them.
Ralph Ellison (1952) captured the pain of these nobodies and the societal cost. “I am invisible because people refuse to see me... when you feel like this... you begin to bump people back... you strike out with your fists, you curse and swear to make them recognise you...” Since then, times have changed. Basil Davis was a nobody whose name we learnt in our fear.
We were the “essential” but now the “dispensable” workers.
As the Black Lives Matter movement insists, ‘Say my name!”
Will we do so willingly, or will we be forced to do so?