By Rhoda Reddock
Rhoda Reddock is Emerita Professor of Gender, Social Change and Development at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine. He also served as deputy and first head of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies. Acting in the national and Caribbean Women’s Movement and other social causes. Professor Reddock is currently an active member of the International Sociological Association (2018-2022) and an elected expert on the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (2019-2023).
This week’s column (Part One was published last week) was first featured in A Time for Healing: Understanding and Reconciling Race Relations in Trinidad and Tobago, a joint national symposium organized by the Faculty of Law, University of the West Indies, St. Louis. Augustine Campus and the Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSJ), August 30, 2020. Responding to the racial tensions during and after the Trinidad and Tobago 2020 elections, the symposium was described as an attempt to facilitate a “national conversation, focusing on on understanding. and healing… in an empathy, balanced and objective environment. “
A column last week referred to the dangerous myths and stereotypes about race in Trinidad and Tobago – dangerous because they have real consequences for society and our daily lives and our connections across difference – and suggested that the myths are not This produces little real understanding of the historical social legacy – economic and cultural forces at work. As I noted, racial experiences in Trinidad and Tobago are shaped by a number of intersectional frames: Color and Anti-Blackness; competitive victories; ethnic dualism; hybridity and mix. Let us look at the first two.
1. Anti-Blackness / Color
In 1970, like many of my generation, I was influenced by the Black Power Movement. At my prestigious Anglican Girls’ High School, White women began to acknowledge their ancestors in Africa, Black women were forced to confront the inner racism that existed in themselves and finally become proud of their color and hair . I know that the leaders of the movement have spoken about the Unity of all “Black” people with the slogan “Africans and Indians Unite.” I also remember in 1990 when an Indo-Trini colleague told me – Rhoda, I think there should be a 20 year commemoration of the Black Power revolution of 1970. “Why do you think that,” I asked. “Because,” he said, “that was an important turning point in my life. After that I was able to take my Indian food to school without feeling ashamed. It made us appreciate who we are ”. And yet, I am also aware of colleagues who sought to distance the Black power movement from Indians, reducing its national significance to society as a whole.
The racial and color systems of the colonial plantation era established a hierarchy of color and phenotype and hegemony of “whiteness.” Each group was evaluated in terms of their proximity to Europeans in color, phenotype and culture. It took a revolution to make Afro-Trinidadians challenge the internal racism of our own anti-Blackness and to de-negate notions of blackness, African customs, belief systems, and even the African continent. Despite this, color and phenotype continue to be a clear sign of difference, and of class and ethnic stigmatization. For Tobagonians, the color of their dark skin was an additional factor that contributed to the tensions with Trinidad.
A colleague and friend, Indian human rights activist and feminist, Kalpana Kannabiran would remind me during her visit to Trinidad in 1995, the year that marked 150 years of Indians arriving in Trinidad and Tobago, that negating colonial blackness would have reinforced ideas an existing negativity of blackness brought to the region of South Asia. It would remind me that color had also been an important marker of status and difference in Indian society which undoubtedly influenced Indian immigrant relationships with African descendants in the region and an aversion to ‘blackness’.
This would be exacerbated by the fear of Indo-Trinidadians of being invisibilised or losing their distinctiveness within the Afro-dominant Caribbean (ie ‘Black’) space. Although numbers are well represented in Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago, Indians are very concerned about biological and cultural assimilation and extinction to the Afro-Caribbean (i.e. Black) majority of the region.
Today, as Caribbean people, we continue to have this vague relationship with ‘whiteness’ – an ongoing distrust of ‘white people’ alongside an internal acceptance of the excellence of ‘whiteness’; that’s why the sayings – ‘he feels white’ or ‘she plays white’
suggesting that those individuals behave above their status and / or color, statements that actually reinforce the privilege of ‘whiteness.’
2. Competitive Victims
In colonial times it was clearer who the oppressor was and who the victim was. Today, however, things are not so clear. How often have we heard the arguments? Which groups have suffered more? Which groups were more oppressive during the colonial period, eg slavery or indentureship? Which groups are suffering more now? – Who has more jobs? More income? More land? More power? Who is more successful? Who discriminates against whom? Who is being discriminated against? Who has sacrificed more for the country? Who is the real victim here? Who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed now!
Narratives of suffering and sacrifice are becoming important mechanisms for nationalist and ethnic mobilization. They strengthen feelings of unity and community. They rally the troops into battle and sacrifice more and more. They generate feelings of national or ethnic pride and instill masculine notions of courage in protecting women, family, community and nation. They also help justify calls for compensatory justice and other strategies (legal or illegal) to improve the group’s access to social and economic resources.
These narratives can also create distance between the self and others, opening the way to violence and even genocide. That is, such discourses are so focused on the other that there is no room for internal self-reflection or space to empathize with the other’s situation. We disregard from a space of pain and fear that does not allow us to feel the pain or fear of others. Racial contexts are difficult enough when hierarchies are clearly visible; but where the groups involved are in a relatively equal position or displaced in the same way as in many parts of the postolonial world, the potential for conflict is far greater.
The people of First Nation remind us that they are still around and in fact have not disappeared, despite what many historical texts might tell us. Through the dedicated efforts of contemporary descendants, the society of Trinidad and Tobago has been forced to address the absence of the indigenous inhabitants of the national history and national census.
The Afro-Trinidadian narrative of suffering begins with slavery and continues today, with their everyday experiences of discrimination. There is the perception of unequal access to economic resources and employment opportunities especially in the private sector and the persistence of color and class discrimination by the state, banks, private sector and civil society. More recently, there is concern about perceived inequalities in the education system especially affecting children in Africa. They also highlight the disproportionately large proportions of Afro-Trinidadian males imprisoned or killed by police (Afro-Trinidadians) as well as ongoing discrimination in access to capital for private sector investment .
Afro-Tobagans seek to recover Tobago’s independent and independent history of autonomy and self-governance lost when it was annexed and later made a ward in Trinidad in the late 19th Century. They highlight Tobago’s distinctive cultural and religious traditions and the continued subjugation of its development to the vagaries of Trinidad.
For Indo-Trinidadians, their narrative begins with their exclusion from the imaginary of ‘the nation’. They note that despite their presence in this country and their economic and occupational success, they are still not considered full citizens. This is reflected in the fact that Indo-Trinidadian culture and religions are considered alien (and with the rise of some forms of Christianity, again as nations) and are thus sidelined in the allocation of state resources. Trinidadian identity, they argue, requires the rejection of their cultural and religious traditions. Importantly, they feel left out, ‘deceived’ from their right to share the political leadership of this country.
The minority of Europeans or Whites, collectively referred to today as French Creoles, note their increasing marginalization in today’s society beginning with the emergence of the Afro-Creole political hegemony characterized by Eric Williams’ famous statement direct post-independence, “Day Mass Made”. Other groups eg Middle-Easterns and Chinese have their own narrative of exclusion. Their perceived color and richness create additional distance and distrust, in a context shaped by racism and color.
Typical of all these groups is the underlying feeling of shame that we encourage about the ways we entered the societies – as oppressors, oppressed, as refugees, as illegal migrants or of status less. We all have this fundamental shame that fuels our need to compete and seek to heal our wounded self-concept. This is where the myths, stereotypes, and adapted narratives come in, to create sacrificial narratives even as we delineate our narratives of suffering.
In the meantime the former colonial masters who created this mess for their own economic benefit, accept no responsibility for the civil wars, ethnic tensions and other forms of conflict that emerge within them. former colonies. Criticizing the instability in what they now describe as failed states and banana republics, they are making billions selling weapons to fuel these conflicts, ignoring the loss of life and social displacement that often result.
The question is, where do we go from here? This is the moment to demand a politics that consciously and publicly attacks racism in all its forms, establishing platforms that begin to challenge the very notion of ‘race’ that is rooted in our view of the world. Micro-essays must be introduced that not only respond but challenge us to imagine a different world. We can start by rethinking what and how we teach our children, and the necessary reforms to our four-tier education system and its overly competitive character. Our artists, writers and poets will be important here, and we must be prepared to listen. Some important measures include:
● Integrate anti-racist and diversity education at all levels of education, through public television and public radio, incorporating a deeper understanding of our history and sociology.
● Address the speed and violence of our language, and the absence of empathy and civility in the way we address each other even as we argue, argue and compete. We are not all strong enough to take it.
● Essentially, hate speech legislation
The systemic factors that reproduce and deepen social and economic inequalities also need to be understood and addressed through the front, for example:
● Research and detailed information sharing with the public.
● Revitalizing and strengthening social support systems including mental health, parenting support and inclusive education;
● Community social work interventions to facilitate early identification of vulnerable groups and multilateral and gender sensitive interventions;
● Strengthen data collection systems to inform policy and planning;
As we observe ethnic tensions, conflicts, violence and even genocide in other parts of the post-colonial world, let us not believe “it cannot happen here” because it can.