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A dissenting voice

By Winford James

I am part of the listserv the-reflections-group@googlegroups.com that shares personal viewpoints and various kinds of literature by e-mail. Subscribers are free to e-mail whatever they think will be of interest to members of the group and to offer their views on whatever they find interesting. Often, there is dissent from points of view that start a conversation, and the mix of ideas is informative and enriching. After the 2013 THA elections, a subscriber – let's call him RG – emailed a 19-page, 20-point position strongly dissenting from the view that Tobagonians had voted rationally, rather than tribally, in rejecting the TOP and the rest of the Partnership.

GR was clear: Tobagonians had voted on tribal and xenophobic instincts. Here are some excerpts from his position:

'[Ashworth] Jack's association with a party that is seen as being greedy, corrupt, incompetent, exhibiting antipathy towards persons of other ethnicities, [as being] about an "is we time now" agenda, [and as] conducting a very poor and insensitive "UNC" campaign (not one for Tobagonians), together with the spectre of that ship from Calcutta, etc., are the primary reasons that explain Tobago going tribal and openly displaying xenophobia.'

'What Tobago did was to chinks and huddle – so as to protect the interests of members of the tribe against what they were told by their tribal leaders was a threat from persons external to the tribe.'

'There was an undeniable surge of hostility towards all foreigners – including Trinidadians during the election. Friends of mine from Trinidad who live in Tobago and have done so for over thirty-eight years felt the brunt of this surge – and some of these friends were not East Indian.'

'Going tribal'. 'Openly displaying xenophobia'. 'Protect the interests of members of the tribe'. 'Their tribal leaders'. 'Threat from persons external to the tribe'. Yes, RG is clear.

He goes on to make a distinction between 'tribe' and 'race'. In reference to his observation, in the last citation above, that not all the Trinidadians receiving Tobagonian foreigner-directed hostility were Indos, he explains as follows:

'This tells me that the chord struck by Sandy's metaphor [ship from Calcutta] and the response it had was rooted not in race – although it is easy to conclude it was, given the racial groups involved. Sandy, perhaps intentionally so as to ground his tribal call in the reality prevailing at the time, identified the threat as being from Calcutta - where of course there is only one tribe. There was further evidence and a heightened awareness of the same tribe appearing in their numbers on the ground, at the Port, at the Airport and throughout Tobago in the lead up to the election - all suggesting an invasion of Tobago by another tribe. There were several dots related to Sandy's statement and, in the minds of a people already predisposed to tribalism and xenophobia, the connecting of these dots only needed a trigger such as that provided by Sandy's statement and by those of others whose messages were not as widely publicised.'

So 'tribe' is not necessarily the same thing as 'race'. In the way Tobagonians voted, 'tribe' was Tobago on the one hand and Trinidad on the other. But because i) the Trinidadian tribe included the subtribe Indo-Trinidadians, and ii) Calcutta had 'only' an Indo tribe, some people could confuse the subtribe (identified on the basis of race) with the tribe (identified on the basis of externality to Tobago). So Tobagonians voted against Trinidadians, not against Indo-Trinidadians, and in so doing, we were being tribal.

But allowing RG's notions of tribe and race, and assuming he is right about the way we voted, why would Tobagonians vote against Trinidadians? To get a part of the answer, we must go back to the first citation above where he charges that the primary reasons why we voted tribally and xenophobically are Ashworth Jack's association with a party seen – by whom we are not told, though most likely not only by Tobagonians! – as greedy, corrupt, etc., as having an is-we-time-now agenda, and as exhibiting an antipathy towards persons of other ethnicities, plus the spectre of Sandy's Calcutta ship.

Now, notice that RG is mixing up Jack's party of association – revealed as the UNC – with Trinidad. He is also mixing up Calcutta's Indos with Trinidad. This must be so once he holds the view that Tobagonians as tribe voted against Trinidadians as tribe. So the UNC is Trinidad, and the subtribe Indos are Trinidad. Where, you might ask, are the Trinidadian non-Indos in this conflation?

I can only conclude that RG's analysis – that Tobagonians voted against Trinidadians – broke down on him, and that what he wanted to say was that Tobagonians voted against Indo-Trinidadians.

But if we voted against Indo-Trinidadians, then we were being racist, not tribal since we would then have voted against a part of the Trinidadian tribe distinguished from the other parts on the basis of not simply ethnicity but race.

Ooh la la! What a tangled web RG has woven!

I therefore dissent from his position.

Wouldn't it have been easier to take the tribalism as a default Tobagohood that was rising up against a government that threatened to further imprison it in constitutional law and further colonise it economically? What is so wrong about a people weighing the issues of PNM underperformance and central government colonisation and deciding that they would wink their eyes at the former and heave mightily against the latter? Can't a people be rational against a background of tribalism or islandhood?

I asked RG if he had been able to vote in the circumstances in which Tobagonians found themselves, what he would have done. Letting out a loud peal of laughter, he said he would have done what most Tobagonians did.

LOL!

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