Tools

After January 21, 2013

By Reginald Dumas

Part III

(A scheduling mix-up led to the premature publication of the fourth part of this series in the Sunday Express of February 17. The final part will be published tomorrow)

The January 21 election result in Tobago has been called a manifestation of xenophobia. My dictionary defines "xenophobia" as "intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries". Do Tobagonians really fit that description? They have a well-developed sense of self because of historical and other factors, including geography, and I have characterised Tobago as a "nation" in the anthropological sense. But surely it is nonsense to draw from that the conclusion that they intensely or irrationally dislike or fear foreigners.

And who exactly is the "foreigner" here? The Trinidadian? I agree that because of the differences in historical background and culture the Tobagonian, essentially reserved, does not immediately warm to the outgoing, and too frequently overloud, Trinidadian (though excessive noise is, alas, becoming a Tobago feature, too), whom he still regards anyway as having removed his birthright 114 years ago with the union of the two islands. (Unfair, perhaps, but that is how human beings everywhere are. Historical grievances can, often do, fester forever. Ask the Serbs of Kosovo or old-stock Québécois. Better, ask Muslims about the Christian Crusades between the 11th and 13th centuries.)

An emphasis on "Tobago-ness" does not equate to an "intense or irrational dislike or fear" of Trinidadians, or to any kind of overt group dislike or fear. Condescension, perhaps, as non-Tobagonians, including those of African origin, can attest. Individual Tobagonians of course harbour unfortunate prejudices, as individuals throughout the world do; that is regrettable. But a xenophobic Tobago? Please.

For his part, the UNC chairman, Jack Warner, issued a statement on January 23 lambasting Tobagonians for having stood with, and been "duped (by), their political abusers", who had instilled "fear" in them; they had been imprisoned by the very "tribalism" that had for decades held Laventille in thrall to the PNM. Subsequently, the PM was herself also to speak of fear. Of what or whom she didn't say, but one could guess.

The word "tribe" and its derivatives are often given a derogatory meaning, and often used, derogatorily also, in connection with Africa. I lived and travelled long enough in Africa and India and the so-called "developed world" to be able to say so without fear (that word again) of serious contradiction. I doubt Warner intended it, but his reference to "tribalism" in relation to the heavily African-descended communities of Laventille and Tobago could, his own blackness notwithstanding, be interpreted as containing intimations of racism. I cannot recall that, say, Oropouche has ever voted for the PNM. Would Warner describe the behaviour of the voters there as "tribal"? If not, why not? If so, what has he been doing about it?

Inoted in Part II of this series (Express, February 13) that race was a factor in the election, and Hilton Sandy has achieved an unexpected and undesired, though deserved, notoriety. The Delaford incident has been much dissected, and there's no need for me to re-visit it here. But we delude ourselves if we think that condemnation of, and apologies from, Sandy, and speculation on the fallout for the PNM in forthcoming elections, are where the matter ends.

The central fact is that what was raised by the Sandy affair once again indicates our puzzling unwillingness to confront squarely the subject of race in our society. We blithely continue to sweep the inconvenient under the nearest carpet. We ignore the increasingly mountainous, increasingly smelly pile, then erupt indignantly when, as in the Sandy episode, a particularly noisome item escapes into the open and directly offends our sensibilities.

But we must face the issue, as I have been saying, pleading even, for more than twenty years now. We must have a national conversation on race to try to plot our way forward. We should have had it ages ago. Civil society should lead it.

Race is not, after all, a one-way street. When I took Sandy to task for his comment I was unaware of what Devant Maharaj had written several years earlier. He had begun an article in the South Asian Outlook of November 2004 by saying that "Indians in T&T form a clear majority but continue to be treated like a minority!" Later in the article he stated that the "Indian population in T&T is 40.03 per cent..." How 40.03 can accurately be called a "majority", let alone a "clear majority", wholly escapes me. But that isn't the surprising part of the article.

He wrote: "Dr Morgan Job has been attempting to influence the people of Tobago to seek a federal relationship with Trinidad. He even advocates outright independence. I say let the 44,190 go independent if they wish or, for that matter, let them join a federal relationship with Grenada and let Morgan Job be president.

"The result will make the African population of Trinidad a smaller minority by another two per cent. With the Tobago figure taken out of the 2000 census figures, the Indian majority will climb to 41.85 per cent while the African will slip to 35.04 per cent." (My emphasis.) So, apparently, even if a ship doesn't come to Scarborough from Calcutta, one should leave Scarborough for St George's. Perhaps, who knows, both should set sail.

What do you see as the difference in sentiment between Sandy's remarks and Maharaj's? These days a Cabinet Minister, does Maharaj still hold these views? Should I and others who look like me now seek on behalf of Tobago an arrangement with the government and people of Grenada? May we please hear from Maharaj and the Prime Minister? Where does the government stand on this issue?

* Reginald Dumas is a former

ambassador and former head of

the Public Service

This content requires the latest Adobe Flash Player and a browser with JavaScript enabled. Click here for a free download of the latest Adobe Flash Player.

Express Poll

Are you satisfied with the performance of Trinidad and Tobago's athletes at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland?

  • Yes
  • No

Commentaries Headlines

Weather

More Weather