It is unwise to see sides or to take sides arising out of the recent confrontations between the police and residents of East Port of Spain. These confrontations are symptoms of a multifaceted socio-cultural situation and interlocking relationships, both between the residents themselves and with the rest of the country, which are not working.
There is a developing civil war between the residents and the uniforms of constitutional law, the latter known in the dialect of Jamaica as Babylon. It has taken me some time to absorb those scenes.
I believe that there are two starting points for consideration of the country’s turbulence, which is not confined to those urban enclaves where the turbulence is dramatic and frequently has fatal consequences. One is to admit that Trinidad and Tobago is in fact in a state of partial anarchy.
For many years, long before the political, social and business elites began to acknowledge them, I have argued in these columns against the long-standing indifference to our social development problems and the application of the brutal and escapist label of “collateral damage”.
There seems now to be an appreciation that if social disorder continues to advance, conventional pursuits of life outside the turbulent areas will become far more difficult than current problems may have already made such pursuits, whether business or pleasure. The elites and their adherents may be realising the impossibility of circumventing the anarchy by building palace walls, by buying one’s way into gated communities or partying and carnivalling to deaden reality.
Brooks and Warner sound more like a fancy law firm, shirt makers to royalty or even a movie studio but Gerry Brooks and Gervase Warner, representatives of our biggest conglomerates, in their recent forceful comments on the budget statement 2013-2014 seem to be standing out for a firmer emphasis on the long standing deficiencies of how the country is run. Are we witnessing a breakout from the over sugared pill customarily administered by the validating elites? I look forward to more of the same outside of the permitted latitude of budget season.
Returning to my starting points from which to assess our dangerous turbulence, I am convinced that many of our problems arise from the negative stereotypes to which, sometimes not deliberately or consciously so, we relegate groups of fellow citizens.
Even those who are not economically disadvantaged, relegate themselves. We have failed to know who we are and how to measure what value we truly have, other than by reference to material goods and conspicuous consumption. Insecurities and identity crises are encased in luxury vehicles and, high and low alike look for identity in brands and bling.
Our skewed assessment of who we are, our lack of confidence in our Caribbean selves, and what is a true measure of our worth is a delicate subject in post-colonial societies. I approach it, as I do some other subjects, by reference to literary work, which mirrors the reality of life, both out there and within the gates. My reference is to the Glass Bottle Trick by Nalo Hopkinson and the relationship between the characters Samuel and Beatrice.
Beatrice was uncomfortable with the air-conditioning, “which Samuel kept so cold that they could keep the butter in its dish on the kitchen counter. It never went rancid. She went outside as often as possible, even though Samuel didn’t like her ‘‘to spend too much time in the sun”.
“He said he feared that cancer would mar her soft skin, that he didn’t want to lose another wife. But Beatrice knew he just didn’t want her to get too brown. When the sun touched her, it brought out the sepia and the cinnamon in her blood, overpowered the milk and honey, and he could no longer pretend she was white. He loved her skin pale.”
Samuel’s attitude represents a questionable status quo, which has persisted throughout our 51 years of Independence. It is a view that militates against self-esteem and promotes feelings of “I better than you”. Should my address bar me from getting a job or enlistment in the military?
In order to redress the imbalances in this island society and to promote equal opportunity, we need to follow Beatrice, accept that we are cinnamon and bring out the cinnamon in its full range of shades. We must depart from the aping of norms that fit poorly into Caribbean society.
The President of Trinity College of Hartford, Connecticut, during his recent visit to Trinidad, was rapturous in his praise of how we live side by side. There is a view that by comparison to other US student exchange programmes, the ones with us are the most transformational for US students precisely because of their exposure to the beneficial ingredients of our Caribbean culture.
Surely we can use the same ingredients and transform ourselves, the first objective being to value our cinnamon and thereby raise the self-esteem of all our citizens.