A favourite aunt, a red woman from east Port of Spain, was given to plain speech and witty name-calling. In a typical Tanty Catherine take, she said one day, referring to a sensational suicide then in the news: "Coolie have no faith."
For this schoolboy, that was a race talk primer, a teaching that Indians under pressure, for lacking the spiritual sustenance of (Christian) religion, were markedly inclined to take their own lives.
As an item of supposedly streetwise indoctrination, this didn't survive with me. It's filed away as my own example of how race talk has inter-generationally conveyed disfavouring attitudes about what's called The Other.
The words "coolie" and "nigger" have fallen under the ban of convention, informed by the same political correctness that added "and Tobago", in referring to the country that for long everyone had called just "Trinidad". But such outward signs are liable to be overestimated as reflecting any inward grace of progressively changed minds and hearts.
One hundred metres from the shore, treading water in company easily qualified to be called friends, I contend with a race talk thesis of a real and present Indian drive toward "dominance". The proponent points to "subtle" ways adopted by those "people from Penal", such as privileging images of their kind in contemporary advertising.
What? No, I hadn't noticed. Two weeks before, actually, I had read a letter to the Express asserting "a growing trend" of excluding images of Indians. The writer cited advertisements, weekend magazines, and "cocktail circuit" coverage as areas of "gross under-representation of the Indo-Trinidadian community".
Moved to take a look, I thumbed through the Wednesday, November 7 Express for ads featuring people identifiable by race. Of 35 such ads I counted eight with images of Indians, 11 with blacks, and the rest with various "mixed", plus whites.
At least one other pair of eyes focused on other images in newspaper ads, and counted heads by both race and gender. The writer of a November 14 letter to the Express had examined the 466 published photos of applicants for Special Reserve Police positions and found "non-Indians" outnumbering Indians by more than two to one in the male category and by nine to one in the female. (My own check found about 14 per cent Indian faces overall.)
The letter writer expected that "political eyes" would see in the same breakdown an implied advantage for the PNM, and that "racial eyes" would conclude active anti-Indian discrimination by the authorities. Thus does one tendency of T&T race talk discredit in advance observations of potential under-representation of Indians in SRP recruiting.
Only axe-grinding trouble makers, the writer suggested, would see anything amiss in such disproportionate recruitment outcomes; right-thinking others would see the universe unfolding as it should: "Normal thinking people would not at all be alarmed by the figures, recognising that they only show people are free to apply for jobs as they choose."
A parallel race talk tendency, given voice at least since the April 1962 Queen's Hall constitutional conference, has come over as a complaint that Indians are represented way below their share of the population in state employment and in national recognition generally. That concern has been coming from people with Indian names, non-stop since 1962 when the Hindu Youth Association representative had spoken up at Queen's Hall. Selwyn Ryan later reported: "The conference took no notice of his complaints."
The two race talk tendencies have remained at odds. Speaking for one tendency in 2004, President Maxwell Richards noted: "There is an insistence that discrimination exists," pointedly likening such claims to "something of a mantra", or a Hindu-related buzzword.
Race talk rose higher that year, when then litigation lawyer Anand Ramlogan took aim at the national awards system. Ramlogan's research found that, since 1969, only 12 per cent of the Trinity Crosses had gone to Indians who, in no other category of award, could be counted above 18 per cent.
In one finding of special significance, over 35 years, only 6.5 per cent of Public Service Medal of Merit Gold awards had been made to Indians.
The Ramlogan research remained unchallenged, even as its conclusions are shrugged off as an Indian-race-talk narrative, and not just by PNM officialdom in place over most of the period since. An Express letter writer last week observed "a marked resurgence in race talk", warning against it as a "disturbing trend which appears to have a…carefully orchestrated agenda."
Regardless of "agenda", T&T race talk leads only to more race talk. Never does race talk address action to scientifically examine all aspects of employment and other systems which, as established in the US and in Canada, though fair in operation, can result in "systemic discrimination" adversely affecting "target groups".
Instead, T&T knees jerk over race talk (from the other side) taken as a lurid scare of promoting "ethnic politics". It a willing surrender to self-delusion to assume that any other power politics exists in T&T, where opinion polls, for example, always canvass political and electoral attitude and voting intention by race. T&T may eventually be dragged kicking and screaming into the modern ways of managing multi-racial places. So far, all we have is kicking and screaming.