Laudable goals for the ESC
The Emancipation Support Committee (ESC) is best known for the vigour of its political lobbying for the brilliant August 1 parade and related commemorative activities. Its statement last Tuesday, however, dedicated the organisation to more extensive year-round objectives which should resonate positively with all who favour amelioration of the society. The statement cited "a rich legacy of psycho-social healing and renewal" and rallied supporters for "self-help and self-improvement within communities… (and) the creation of safe spaces in which children can (help) reshape this society…". In pursuit of such laudable endeavours, the people of Trinidad and Tobago would look to the ESC for the critical leadership so lacking in other spheres and, so far, little shown beyond August 1 by the single-cause Emancipation
But what analyses, besides the ideological, will the ESC bring to bear on this task? The populist assertion that the present-day challenges of Afro-Trinbagonians may be traced back 200 years to the arrival of the first enslaved Africans is an empirical question which requires more than uncritical acceptance. This large claim may be wholly true, or it may be true only for certain psycho-cultural traits unique to persons of African descent, or it may not be true at all.
The first task, therefore, would be to analyse the extent to which history plays a part in the issues identified by the ESC, for only then can strategies to solve these problems be created. If, for example, slavery left psychic wounds, does the ESC's promotional strategy of a glorious African past help heal such wounds? After all, much of their historical remembrance is contradicted by the research of professional historians.
Another fundamental question is to what extent present social conditions in the Afro-Trinidadian community are consequences of the past. The representative communities are those along the East-West corridor but, given that racially similar communities in south Trinidad or Tobago do not have the same behavioural patterns, it seems that explanations lie more in the present. This does not mean that stereotypes are not a causal factor, but that stereotype lies in geography and class rather than race.
As for the ESC's second objective—self-help and self-improvement—the Committee's education officer only last week roundly rejected suggestions that, after 20 years and many millions of State dollars, the ESC should be self-sustaining. But if the organisation wishes to promote self-help, it must set the example. In order to break free of mental slavery through such projects, the organisation cannot go kufi in hand to the government, for that would undermine their laudable message.
If, however, they can be true to their stated principles, the ESC could fundamentally improve the state of their select constituency and so the nation.