Sunday, February 18, 2018

Shades and shading

Mr Fitzgerald Hinds stated recently that the dark complexion of Dr Keith Rowley, the Leader of the Opposition, was a hindrance to his being elected Prime Minister of our republic.

I wrote recently about how we are constantly fooling ourselves about the facts underlying many of our pressing problems. In reaction to Hinds’ statement some want to deny that people are whispering about Dr Rowley’s colour, believing that an Afro-Trinidadian of dark complexion is not saleable politically to other citizens of lighter complexions or with “good” hair in the spectrum of shades and races that make up our diverse population.

Others even want to deny that there are discriminatory shade preferences when dealing with people and some persons are also saying that a discussion about skin colour preference is “race talk”.

I hold no brief for Dr Rowley’s political career. In fact I wrote in one of these columns in November 2013 that Dr Rowley needs fabric softener in the frontline of his campaign appearances. However I am absolutely satisfied that a discussion about skin colour is one that we need to have and that such a discussion is not “race talk”.

Preference for lighter complexions and prejudice against darker ones is a worldwide phenomenon and exists even among people of the same race. Who can truthfully deny that among Indo-Trinidadians lighter skins are favoured, particularly for the purpose of marriage and procreation?

Many years ago I remember a young Indo- Trinidadian professional whom I briefly mentored telling me of his experience in India when he travelled with his father who was considerably “darker” than him. He said that in checking into some hotels and dealing with some service establishments it was clear that he was welcome but his father was not.

Within the descendants of Africans in the diaspora the position is similar. Alice Walker, the well known African-American writer of The Colour Purple (made into a movie starring Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg) coined the term “colorism” to denote discrimination on the basis of skin colour and to differentiate this practice from racism.

Practices in advertising stand out as an example of dubious preferences. With rare exceptions, persons who might be described as “brownings” are the limit of Afro Trinidadian portrayal in advertising. At this time of the year I see a similar practice in Carnival photographs in media and magazines.

The fact is that Trinidad and Tobago is riddled with offensive complexion preferences that pervade the society in many things besides marriage and mating. We need to confront those preferences and level the playing field by reference to merit. The best way to start is with an open-minded assessment of whether we wish to associate with someone.

When I wrote about Dr Rowley’s need for fabric softener, I had in mind his sometime harsh speech delivery and former prime minister Mr Manning’s notorious depictions of him when they fell out. These depictions may yet rank as damaging as Chalkdust’s “Ah Fraid Karl” was to Karl Hudson-Phillips.

Shades of skin colour are not our only problems of shade. Shades of truth are damaging our institutions. One truth that is being shaded under an umbrella of silence is delay in delivery of judgments in the courts.

I have slowly been recovering from the shock of the resignation of retired Justice Ventour from the blighted Integrity Commission where he was deputy chairman and, as the qualified attorney, essential to the formation of a quorum to conduct the business of the commission.

I said at the time that it was an event which threatened institutional stability and left it at that in the expectation of an explanation from the President of the Republic and the Judiciary. None has been forthcoming.

Others have already asked the pertinent questions how this appointment to the commission could have responsibly been made or accepted if it was known, as it must have been, that the retired judge was likely to have to be re-sworn into office to deliver an outstanding judgment.

The enduring issue for me is the matter of outstanding judgments. It is not one that will just go away. I have already asked respectfully for a statement concerning all long outstanding judgments.

Now, as recently as last Friday, we learn of recent departures from the Bench not only by virtue of the mandatory retirement age, but to go to other pastures leaving judgments outstanding. We are entitled to know how many judgments have been left outstanding by the departees necessitating more one-day appointments, which sit uneasily with the public.

In keeping with the levity and satire of the season someone asked me whether a giraffe could be appointed to the Integrity Commission and I replied that an ostrich might be more suitable. I will leave it to the calypsonians to put in a verse or two on the subject in Skinner Park or the Big Yard.