Sunday, December 17, 2017

A case of enriching Tobago's culture

Selwyn Ryan's article in the Sunday Express of January 13 was enjoyable and very thought-provoking.

I concede that as a sociologist and social anthropologist, he would harbour a bias toward behavioral classification. Having said this, however, I am ever given to asking why do we persist in attempting to "categorise" people? What makes John an Afro-Trinidadian and Paul an Indo-Trinidadian?

Dr Ryan in a previous article (May 14, 2011) described himself as "someone who finds it necessary to classify groups in order to comment on their behaviours". That statement borders on an admission of ethnic profiling or stereotyping.

People in their group setting are influenced by group norms. How an individual will respond in a given situation cannot be predicted based on the group to which he/she belongs. To predicate an individual's anticipated response to a given situation, based on an analysis of "group" characteristics constitutes a form of generalisation that harbours seeds of bigotry. Dr Ryan in his recent article asked whether Mr Sandy's comment was "informed by vulgar racism, exuberant platform picong or a clever (by half) attempt to change a game that until then was not going well?" Clearly it was inspired by the last consideration. The issue is whether it was picong or vulgar racism.

Clearly Mr Sandy was comfortable with his utterance within his company at the time. He would never have uttered those words if his group contained an Indian presence or if he were in Chaguanas or Barrackpore.

Dr Ryan compounds the offence by raising Mr London's equally self-incriminating question: "who is or is not a Tobagonian?" In essence, Dr Ryan has ironically pointed to existing xenophobic inclinations among Tobagonians by portraying them as wishing to maintain the "purity" of the Tobago village identity, by his inference that the intrusion of an alien culture would somehow diminish its pristine nature.

I should think that Tobago's culture would be enriched should they embrace the good that another culture brings while rejecting the bad. I am confident that the wonderful people of Tobago are discerning enough to do this. after all, is this not how they have treated with the frequent sailings from Port of Spain?

Steve Smith

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