This is a time for reflection. Some 52 years on, we are yet to fulfil the Independence dream of weaving the diverse strands that constitute Trinidad and Tobago into a cohesive nation state.
It saddens, and deeply troubles too, how easily we descend to tribal ascription to pigeon-hole individuals, opinions and actions that are different from ours; perpetuating the “them vs us” syndrome.
We are a land of many tribes, identifiable by class, colour, creed, ethnicity, employment status, politics, geography and the list goes on. Some are more rigidly defined than others.
Not unexpectedly, a remarkable fluidity exists across lines which sometimes confuses, making it impossible at times to categorise individuals.
In low-trust societies, we take the easy way out by making simplistic assumptions of people’s loyalties, unthinkingly playing into the hands of fundamentalists, the self-appointed guardians of the tribes. All Afro-lookers are PNM, Indo-types are definitely UNC; and so we stereotype individuals, fuel suspicions about motives and create social distance across tribes. A dangerous national pastime!
However Trinidad and Tobago is viewed, rainbow country or tossed salad, diversity is here to stay. It is in our self interest to understand this phenomenon and be cognizant of its effects on our lives. It is critical, too, that we move far beyond mere tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained in each of us and the country.
In this pre-election season, we must be especially on the alert for those activists and self-described leaders, political, religious or other, claiming to speak on behalf of whole communities. Too many are bigots who believe there is no diversity of opinion or world view within the tribe, which, in their view, is vulnerable without their watchful intervention. In their arrogance, they assert that they alone have the wisdom and knowledge to determine what whole communities think! These dangerous, unscrupulous individuals exploit societal differences and prey upon ignorance to foment discord, incite conflict and skew and manipulate information, generating fear and suspicion and deepening the tribal divide.
We citizens must respond with intelligence and vigilance. Refusing to cede control of our thinking to others, we must apply knowledge and information to open closed minds and neutralise the toxic distrust of differentness. We destroy the bogey of discrimination, and actively promote diversity, not merely by supporting ritualistic observances of the major tribes, but by broader national policy and action and individual initiatives aimed at liberating ourselves from ignorance and seeking understanding. It then becomes much easier to respect and accept “others”.
Winston R Rudder