THE EDITOR: The world will observe International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21. The theme this year is: Promoting tolerance, inclusion, unity and respect for diversity in the context of combating racial discrimination.
“Every person is entitled to human rights without discrimination. The rights to equality and non-discrimination are cornerstones of human rights law... racism, xenophobia and intolerance are problems prevalent in all societies, and discriminatory practices are widespread...” (UN).
Racism should be denounced in all its forms, eg individual, institutional, direct and indirect. There is only one race, the human race. Humanity exists as a single human family. Sadly, around the world, the issue of migration, the closure of borders, the building of walls and barriers and “ethnic cleansing” are all signs of “raw” racism.
We in TT must address racism in our own society more vigorously; build community and the common good; and live up to our anthem, ensuring that every creed and race finds an equal place.
Some of the judgments of TT’s Equal Opportunity Tribunal (tteot.org) on which I sit as a lay assessor highlight the fact that some individuals are treated less favourably in TT on the basis of race. The tribunal is a superior court of record.
For the many years that I lived in London, I was involved in the anti-racist struggle, eg as co-chair of Britain’s Anti-Racist Alliance. Ken Livingstone, former mayor of London, was the other co-chair. The struggle continues there, as it does in many parts of the world today. Being a dougla, I grew up having to combat racism which seems to be endemic in our society. Having returned to help build the country of my birth, I am saddened by the fact that this evil still exists here.
I recall that in 2015 I received an award for my work in the area of community development. The award was bestowed upon me by the NRI Institute in Delhi, India. On my return from India, I was in a public gathering with someone of Indian origin whom I thought was a good friend. She said loudly: “Ah hear yuh get an award in India. Like dey eh see yuh hair or what?”
Some years ago, on an occasion when my mother returned to TT from London, an immigration officer of African origin, on hearing that she had nothing to declare, looked at the form she had completed and asked her if her surname was really Ramdeen. After “scrutinising” her, he said: “Yuh doh look like ah Ramdeen; yuh look like ah John. Go on.” She said she wondered what he would have done if she had looked like a Ramdeen.
I share these incidents to remind us that we have a long way to go to promote inclusion and harmonious coexistence in our beloved country. Racism/racial discrimination is an affront to human dignity, hinders mutual understanding between peoples, and stands as an obstacle in the operation of principles of fairness. The UK journalist Kehinde Andrews is right. Countries must not focus only on individual racism but must root out endemic/systemic racism that leaves significant inequalities.
The media should play their part to raise public awareness about the scourges of racism, racial discrimination and their consequences. Are we happy with the daily diet provided by some radio talk show hosts? And do we agree with Daurius Figueira’s analysis in his book, The Politics of Racist Hegemony in TT?
Let’s do as Pope Francis has said and “overcome all forms of racism, of intolerance and of the instrumentalisation of the human person... We are called to live not as one without others, above or against others, but with and for others.”
Let’s unite against racism.
LEELA RAMDEEN, chair, CCSJ