INSTEAD of being used to build pride in our diversity, race is being used, it seems, to divide and take us back. This week alone, an offensive recording circulated on social media. Then came the odious remarks of Sat Maharaj. When will it end?
Race is part and parcel of our society. History has shaped us. Slavery and indentureship went alongside colonial processes that saw migrants from all over the world come here.
“The population of the island is an extravagantly improbable hotchpotch of Negro, Hindu, Chinese, and European,” wrote the great British novelist Aldous Huxley of Trinidad in 1934, two years after publishing his masterpiece Brave New World. “There are constant opportunities for the clash of conflicting traditions and ways of life, for endless permutations and combinations of race hatreds and contempts, of envies and sycophancies, of bullyings and inferiority complexes and pathetically swaggering over-compensations.”
This is the perspective of a foreigner, yet its insight is unassailable.
We condemn in the strongest possible terms Maharaj’s statements, which not only insult his intended targets but also bring his community into disrepute. Too often people use their pulpits to make irresponsible remarks. Such people sometimes recover by issuing trite apologies. The problem is, as Buju Banton discovered after apologising for his grossly homophobic song lyrics years ago, the taint remains. So does the damage.
In this instance, a mere apology may not be enough. At the same time, we condemn the statements of Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke who has called for a campaign of hate. Such a position is reckless in the extreme and would lead us down the road to a racial war.
As for the call from Tobago West MP Shamfa Cudjoe who has asked Maharaj to shut up, we note she is within her rights to issue such a call given the destructive and potentially unsettling impact of the racial rhetoric being used. However, the repeated instances of racial rhetoric over time suggest the need for a mature conversation about race.
There is a clear distinction between talking about race and being racist. Instead of people engaging in the latter conduct, perhaps we should be fostering more productive forums for discussion.
One such forum is the upcoming NGC Bocas Lit Fest where We Mark Your Memory, an anthology of writings published to coincide with the centenary of the abolition of indentureship, will be featured. A special conversation on this book takes place on May 1, followed by the Caribbean debut of New Daughters of Africa, a follow-up to the pioneering anthology of writings from the diaspora edited by Margaret Busby.
These kinds of events encourage the sharing of stories. They do so by acknowledging differences, yes, but in a way that celebrates what we have in common. They look forward instead of taking us backward.