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Friday 24 May 2019
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The race to the bottom

PAOLO KERNAHAN
PAOLO KERNAHAN

PAOLO KERNAHAN

AN AUDIO recording of a purported irate customer belching racist obscenities at a customer service representative reopened a fissure across the country. If you haven’t heard the clip, it was rife with putrid racist epithets hurled at the Prime Minister and Afro-Trinis in general.

Predictably, there was no shortage of commentary appointing the offending caller as a spokesperson for her entire race. “We all know that is how THEY think,” read one comment on a Facebook thread. The funny thing about these Facebook threads is people armed with baked-in ignorance keep pulling and pulling on them until all common sense unravels completely.

“Well that’s it, I’m never going to Debe to eat doubles again!” said another denizen of the Facebook habitat...because the woman in the voice recording is a Debe resident...because everyone in Debe is somehow connected to the racist individual, either through familial ties or six degrees of separation...because doubles is racist...

Think this is just being silly? Here’s another post from the same person who isolated the racist scourge to Debe: “Every doubles stand needs to put up a disclaimer stating, ‘We are not racists. We embrace all ethnicities here.’” Fair enough. The regional corporations could probably handle the enforcement of such disclaimers on each doubles box. Future rollouts can be considered for roti shops.

While the Facebook posse writhed in a blow-up pool filled with fulminations and reverse racism, Prime Minister Rowley responded in a more measured tone, even if it fell short. Regarding the offensive audio clip, the Prime Minister encouraged the public to reject all manifestations of racism. His tone was very nearly prime ministerial.

It would have been great if Dr Rowley had jumped, with similar alacrity, on offensive statements of his own ministers and one PNM activist in particular. Their remarks nakedly trade in racist stereotypes targeting Indo-Trinis as well as Afro-Trini supporters of the UNC.

Even though there was widespread condemnation of the statements made by those associated with the Government and PNM, it may have escaped the attention of the PM. Given his interest in repudiating all forms of racism, Rowley can still take action on racial prejudice within his own party.

And then there was Sat. In an astonishing feat of sweeping generalisations, the Maha Sabha head cast all Tobagonians as layabout, crab and goat racing and white-women robbin’ and rapin’ ne’er-do-wells. Gut-punch vile and divisive, Sat Maharaj measured all Tobagonians against the actions of a few individuals. Sounds familiar?

At any rate, such ramblings from Sat are to be expected. Being offended by anything he says is the same as being surprised at getting stung by a scorpion.

Still, everyone was horrified and reacted, each according to his ability. Minority Leader in the THA Watson Duke threatened a hate campaign against Maharaj...because hate, didn’t you know, is the most effective purgative against hate.

For Duke, however, it’s probably nice to hand over the “most reviled” championship belt, albeit temporarily.

The Prime Minister’s clapback was the most interesting of all. Rowley threw off all prime ministerial decorum, lit the camphor and jumped into the gayelle with Sat. At a political meeting, the PNM leader regrettably weaponised the issue of race, and in the run-up to the local government and general elections no less.

“...This obsession with naming black people as rapists and run by their pelvis is not for 2019!” Rowley went on to further address the remarks, “...and this country accepts that because it is Sat. If I had said that about anybody in this country, everybody else would have known how to respond to that.”

The PNM political leader told the gathering the country accepted what Sat said. This wasn’t true. In fact, many people, including pundits and prominent members of the East Indian community, came forward and unreservedly condemned Sat Maharaj, with at least one pundit calling for him to step down from the Maha Sabha.

The Prime Minister should also know it isn’t the responsibility of any group in society to condemn Sat Maharaj any more than it is the responsibility of all Muslims to condemn ISIS. All politicians must eschew the divisive politics that further foment racism in society.

Ultimately, neither Sat nor some Zee TV fanatic is the problem; they’re just the symptom. Demonising whole communities, religions and races for the actions and offensive words of a few only wins us a race to the bottom. The trophy at that finish line isn’t something any of us would like to hold

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