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Sunday 25 August 2019
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Racism, police and picnics

ROBERT GREENE

THE RECENT outbursts of racism and vitriol in our country should come as no surprise to citizens of African descent. There is ample evidence that we have long been hated by some of our fellow citizens.

Additionally, local and international news reports are replete with instances of negative stereotyping, violence, and actions spurned by abject ignorance and unjustified disdain towards individuals who simply have more melanin than their fellow human beings.

As such I would pose two simple questions to members of my race, as well as the racists we have to contend with: Can you imagine what “blacks” would be able to accomplish if our energy is used to fulfil our potentials instead of wasted on defending our ethnicity? Is it possible that our quest for success is being stymied because “others” fear our collective potential?

Undeniably, in spite of the history of slavery and perpetual discrimination, dark-skinned descendants of Africa have made advances in many aspects of life including: sports, medicine, business, academia, politics, and entertainment, to name a few.

So what exactly does racism have to do with the police and picnics?

During the Christmas vacation I decided to take a few days off from work to spend time with my seven-year-old daughter. For some time, she expressed the desire to have a picnic and to explore nature. Living in central, I decided it would be best to visit a recreation ground in Cunupia.

We arrived just before 5 pm, armed with her digital camera, a clipboard and a picnic basket. We then proceeded to explore the bank of a small river running next to the field and took pictures of different plants and animals.

While there, an elderly Indo-Trinidadian man found it his business to ask what we were doing. Based on my ability to exercise patience and restraint, I calmly explained that we were exploring. He then informed me that he just wanted to make sure the child was safe.

After exploring we moved to the middle of the field, spread a blanket on the ground and started having our picnic. About ten minutes later I noticed two policemen hastily walking in our direction. They approached me and asked for ID. When I asked about the reason for their visit, one officer explained that they received a call that a suspicious man was seen with a little girl on the field. They also asked my daughter if I was her father.

I must admit the police were polite and respectful, and I am happy that we were in Trinidad as opposed to the US (where it seems acceptable for the police to shoot black men first and then ask questions).

So what does this experience really indicate? First off, had I been a man of East Indian-descent performing a puja with his daughter near the river or a white man simply exploring nature with his child, I am 1,000 per cent positive that this act of fatherly recklessness would not have raised suspicion.

Could it be that the sight of an Afro-Trinidadian having a picnic with his daughter was so shocking and disconcerting that it merited police intervention? By checking if the girl was safe, does it imply that black men – must by necessity – pose a threat to young girls, so much so that I couldn’t be her father but a kidnapper who was so stupid to take his captive on a picnic? (Data on paedophilic and incestuous behaviour by race may help to debunk or confirm any suspicions.)

It is this hatred, ignorance and foolishness that pervades the minds of some of our fellow citizens and promotes stereotyping and irrational thoughts. This is why someone could read a few newspapers and come to conclusions about all Tobagonian men as if these thoughts were newly acquired, and another can be so upset when having to watch individuals of a “dirty race” invade their television screen.

So as members of the African diaspora, should we be surprised or feel hurt about racism, or should we have hope that it would ever change? I think not! The worst part of this experience was having to explain to my seven-year-old that she must be prepared to face racism and sexism throughout her life.

Sadly, the racism we face (both explicit and implicit), is the exact reason why TT would never, I repeat never, meet its fullest potential.

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