What has happened?


THE PRIME MINISTER said a few days ago that “African people [in TT] are not doing as well as we expected or as well as we might.” He was being unusually diplomatic.

The cold fact is that, on the whole, we blacks are a long way down from where we used to be. (Unless, of course, you factor in gangs, domestic and school violence, drive-by murders, drug- and gun-running, human trafficking, etc, in which case we’re doing extraordinarily well.)

There are exceptions, of course – the three top posts in the country, athletes, culture specialists, some entrepreneurs and managers, an occasional scholar – but, overall, our decline has been palpable.

What has happened? Decades ago, black professionals – in health, law, education etc – were everywhere to be found. Black artisans and small businessmen, too: east Port of Spain, now a bullet-infested hotspot, housed shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, etc. What has happened?

I suggest you begin by reading Sharks and Sardines: Blacks in Business by Selwyn Ryan and Lou-Anne Barclay, published in 1992. What, for instance, have been the continuing developmental benefits to blacks of 1970?

What has happened to black family and community life, and to values? We hear that the gang has now replaced the traditional family as the place for young people, particularly young men, to find comfort and acceptance. If true, why is this so?

Minister Fitzgerald Hinds has been speaking about a failure of the mindset. But, if so, why has the mindset failed? Have party politics, and the accretion of power at the top, played any part in this? Has a syndrome of dependence been created and encouraged, and flourishing? Have too many black minds been conditioned not to develop potential but rather to rely, from one generation to the next, on state handouts, either CEPEP and URP employment or large government contracts?

And if, as has been reported, intra-gang warfare is now taking place because younger gang members want to oust their elders and take over operations, what does that say about this surrogate “family” we are told has replaced the traditional one? If members of the same gang are killing one another, how do we now interpret the concept of “family?”

Also, why have blacks so significantly fallen behind in education? My parents’ generation drummed into our heads that education was the way to success; their parents had done the same with them. Gypsy sang about the little black boy more than 20 years ago; before him, Sparrow had urged the centrality of education.

They have both been ignored: I now read a 2016 report that of 78 primary schools throughout the country on academic watch, 48 are in Port of Spain and St George East, and six in Tobago. Who in general comprises the student bodies at those schools? What has happened? And if that’s what taking place at the primary level, what of beyond?

And let me be perfectly blunt: we blacks spend too much time and effort blaming one another and others for our deterioration. Particular condescension is reserved for those of Indian origin (who reciprocate the sentiment); they are held to be all untrustworthy and thieving. Blacks are, I suppose, all honourable. But while we sneer and grumble, the others have been climbing above us.

What are blacks doing to stop our decline and lift ourselves? When will we understand that we have primary responsibility for our condition, and that we must shoulder that responsibility and not leave everything to God, CEPEP and a Glock .45? Or fall back on the easy faux-historical excuse of “the legacy of slavery,” without a clue – since we know virtually nothing of our history – about what that legacy really is?

If a society, any society, is to make genuine progress, it must be inclusive. TT is increasingly, and worryingly, divided along race, income, class, and regional lines, and by a toxic combination of all those elements. (Think also of the number of our colonial-minded citizens, blacks among them, so unhappy at being “dark” they eagerly prop up the skin-lightening cream and lotion sector. Emancipation? From what?) Yet every group in our country, for different reasons, considers itself second-class and not entirely accepted by the others.

I’ve often said that this society has never faced itself, preferring to parrot absurd shibboleths like “all ah we is one” and “we rainbow country.” We make a virtue of concentrating on the superficial, on party affiliation (and its implications) instead of the national interest, on personality and group rather than principle, on effects over causes; emotion defeats thought as a matter of course.

Where is this taking us? What is happening? What, if anything, are we doing about it?


"What has happened?"

More in this section