Demolish, renovate

Photo courtesy Pixabay
Photo courtesy Pixabay

IT IS good to reconsider our public memorials in light of the scrutiny inspired by the global Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. It is also important to address the need to decolonise our public institutions, our laws and our society.

Unlike the US and UK, you might be hard-pressed to find flagrant examples of public venerations of slavers or racists. That is, until you remember we have a penchant for putting Christopher Columbus on a pedestal, be it at Independence Square or Moruga.

Since 2017, the Port of Spain statue has been the subject of contention. If, this time around, the authorities refuse to acknowledge the shifting sands, they risk finding themselves on the wrong side of history.

Columbus is a symbol of how racist colonial processes paved the way for genocide, slavery and, later, indenture.

But we should look further. What about place names tied to questionable historical figures?

Governor Ralph Woodford’s legacy is not just Woodford Square. It is also his adverse disposition to the rights of black people during his tenure. While his position on First Peoples was different, is Woodford Square not worth reconsidering?

These issues have admittedly been raised in the past, if only briefly.

When Bob Marley said (quoting Marcus Garvey) “emancipate yourself from mental slavery,” he touched on a chord political thinkers have long acknowledged. While our former colonial masters have moved on, reforming their societies and institutions, we have held fast to values and practices they have spurned.

A crowning example is our Parliament, which models itself after Westminster. We need a House of Representatives to have a functioning democracy.

But with all due respect to senators, what is the point of a system with two separate chambers other than to mimic the bicameralism of the UK parliament –which has long watered down the power of the Lords? The 1974 Wooding Commission saw no need for a senate.

Similarly, why have we held on to colonial-era laws? Why do we still have statutes on sedition, homophobic codes (relating to sexual offences, immigration), and backward-looking libel provisions? These matters are still troubling the courts six decades after independence.

As we strive to move forward, some attempts have been made to honor our icons. In Port of Spain alone you will find statues of Brian Lara, Sparrow, Lord Kitchener and Captain Cipriani. These are important. But are they substitutes for interventions that might help educate new generations?

Just as racism will not end with the removal of statues, we cannot expect cosmetic change to bring about the deeper renovation, the decolonisation we still need.


"Demolish, renovate"

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