Into the heart of darkness

Paolo Kernahan -
Paolo Kernahan -

IF YOU look deeply enough into the heart of darkness, you might just see yourself looking back.

In September 2015, I wrote a column titled Heart of Darkness about the racist vitriol that erupted shortly after that general election. Five years later, just days after the 2020 general election, I find myself writing a follow-up that mirrors my 2015 commentary.

The percolating troubled race relations we see in TT today is the dividend of investments politicians have made in sowing divisions among the population to make us conquerable and pliable. To be clear, Trini politicians didn't make us racist, they merely weaponised pre-existing prejudices and cultural stereotypes. Racism, like a desert flower, just needs a tincture of moisture to blossom. Our political culture is more than happy to pitch in.

If the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing us he doesn't exist, then the greatest lie ever told is that racism is the preserve of one group or one political party in TT. Naila Ramsaran, human-being-turned-lightning rod, allowed the country a peek into her heart of darkness with a vile outburst of racist vitriol.

Reactions were swift and brutal. The Ramsaran beverage business was swept up in the tidal wave of the wildly popular cancel culture. When the family issued a response stating that Naila Ramsaran's opinions don't represent the views or values of the company, there was collective scoffing online.

"Dem only saying dat now, but that is how they does think all the time.”

The Ramsaran controversy prompted seemingly rational people to wonder aloud whether that's how all of “them” (read as Indo-Trinis) think about Afro-Trinis. Suddenly, friendships and work relationships were thrown into doubt as people abandoned the facade of intelligence and reason and embraced the idea that Naila Ramsaran reflects the unspoken thoughts of all East Indians – a racist hive mind.

Prior to the 2020 general election, many voices online described the UNC as a racist party. One Facebook poster, in response to UNC campaign ads interpreted as racist against Afro-Trinis, said, “I, for one, will be going out to vote and do the right thing.”

The “right thing” is now associated with voting PNM. As a campaign strategy, the greatest trick the PNM ever pulled was convincing people the UNC is the party of racism and iniquity, and the PNM is the party of morality, integrity and racial amity. As such, many are convinced racist attitudes can only be found in the UNC and among UNC supporters. This misguided belief conveniently eclipses the overt racism and activation of racist tropes by the PNM.

When Tobago assemblyman Hilton Sandy told supporters at a political meeting several years ago, "The Calcutta ship is coming down for you," the public outcry was almost entirely one-sided. MP for Laventille West Fitzgerald Hinds said "all dem is alligators from the same murky lagoon!” on a political platform. Again, the public condemnation was one-sided.

When the PNM put on a skit depicting an Indian woman being stripped of her sari by people in gorilla costumes (racist and offensive on multiple levels), condemnation came mainly from Indo-Trinis. Stuart Young, at the time, described the skit as "only a bit of fun.” Minister of Works Rohan Sinanan said, “Not all East Indians in politics are thieves." He implied most of the honest ones can be found in the PNM. That too passed without much comment – maybe because it sounded like Indian-on-Indian racism, so let dem sort that out.

When the PNM political leader said in a media interview just one day after the general election that the vote recount requested by the UNC has an ethnic flavour to it, few questioned what “ethnic flavour” he was referring to. The question must be asked, was Dr Rowley as PM injecting calm, wisdom and reason into an already racially-charged situation? A vote recount is part of the democratic process which the PNM itself used in 2010 and 2019. The righteous brigade did not light their torches for all the examples listed above.

In TT, we have mastered the art of selective outrage. Unless we face the truth that racism isn't endemic to one political party or race, we can't even begin to loosen its grip on our future. We will be making this journey into the heart of darkness over the next five years, culminating in another orgy of racial animus in 2025.


"Into the heart of darkness"

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