OPPOSITION LEADER Kamla Persad-Bissessar is now under fire after referring to Camille Robinson-Regis’ name as that of a slave master.
At a UNC meeting in Princes Town on Thursday night, Persad-Bissessar responded to Robinson-Regis’s calling her entire name at a political rally in Arima nine days earlier.
“Stop calling my name! What you so vex about my name for? This lady went on a platform last week and three or four times 'Kamla Susheila Persad-Bissessar.' Isn’t that a beautiful name? What problem you have with my name? Camille, at least I have a name from my ancestors, where you got yours from? Your name is that of a slave master.”
UNC’s public relations officer Kirk Meighoo said the statement by Persad-Bissessar was not racist, but her expressing her love for her heritage, as everyone should.
In a media release on Friday the PNM’s women league said the statement promoted xenophobia. The league, chaired by Robinson-Regis, said “The National Women’s League condemns what appears to be blatant race-baiting. The Opposition Leader is neither a historian nor a geneticist. To deem Mrs Robinson-Regis’s name as a slave master’s name is xenophobic.
“Mocking not only our African ancestors’ survival of the brutality of chattel slavery but also denigrating their advancement beyond it, their individual accomplishments, and their achievements are no less than other races and ethnicities.”
UNC PRO Kirk Meighoo said the statement by the Opposition Leader is a "bitter truth" but is not racist. He said the response that it was racist or has a racial undertone is the PNM’s default defence whenever it has no response to its shortcomings being pointed out. He added that when Robinson-Regis "ridiculed" Persad-Bissessar’s name there was no uproar or condemnation.
“The raising of that issue was in the context that everyone should be proud of their names, should be proud of their ancestry. We came from the greatest countries on the planet, the greatest civilisations. People should not be made fun of for retaining their ancestry.”
Meighoo said those who poke fun at Persad-Bissessar’s name will also make fun of those of African descent who reclaim their African heritage. He said Persad-Bissessar “took great offence” at her name being "ridiculed."
“They believe that the white, Christian, English civilisation and names are better. They sincerely believe that and they believe that the Africans and the Indians are backward peoples and backward cultures and backward religions. So you know, this kind of colonial mentality really needs to stop.”
He said after 177 years of East Indians in the country, the descendants of those who had their names stolen from them, used the fact that they had their slave master’s name to try to ridicule others and have a sense of superiority.
Persad-Bissessar’s statement also raised the ire of economist Marla Dukaran, who created a petition calling for the removal of the Opposition Leader. At 6.30 pm the petition had 170 signatures and was hoping to reach 200.
In creating the petition Dukaran said “Racism has NO PLACE in our country, "where every creed and race finds an equal place." She needs to go. And everyone who shares her racist views need to get a clear message that this behaviour will not be tolerated in Trinidad and Tobago. It ends now.”
Also commenting on the issue was the Emancipation Support Committee, which called for unity and not divisiveness. In a statement to Newsday, the committee said it could not find what in Robinson-Regis repeating Persad-Bissessar’s name triggered such a response.
“In an environment of racial division and sensitivities forged in the cauldron of colonial divide and rule, it is advisable that highly sensitive cultural issues not be reduced to political jabs by persons who are seen as leaders, and more so when they are seen as leaders of ethnic groups.
The statement added that the country’s multi-ethnic society is “perhaps too accustomed”to racial and cultural innuendos that hurt the two majority groups. Leaders, it said, tasked with representing all of society, “must take due care and responsibility in their utterances.”