'Leaders must lead when it comes to race relations' – Paula-Mae shocked at racism on social media

Former President Paula-Mae Weekes. -
Former President Paula-Mae Weekes. -

FORMER President Paula-Mae Weekes spoke candidly on TT’s use of social media, saying many of the comments she saw were racially biased.

She spoke in a pre-recorded interview aired on Sunday on i95.5 FM’s Eye on Dependency programme.

In Sunday’s programme, interviewer Garth St Clair asked Weekes if she felt TT’s race relations would get better any time soon, to which she replied it would get better if leaders in every sphere educate, guide, lead and set proper examples for those who follow and listen to them.

She described those at the top as not only politicians but also media personalities.

Weekes said that during her five years in office, she paid very close attention to social media platform, Facebook.

“I don’t think I am different from any responsible citizen from being absolutely appalled at what plays out in social media on a racial basis,” she said.

Weekes said she accepts that there were many decisions and pronouncements she made as President that could be subject to scrutiny, discussion and disagreement. “But sometimes when you look at the comments (on social media) they are so racially biased!”

She cited one commenter on the Office of the President’s page and although one could not know who it truly was, because it was just a name, that name was of East Indian heritage.

Weekes said she “laughed and laughed and laughed,” when there was a string of appointments of people of African heritage and that person on social media kept commenting on it.

The user's comments seemed to imply, “Well, it is only African people you are appointing,” she said.

Weekes added that when there was the appointment of an East Indian man, she wanted to see what the social media user would make of this development. Weekes revealed it was a reappointment.

The (social media) commenter then said it was “only a set of old people who done do that already that you are putting them again. Why can’t you put someone new?” Weekes said it was clear the office could not satisfy that particular individual.

“Some of the comments are so abusive. Even if you don’t agree with the point or decision, that’s fine. But why do you need to be abusive and then why is your abuse in racist terms? You can just disagree with the principle and that’s that.

“I think social media has given people an opportunity to express themselves and I think it is something that feeds on itself.

“Sometimes it is not really what you are feeling, it is not what you do day-to-day, but you just like the idea that you can fire off any kind of ignorant, abusive idea under the anonymity of social media and so you do it,” she said.

She said people were feeling empowered by the ability to communicate with the world at large and this was very sad.

“Once we remain polarised like that then we cannot come together to achieve anything and there are many things, if we don’t come together, we will not achieve them,” she said.

“They cannot be achieved in two separate silos and I don’t know that our leaders, and leaders in so many different spheres, not only political leaders, are just not seeming to understand that.”

She said one did not need a crystal ball to tell, if TT continues down this road, things would not end well.

The host asked if this was so after elections but Weekes asked to agree and then disagree. She said the racist comments did not subside after the last election, as was previously the usual pattern – “and that is what is frightening.”

During the interview, Weekes also discussed her plans post-presidency saying she looks forward to travelling once again, working on her orchid garden, judicial and legal education and training, and freedom of movement.

Weekes said she will soon be going to Outer Mongolia with a friend.

She said she came out of retirement to serve as the sixth President and had set things up for that retirement to which she hopes to now return.


"‘Leaders must lead when it comes to race relations’ – Paula-Mae shocked at racism on social media"

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