Bukka Rennie

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Resist temptation to re-write history

24, Jun 2000
NEVER knew we attracted such readers, "high-falutin' enough" to be annoyed with our instinctive use of the first person plural in expressing our personal thoughts. My! My! My! The "royal we", as it was referred to in days of yore, is rather similar in concept to the Rastafarian "I and I" which over-rides all forms of "one-man-ism", as the Jamaicans would tell you.

There are few things this life has taught us, and taught us well. One is: there are three kinds of people who revel in the use of the "egotistical I" rather than the "royal we". They are - in order of social importance - the brutal dictator, the pseudo-intellectual and the comedian.

Of interest to many was the statement recently made by Professor Hilary Beckles at the Emancipation Support Committee's Kwame Ture Lecture Series. To the effect that the Afro-Trinidadians' belief in their dominant right to control the state was shaped by nationalistic history writers who projected the black narrative as the principal one; but that history had now to be reconstructed to include the narratives of all ethnic communities.

We wish, from the onset, to distance ourselves from that conception. We have to be concerned when people talk about "reconstructing history". History is what, in fact, has already happened. Usually dictators are the ones who reconstruct history to "big-up" themselves, to ascribe to themselves greater historic significance in order to hold on to power over others whom they consider to be lesser mortals.

It is enough, as a from of rebuttal, to simply state that history - as social process - leaves out nobody. The concept of "reconstruction" does not hold. It is a shallow approach, a myopic interpretation on the part of historians that some subjects may be overlooked or ignored altogether.

History is not only about what powerful people at the top do; such is the superman concept of history. It is more about the powerless and unfortunate at the bottom, who struggle to complete their lives and seek continuously to be whole. The masses, bringing their ever-growing consciousness to bear on circumstances before them, hoping thereby to fashion them to suit new demands. This is what history is all about.

Various human subjects enter at various points in the process, each bringing a particular agenda to the common table. It is what each generation does with the legacy left behind, providing a coherent logic to the ongoing struggle for freedom. Lecturers like Professor Beckles need to be very careful with constructs which may give people a misleading view of themselves.

According to Professor Beckles, African narrative of the master/slave, black/white dichotomy had been the principal story in the Caribbean - for well on 300 years - before other human subjects entered the picture. That is fact and cannot be reconstructed. What is necessary is that the logic of that narrative be extrapolated and applied to the newer narratives so all Caribbean humanity, without exception, is united in the quest for completeness.

Likewise, it is not merely that Afro-Trinidadians feel they have a dominant right to control the State because of the writings of nationalists in the past. Their dominance within the State machinery is an objective fact, a legacy of colonialism.

As we said in the recent columns on the African/Indian question and in the replies to Quan Soon, colonial capital divided and ruled the population by confining Africans to salaried state employment; confining them to urban, landless existence, thereby increasing their dependency on and closeness to State power.

On the other hand, Indians were bonded to sugar plantations and a rural existence, and, after indentureship, were allowed to develop independent economic means as peasant owners and tenants on small plots - though estranged from the citadels of political power. Colonial subjects were allowed to possess one or the other, but never both: never independent economic means and political clout.

It is only natural that people's consciousness and view of the world would derive from socio-economic activities in which they engage, and they would use whatever they were allowed to possess historically as an advantage and basis upon which to launch further struggle for their development.

It is therefore not surprising - with the expansion of modern capitalism in T&T after Independence and the explosions of 1970, and the thrust of the State into the economy - that Afro-Trinidadians would by necessity be the large majority of State bureaucrats wielding, managing and defending State capital, while Indo-Trinidadians would likewise form the largest group of private small and medium capital owner and commercial traders.

The point is what have they each accomplished, in the interest of the nation, as a whole: starting off from their various areas of dominance?

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