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Sat Maharaj's Intellectual Blindness

September 17, 2001
By Selwyn R. Cudjoe

At this point, I will not respond to Sat Maharaj's attack upon me (Trinidad Guardian, September 15) except to point out obvious flaws in his analysis and to advance a few observations. Drawing on the great Talmudist, Saul Lieberman, it is important to note that "Nonsense (when it is all said and done) is still nonsense. But the study of nonsense, that is science." Such an insight suggests that part of the problem with the stupidity that some persons offer as irrefutable truth is that they never take the time to interrogate the parrot-like simplicity of their utterances. This is the only reason why Maharaj could write such unpurgative nonsense about the work I do amongst Afro-Trinidadians and not feel he has insulted the African community.

In his highly inflamed column, Maharaj writes: "Selwyn Cudjoe never tires of stereotyping 'Indians' to help his political ambitions. Recently a radio station alleged that he said Indians always think of themselves as Indians first and Trinidadians after, while Africans never thinks of themselves as Africans and this explains why Indians support each other. They succeed in business while the Africans look for government jobs, claimed the expatriate academic." Expatriate academics, I suspect, have nothing valuable to offer to communities such as T&T.

What is so mind-boggling about this article is that Maharaj bases his entire argument on a third hand source without any qualification, emendation or contexualization. It is not important to find out what I said. Instead, he is content to generalize from what it is alleged I have said. On this basis, he alerts those who may be "wrongly influenced" by my views that Indians are not "united in a great conspiracy against Cudjoe's Africans." It does not seem to bother Maharaj that it is intellectually tricky to make an inference from an alleged statement that is not contextualized. Yet, his verbal gymnastics continue: Cudjoe "mistakes the Hindu's loyalty to his religion for loyalty to India. He mistakes devotion to dharma (duty), the desire that our children marry Hindus and observe our holy days, as showing that we are Indians and not citizens of T&T." He concludes: "Cudjoe has not produced a single successful project to changing (sic) the culture of Afro-Trinidadians. It is family values, not racist stereotyping, which explains the success of immigrant communities across the world. There is not a single Cudjoe school or scholarship; not a home for the poor of (sic) the destitute. With all his university and other contacts worldwide, Cudjoe's only hope for a leadership role in T&T seems to be create conflict and disunity between Indo- and Afro-Trinidadians."

If Maharaj is serious about these charges, he will have to demonstrate a more sophisticated analytical approach to his subject matter. No one can seriously discuss the matters he raises without seeking to understand when Indians or Africans became Trinbagonians (Benedict Anderson "Imagined Communities" may have been helpful here); how identities are formed (Stuart Hall, "The Question of Identity," is useful in this regard); or how traditions themselves are invented to feed national needs. In this regard, Eric Hobswawm and Terrence Ranger's "The Invention of Tradition" may serve as a guide. Nor, does it help to repeat, parrot-like, theories about Indian family values and delayed gratification strategies with the implicit assumptions that Africans lack these values which presumably accounts for our debased or detestable state. This is just another variation of Maharaj's indictment that when Indians are beating books, Africans are beating pans.

In everything he has written on the subject, Maharaj seems to suggest that if only Cudjoe and NAEAP did not intervene there would be no "conflict and disunity between Indo- and Afro-Trinidadians." He does not seem to understand that societies are dynamic entities that are always sorting out their ethnic, religious, social and/or cultural differences. Rather than accept various myths of origins as unchallenged markers of one's being-in-this world, wouldn't it be better to explore the historical and cultural soil to determine how we became who we are and in what ways we can assist one another in becoming conscious Trinbagonians, aware of our strengths and weakness; our virtues and our shortcomings; our beauty and our truths.

At this juncture in our history, it is better to undertake a systematic analysis of our national condition than it is to paint Cudjoe with a racist brush. Fortunately, my book, Afro-Trinbagonians: No Longer Blinded by Our Eyes will be available to the public next month. Trinbagonians will make a decision about my analysis of events and where NAEAP stands on the questions Maharaj raises. Then, I would be willing to engage Maharaj or any of his agents in a public debate about the matters he has raised even at the Maha Sabha headquarters. As indigenous academics that possess a comprehensive knowledge of our society, he and his companions should have no problem in accepting this challenge.

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