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Mixing Metaphors and Ideas

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
Posted: August 15, 2004

In a recent article, "No Place For Affirmative Action" (Trinidad Guardian, August 8), Ms. Seetahal attempts to refute remarks I made at NAEAP's Annual Emancipation Dinner without even quoting one word of my Address. In a muddle-headed piece, Grant intones: my "field work enjoys the endorsement by the ruling PNM and effective subsidy by the Central Bank." What in the world such a statement can mean is beyond me? However, the national discourse on racial relations would have been advanced if either of them responded to what I wrote rather than engage in character assassination and the distortion of my views (See Trinidad Express, August 9, for an excerpt of my "Emancipation Address," 2004).

The substance of Ms. Seetahal's case against me reads as follows: we borrow foreign concepts such as affirmative action; since Afro-Trinbagonians consist of forty percent of the population we should not band together as a group. Any demand on the part of Afro-Trinbagonians for "affirmative action" suggests that someone has conspired to keep us down and belittles our achievements. It suggests that "we cannot measure up" and somehow denies Ms Seetahal her hard won gains as lawyer, teacher and senator, hence her un-reasoned, emotional outburst: the call for affirmative action "is an insult also to all other people in T&T (including me) who have worked hard and made sacrifices to get ahead, but in respect of whom it is being implicitly suggested were somehow favoured in obtaining admission to schools, in how we were treated in schools and in selection for jobs."

I am sure that Ms. Seetahal has much disdain for my "dubious rantings" and sufficient evident to prove my "suspicious agenda." However, I am sure that this debate would be advanced if Ms. Seetahal and Mr. Grant respond to the following points publicly:

a) Do they agree that if the present trends in education continue, particularly with the concentration of Indians at UWI, IOB and TTIT, that there is a danger that Afro-Trinbagonians can find themselves, as Tony Fraser contends, "in a permanent position of dispossession and second-class status?" If not, how do they interpret the present trends in education and their likely outcomes?

b) Do Ms. Seetahal and Mr. Grant support the proposition that there should be equality of employment both in the public and private sectors of the economy and do they subscribe to a position that "any firm or factory where more than ten employees are employed not more than five of them can be of the same race?" If not, how do they propose that we, as a society, plan for the creation of two separate societies that are emerging in terms of employment practices over the next eight years?

c) Since the trend throughout the world is to cut back on public services and since the Trinidad and Tobago government plans to reduce the public sector as a source of direct employment generation; and since Afro-Trinbagonians, in the main, have relied on the public sector; how do Ms. Seetahal and Mr. Grant propose that we deal with this challenge, particularly as if affects Afro-Trinbagonians;

d) Since, as much as one quarter of the one quarter trillion dollars in revenues (a conservative estimate) are likely to pass through the hands of our government over the next eight years and approximately one quarter of that is expected to be at the disposal of the private enterprise; and private enterprise is likely to be a major source of employment; and private employers are likely to favor their own in terms of employment; is it reasonably to expect that Afro-Trinbagonians will be left out of the economic boom and are likely to receive a disproportionate return from these monies that will be at the disposal of the private sector? How do Ms. Seetahal and Mr. Grant propose that we deal with this challenge?

e) Since the chief function of the elected members of parliament in a representative democracy is to re-present the views of its constituents at the parliamentary level; and since the central function of the parliamentary representatives of People's National Movement, the party in power, is to re-present the views of its major constituents (Afro-Trinbagonians); is it un-reasonably to ask if PNM has "a policy, strategy and/or programme for Afro-Trinbagonians and what exactly are they?" Or, is it that a party, be it the PNM, the British Labour Party or the Democratic Party of the USA, has no responsibilities to those who elected them to represent their views in their various parliaments?

f) Since the elimination of illiteracy is central to the achievement of a developed society in 2020 as proposed by the present government, is it wrong to call for the elimination of illiteracy among all members of the society and to request that the government institute a mandatory educational component programs such as CEPEP and URP? In other words, how do Mr. Grant and Ms. Seetahal propose that we lift up the social and cultural status of all of our peoples, a necessary prerequisite for development in an age of information and greater global co-operation?

g) What, may I ask Mr. Grant, is the nature of the "effective subsidy" that I receive from the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago; what is the content of my "field work in Trinidad and Tobago;" and how does the PNM endorse my work?

As a senator, a lecturer at our premier law school, and a public figure, Ms. Seetahal has an obligation to be honest and accurate in her political pronouncements and to be ethical in her evaluation of matters of national importance. Wild aspersions (whether she calls my name or not) and attempts to defame me in the public eye can do very little to promote the "totally Trinidadian" status of which she boast so proudly. While she may consider my contribution to the national debate as total "hogwash," it behooves her to demonstrate wherein lays the hogwash?

Enlightened self-interest is the basis of all morality. Therefore, it is in the self-interest of all Trinbagonians to strive for the equality of all its citizens as a necessary prerequisite to the freedom of each individual in our society. Necessarily, the slide of Afro-Trinbagonians towards second class citizenry and a relegation of their status to that of a permanent underclass cannot contribute to the overall development of our society and conduce to the peace, tranquility happiness of all of our citizens.

Whatever achievements Ms. Seetahal or Mr. Grant, they cannot be sustained if the conditions of Afro-Trinbagonians are undermined. Only sustained discussion and yes, disagreements, can take us through this tortuous path of our development and this is why I look forward to a public response from my two fellow Trinbagonains.

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