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In Defense of African Children?

In Defense of African Children? Part I


By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
Posted: April 27, 2005

In response to these very serious charges made by the parents and students of the Torrib Trace Presbyterian School, it has become common place for the Presbyterian authorities, Presta, Rev. York and others to cite how long the Presbyterians have been working in the vineyard in Trinidad (they have been here since 1868); how many primary and secondary schools they run (72 and five respectively); the illustrious citizens they have produced (a former President, a Chief-Justice, an Attorney-General, etc.,), and the thousands non-Presbyterian they have taught. After such assertions, they usually make a fatal non-causal leap: because the Presbyterians serve so many people, "This shows...that there is no discrimination on any ground whatsoever [at their schools]. Thousands of people try to get their children into these schools because they know these schools are good" or that none of the prominent persons who attended their schools "ever reported any discrimination of any kind" ("In Defence of Presbyterian Schools, Trinidad Guardian, April 20).

Rev. Yorke does not seem to understand his own contradictions. Nothing he says, even if all of it were all true, can lead to the conclusion that there is no discrimination in Presbyterian Schools. Perhaps, we should start with the big picture. On January 8, 2004, Mr. Doudou Diene, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, submitted his report, "Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and All Forms of Racial Discrimination," to the General Assembly. It was a report on racial practices in Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. In it, he noted that the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination "did not accept the Government's assertion that there was no racial discrimination in Trinidad and Tobago. The Special Rapporteur found the issue of race relations in Trinidad and Tobago to be quite complex. The periodic exploitation of race in political campaigns is offset by the people's strong desire to live together, as reflected in the mingling of the races and the religious and spiritual ecumenism of the various faiths."

Mr. Diene also acknowledged:
"It is generally accepted that economic power is in the hands of Indo-Trinidadians, while the Afro-Trinidadians are dominant in the administration and politics; however, in some sectors, such as the police and the oil industry, there is parity between the two groups. The Special Rapporteur heard allegations of discrimination in schools. Indian schools apparently tend to restrict enrollments by Afro-Trinidadians and to ban hairstyles considered to reflect a particular ethnicity (afros, dreadlocks, braids). Despite the widespread racial mingling, it seems that mixed Indian-African couples are subjected to enormous pressures from their families, particularly Indian families."
Anyone versed in logic, can frame a simple syllogism from the above: Indian schools in Trinidad discriminate against Afro-Trinidadians (major premise); Presbyterian Schools are Indian schools (minor premise); Conclusion: Presbyterians Schools discriminate (or at any rate, tend to discriminate) against Afro-Trinidadians. Now one can argue deductively from principles to particular cases or one can argue inductively from particular lives, cultural environments and the social history of the Presbyterian Church to test the truth content of the charges that have been made. Any how one choses to frame the argument, it becomes difficult for the Presbyterian Synod, Presta, or Rev. Yorke to sustain their uncritical absolutism.

There is another troubling dimension to his argument. Again, one only has to apply the tools of logic to deal with this matter. To argue that there is an extreme case of racism (and we hope that it is only one school) at one Presbyterian school is to argue that there are extreme cases of racism and abuse at all Presbyterian schools although the possibility exists that there might be. That, however, is not our argument at the present time. So that, in spite of everything, it would behoove Rev. Yorke, Pesta, and the Presbyterian Synod to examine the specific case of Torrib Trace Presbyterian Trace before they make themselves the laughing stock of the world. We await their responses one the Board has had an opportunity to investigate the charges that have been made.

Rev. Yorke suggests that there is something puzzling about Dr. Cudjoe's organization. He notes:
"It is an organization for the empowerment of African people. This name suggests discrimination against other peoples. Why not an organization for the empowerment of all peoples or dispossessed peoples?"
I don't know if Rev. Yorke ever strives for logical consistency, but in the very same article he notes that the Presbyterian Church has "one vocational school for girls" which suggests that the Presbyterian Church discriminates on the basis of gender. Now, the truth is that not all discrimination is bad. When Rev. Yorke says that he prefers a Julie mango rather than a long mango (or mango veer) or a green pants as opposed to a red pants, he, too discriminates. But surely such acts of discrimination are harmless in that they do not bring any undue harm to another.

The same I suspect is true for having a vocational school for girls or a university that only admits women. Experientially, there is the thinking that a school that caters for and to the interest of one category of human beings is likely to produce the better results for the category of human beings than a school that caters for all human beings. That is why, in Trinidad and Tobago, there is a Portuguese Association, a Chinese Association and even a Maha Sabha that looks out for the concerns of Hindus in this land. Somewhere there, might be the application of John Stuart Mill's principle of utility-the principle that the ultimate test of behavior is the maximization of the general happiness. As the Rev. Yorke may know, Mill tried to demonstrate the right of every civilized person to do what he or she chose just as long as no one was damaged in the process.

Just for the record, NAEAP is concerned with the welfare and empowerment of all Afro-Trinbagonians although many non-Afro-Trinbagonians have benefited from our programs. Indeed, the Literary and life Skills program that we plan for Brothers Road during the months of May and June will be opened to all students, regardless of their race or religion.

But Rev. York need not look outside his organization to answer the questions he raised about NAEAP. When John Morton, the founder of his Church, began his missionary work in this island in 1868 (he arrive about four years earlier) he taught African children for a few months before he turned his attention to East Indian children. A month after he arrived on our shores to conduct his missionary activities, Mr. Morton observed: "The Indians are small in figure, but graceful. Their features are much like those of Europeans, for they belong to the same race [my italics]... I am sure that you would admire some of them dressed as I have described, in spotless white with, perhaps, a crimson scarf thrown over the left shoulder and hanging nearly to the ground..."

Morton was born in Albion Mines in Nova Scotia. At that time, the conditions of Africans in Nova Scotia read as a virtual horror story. Dennison Moore reports:
"The ignorance, degradation and absolute heathenism of a portion of the colored people in not more deplorable than it is notorious to anyone who observes closely...It is heart rendering to see families huddled together in small, cold, smoky huts, making a wretched living partly by beggary and theft, and partly by means still more deplorably...Ministers and elders do not ordinarily deem it their duty to seek out the poor Blacks or extend to them the charity and loving care which reach the poor whites."
Morton preferred to deal with the Indians whom he said belonged to the European race. During that period Europeans were considered to be superior to Africans. Therefore, everything was done to enthrone Whiteness in the consciousness of our children. Describing Indians as Europeans implied a value judgment on Morton's part. Bernadette Baker in an article, "'Childhood' in the Emergence and Spread of U.S. Public Schools" that examined schooling in the US during the nineteenth century observed that scientific "measurements of Africans were positioned as evidence of 'savagery,' low morality and limited intelligence. Measurements of fair-skinned northern Europeans were positioned oppositionally as signs of civility, high morality, and advanced intelligence."

In choosing to serve Indians over Africans, Morton made a choice. In so doing, he promulgated the separation of the races in Trinidad calling, as he did, for the creation of separate schools for East Indian children and separate schools for African children. In 1869, Morton wrote to Joseph Keenan, an Irish inspector, who was investigating education for the government. He said:
"The Coolies are an important part of the population and it is doing little for them. In some places there are children enough for two schools-one for Creoles and one for Coolie. In such cases should not two schools be provided? In other cases might not two Coolie schools be under one teacher, with short hours-one meeting in the forenoon and the other in the afternoon and with such arrangements as might be made on estates at very little expense."
Like Morton, Keenan felt that Indians were superior intellectually to Africans. Needless to say, all of the stereotypes of the 'Negro' were a part of the European mindset at the time. In fact, the inculcation of Whiteness into these students was the epistemological task of the educational system in Europe, North America and the Caribbean. Therefore, it was not coincidental that Keenan made the following observation:
"Wherever I met a Coolie child who had been a reasonable time at school, I found him, in all the best qualities of the mind, to be immensely superior to the Creole of African blood. In powers of discernment and reflection, the Coolie ranks high, the Creole low. The Coolie possesses a tenacious and solid memory; the memory of the Creole is uncertain and weak. The Coolie can readily recognize the meaning and application of arithmetical processes; the Creole is utterly unable to deal logically with numbers. The Coolie's definition or statements are off-handed and clear; the Creole's are hesitating and obscure. In short the Coolie possesses, in a remarkable degree, those qualities in which the Creole's mind is deficient."
In the nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries, Blackness was a mark of inferiority. Morton may not have been acquainted with Gobineau's racial ideology (Gobineau wrote Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races between 1853 and 1855) but his preference for Indians certainly mirrored a leaning in that respect. So that rather than ask why NAEAP is not an organization for "the empowerment of all peoples or dispossessed peoples," I can only respond that the history of the Presbyterian Church should provide Rev. Yorke with an answer. For his erudition, NAEAP (as I suspect the same is true Emancipation Support Committee) exist to aid in the historical reconstruction of the memory of our group that calls for a lot of intellectual and psychological recuperation and psychic healing. It is our belief that only conscientious Africans can lead the way in undertaking such a task.

The "wise professor" as Rev. Yorke has dubbed me, I hope not sarcastically, and his organization stand ready to work with all conscientious educators to lick the problem of racial, physical and psychic abuse that are being laid upon all of our students. This is why our first action was to bring this matter to the attention of the Presbyterian School Board and Ministry of Education. I can only hope that Presbyterian School Board proceed with this matter in the spirit of charity as the 13th chapter of Corinthians demands as the necessary condition for over-coming wickedness and hard-heartedness.

In his wonderful address, Paul says that of three virtues--hope, faith and charity-- that charity is the greatest virtue of all. The counter-attacks to which we the children of Torrib Trace Presbyterian Primary School have been subjected suggested that charity is a virtue that is respected more in its breach by the teachers of Torrib Trace Presbyterian School. Lisa Laura Davis, in a letter to her Principal, suggested that when "Jesus Christ came on earth, he didn't choose a side to heal people. He healed each and EVERYONE ON EARTH." Such she argues, are the benefit of God's beneficent gift. One would only wish that the members of the Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Primary Schools' Board, and the Presbyterian Teachers' Association accept St. Paul's call for charity as their mandate and the virtue by which to treat all of our children.

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