Conceiving the Inconceivable
By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
January 10, 2011
Ah never hear Becky vex so yet. "Uncle Selwyn," she said, you know Rambachan and dem people (meaning the Foreign Affairs Minister and the People's Partnership) just letting dem Indian people and dem come into Trinidad jus' so. Dey ah even need a visa to come into the country now."
She was referring to the unilateral decision of the People's Partnership to allow Indians and Russians to enter the country without visas.
"Ah always tell yo' dem people racist..."
"Hold up a bit," I said.
"You mean to say that Mr. Rambachand and dem racist because they are allowing Indians and Russians to come into the country without a visa?"
"Dey racist we. Why dey eh let Nigerians and Ghanaians come into the country without visas too. Like dem ah have money to spend too."
"Ah don't know if yo' could call dem racist because of that. India is an emergent economy and some of its companies and citizens have lots of money to spend."
"Yo' hear yoself. You, too, agreeing with dat racial nonsense."
"I am not necessarily agreeing," I began to get authoritative, "but the truth is that many world leaders are trying to get into the good graces of the Indians now that their economy has begun to expand..."
"You sounding just like Anand Ramlogan. Yo' feel African youths eh educated enough to understand what going on."
Here, I was, trying to be rational and objective but she had to jump on me too.
"This year alone (meaning 2010)," I continued, ignoring her comment that I had sided with Anand, "five of the world's top leaders: President Barak Obama (USA); President Nicolas Sarkozy (France); President Deitri Medvedev (Russia); Prime Minister Wen Jiabao (China) and Prime Minister David Cameron (UK) visited India to generate goodwill among the Indians so something important must be happening there."
Didn't President Obama visit Ghana last year?"
"Yes," I retorted. It was one of those rhetorical questions upon which she was pivoting to come at me again...
"And didn't President Sarkozy visit Gabon, Mali and Rwanda last month?"
"Right again," I conceded. I didn't tell her that Sarkozy went to African to ask them to release some French hostages and to mend frayed relations with Rwanda.
"How come Africans wasn't given the same privilege as India?"
Ah had to stop her there. She was going too far.
I said: "Trinidad and Tobago is a growing economy; India may become a member of the United Nations Security Council that runs the world. There are many things T&T could gain from being associated more closely with India. There may be even be some wealthy Indians who want to invest in Trinidad. You cannot put that on the same level as President Sarkozy's going to Gabon or President Obama's visiting to Ghana..."
I didn't voice my thoughts but she was following my internal reasoning. She pivoted and came on strong again.
"I like to hear all yuh professors talk. All up in the air, saying nutten but think yo' convincing people about de inconvincible."
I tried another tact.
"What makes you think that Mr. Rambachan is racist?"
"Is where you living," she responding hot, intemperate and sarcastic...
"How yo' mean where I living?"
"Ah mean where yo' living because yo' don't act as if yo' exist on the same planet or in the same country as me."
"What yo' mean by that?" She was getting a bit cheeky. "Yo' don't speak to your uncle like dat."
"Ah go tell you what ah mean by dat? What school Rambachan went to?" She was getting. She didn't even refer to him by his official title. I went along with the conversation to understand from her reasoning.
"When did he go to UWI?"
"I don't know. I am not the man's keeper."
"Well, I go tell you. He went to UWI in the 1970s."
I could not doubt her because I did not know the answer.
"What organization he led while he was there?"
"I don't know."
"Don't know again. He was the President of the Society for the Propagation of Indian Culture. It was de most racist organization on the campus at the time..."
"So what does that imply?"
"A leopard cannot change its spots."
"But the man was young, a mere student. Many things we do as students we repudiate in later life..."
"He have plenty repudiating to do 'cause he eh change any of his spots. He still racist as ever; still believe that black people did Indian people wrong; still want to impose his Hindu agenda on we..."
Her words were tumbling off her tongue as an avalanche. I had to bring this conversational train wreck back on course.
"Do you mean no matter how extreme Mr. Rambachan was as a young man there is no salvation for him?"
I thought I got her attention.
I continued: "I am the president of NAEAP. Does it mean dat I racist too?" She was silent now.
"In your mind is there any possibility of a person changing his life around and subscribing to an egalitarian philosophy?"
There was more silence on her part and a tentative wait-and-see attitude on my part.
Gradually she came out of her contemplative mode.
"Sometimes ah does have to watch all yuh big people and laugh."
She was getting my attention.
"All yuh believe that once a person win election somehow dey does change their mind and dey attitude..."
"I didn't say that..."
"I know you didn't say dat. I saying dat! You is a big man. Yo' seeing ting clear in de day but yo' want to take a flambeau and look for it at half past one in de morning on the darkest night...coming here to tell me about objectivity and rationality and expect me to believe that."
She uttered the last few words under her breath.
"But if you say he ease de visa restrictions because he concerned about the economic well being of T&T ah go have to go along with you but mark my words. De same thing dat happen in Ceylon could happen here if we ent watch out..."
As I pondered her observations, I promised to be more circumspect in the future. Her observation about Sri Lanka, the modern name for Ceylon, was insightful. I left the conversation feeling that I might have been too quick to dismiss Becky's fears about Rambachan's racism. She might have a point but only time will tell.
Professor Cudjoe's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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