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Stop 'Sampating' Africans

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
April 13, 2011

Sometimes I don't understand why so many false dichotomies pervade the thinking of my compatriots, Africans as well as Indians. If I write about how East Indians think (I call it an Indian narrative) I am accused of being racist. If I support the aspirations of Africans it suggests I am anti—Indian. If I favor the candidacy of a particular PNM member for the chairmanship of the party, my friends respond that I am out of touch with the thinking of those on the ground and so it goes ad infinitum.

After reading "The Indian Narrative," K. Mahabir writes in the Sunday Guardian: "At first I found his comments amusing. Then, as I read on I felt really sorry for him. To live with such hate must be a terrible thing. Just imagine all these Indians everywhere he turns and he has to look at them. If he has children I only hope that he does not feed them all of this poison that comes out of him."

I want to assure Mr. Mahabir that I am as comfortable with Indians as I am with Africans. I grew up in Tacarigua hedged in among El Dorado, Paradise and Dinsley villages. I know they organize and express their world views differently from Africans because of their historical, cultural, religious and social experiences. This is fact not fiction.

Over the past two weeks every Trinidadian and Tobagonian was party to the same information regarding Nizam Mohammed. Each of us heard his words and saw the President's action. Yet each group assessed the incident and the President's action differently. A NACTA poll in the Sunday Guardian (April 10) yield the following results:

  • All respondents agreed that there is an ethnic imbalance in the Police Services and in other government departments.

  • Most Indians agreed with Mr. Mohammed and backed what he said;

  • Most Africans disagreed with how and where Mr. Mohammed raised the issue;

  • Most Africans supported the President's decision to revoke Mr. Mohammed's chairmanship;

  • Most Indians disagreed with the President's decision and demanded he remit his office

  • As a result, the President's rating among Indians is down whereas he enjoys the highest ratings among Africans.

In other words, the Nizam incident revealed a fundament division in the nation. "The Indian Narrative" reminded the public that in spite of protestations to the contrary the two groups are profoundly divided on fundamental issues of importance to the society.

Such a division has little to do with the truth or falsity of the of positions stated—that there are many inequalities in our society—as it has to do with how we interpret the relative advantages each group has in the society and how it seeks to maintain them.

Reginald Dumas cautioned against singling out issues which affect "a particular race at the expense of the national community. It is giving the impression that there are people of East Indian origin who are concerned about their own welfare and not the welfare of the country as a whole. This only creates more tension" (Newsday, April 10).

This is the danger that inheres in the present situation. In seeking to gain every possible advantage, the impression is given that East Indians are not satisfied with merely gaining some of the national pie; they must have it all regardless if the rest of the national community gets any at all.

When Mr. Mahabir argues that East Indians "are trying to have only two children per family so that we can send them to school and university and equip them to gain a solid education which we hope would lead to a better job and a better quality of life" he implies that Africans are having unwanted children (certainly more than two per family); are not sending their children to school, thereby not preparing them for the world of work.

Even here reality is obscured. In 1946 Africans consisted of 46.8 percent of the population; Indians consisted of 35 percent. Today Indians consist of about 42 per cent of the population; Africans 38 percent. During the last half of the 20th century East Indians produced more babies than Africans which belies Mahabir's contention.

Even where the facts are obvious—Indians produce more children than Africans—Indians like Mahabir have no problems gliding over them to spread his propaganda: Africans are worthless, irresponsible people. This is also part of the Indian narrative in which he indulges without being aware of his deep—seated resentment and bias towards African people.

When Mahabir advises that I stop "hating the Indians and give them some space" and that I need to heal myself "because the Indians are here to stay" he is indulging in the same distortions as Nizam when he argues that "Eric Williams and Africans like [me] had this master plan to eliminate the Indian face from this country" and that "Indians know how to give back as they get, for whatever is dished out."

After studying the racism and uneven allocation of jobs in southern the United States, W. E. B. Du Bois observed that the cause of the problem was not simply "telling people the truth, it was inducing them to act on the truth" which led his biographer to conclude: "It was not enough to determine truth scientifically; it had to be implemented politically."

This is the big task that lies ahead for all Trinidadians and Tobagonians. We must not only speak the truth as we see it but we must find the political will to implement it across the board fairly. We must not only be concerned about fairness in government jobs. We must be concerned with equity in the private sector, in schooling, and access to finance for small businesses, just to name a few areas of immense unfairness.

On Monday (April 11) Madeline Albright, former Secretary of State, addressed a Wellesley College audience in Massachusetts about the situation in the Middle East. She said many things yet one remark stuck in my mind. "Democracy," she said, "is not an event. It is a process."

As we develop our democracy we will have to work out our problems together. We can do so by dealing with the issue at hand rather than inflaming the sensibilities of our compatriots by ascribing motives that are not there or trying to "sampat" one group for the benefit of the other.

Professor Cudjoe's email address is

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