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Race and Tribal Consciousness

By Dr. Selwyn Cudjoe
December 18, 2016

I wish to continue the discussion Keith Subero started in his two excellent articles of December 5th and 12th. I agreed with many things he said. Some points are worthy of closer examination.

Subero interpreted the UNC's performance at the local elections as a coming together of "tribal members, anticipating a threat, or an economic opportunity, to make it a moral duty to band together" ("T&T Caught in-Betweenity").

He described Trinbagonians as being "caught in the modernization process, moving from its rural agricultural base, to building world-class energy enclaves." However, he sees Africans, particularly those on the East-West corridor, as having lost "many of their cultural traits," which are being "replaced by individualism."

Africans have been "left denuded by slavery, and without even realizing it, are economically limp and psychologically adrift today." In other words, slavery has stripped us "bare" of all "cultural covering, possession, or assets," which is what the term "denude" means.

UNC followers (meaning mostly Indians), in spite of the party's corruption, "will band together regardless, giving them their tribal support."

This conclusion does not account for the fact that the PNM (primarily Africans) was successful in the last general elections and previous elections. If Subero's contention is true, the PNM can never hope to win another election.

Translated: the Indians remain tribal and band together; the Africans, denuded by their historical past, have evolved as "individualists," each looking out for himself. One would have thought modernization was intended to produce precisely that effect: individuals liberated from the thralldom of groupthink. I thought Max Weber's theory of modernization increases the autonomy of the individual who becomes the fundamental unit of society, which constitutes progress. In this context, Africans are moving in a predictable, progressive direction.

I cannot accept Subero's conclusion that our thrust toward "individualism," presumably a bad thing in his view, makes us psychologically adrift.

Neither do I accept that all Indians are in the same boat, actuated by the same motive-that of acting to prevent a threat against their collective survival.

Hinduism, a feudal religion of several strands, demands allegiance of its followers. That does not make its followers tribal; it makes them narrowly myopic. The same is true of Takfirr, a strand of Islam that asks its followers to commit atrocities in its name.

Muslims have supported the PNM from its inception in 1956. There has always been historical antagonism between the Muslims and Hindus. The former is a monotheistic religion; the latter a polytheistic religion. This religious divide may account for the Muslim support of the PNM and the Hindu support of UNC which has its origin in the People's Democratic Party which was led by Badase Maraj, former head of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha.

Conclusion: The political behavior of the Muslims and Hindus are driven more by religion than tribalism.

I do not accept that Africans, denuded by slavery, "are economically limp and psychologically adrift today." This must mean slavery passed over several generations before it lay its deadening claws on the present generation.

From about 1850 to 1900, the predominant groups in T&T were whites and French Creoles. Between 1900 and 1956, Africans, particularly those on the East-West corridor and on San Fernando High Street, did relatively well. During that period, most of the professionals-doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, masons, carpenters, nurses, policemen, and teachers were Africans.

PNM built its base upon an African middle and working class that had a good psychological opinion of themselves. Even in formal education, Africans did better than Indians. Slavery, then, was a distant memory even though it impacted upon our psychological behavior.

If Africans were relatively progressive between 1900 and 1956, what happened to them between 1956 and 2017?

Subero is not prepared to ask this fundamental question. He is prepared to interpret the election results as "a print out of the flimsy conditions [of] our socio-psychological make-up" and appeals to Carl Jung's theory of the collective unconscious to explain black psychological behavior. He does a similar thing in "Thin Line for Dr. Rowley."

Allow me to disagree. While Jung was insightful on the nature of the collective unconscious, Franz Fanon, a Caribbean man, is the more reliable psychoanalyst with regard to the behavior of the oppressed. Black Skin, White Masks, a psychoanalytical tour de force, offered the most penetrating look at what he calls the black inferiority complex. He says: "Freud and Adler and even the cosmic Jung did not think of the Negro in all their investigations."

If there was any confusion about this point, he adds: "European civilization is characterized by the presence of what Jung calls the collective unconscious, of an archetype: an expression of the bad instincts, of the darkness inherent in every ego, of the uncivilized savage, the Negro who slumbers in every white manů. Personally I think that Jung has deceived himself." Fanon was correct.

Subero offers a superb starting point for a discussion on the black condition. He opens many doors we need to enter before we can answer his questions.

Professor Cudjoe's email address is He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.

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