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Rogues & Lumpens

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
September 24, 2017

The Oxford French Dictionary defines "mentalities," as "the attitudes of a group of people toward the world and their conception of their place within it; the modes of thought, beliefs, morals, etc." My colleague Barry Lygate of Wellesley College's French Department reminds me "first and foremost, this plural is a sociological term in French." There is "no single English equivalent to 'mentalities.'"

When I speak of the mentality of Trinbagonians, I refer to common behaviors and attitudes that characterize our conception and response to the world. Although there are different manifestations of this worldview, the attitudes of those who rule and those who are ruled are similar. They are different sides of the same coin.

When the Prime Minister (PM) accuses the Leader of the Opposition of practicing a form of "jammetry," it is no different from a brother in the hood calling a sister a "ho." Both insults, whether benign or blatant, are meant to denigrate via the use of language and to hit where it hurts the most.

This desire to hurt and humiliate emanates from "a mentality conceived in slavery, cradled in indenture and nurtured in colonialism" (Eric Williams, quoted in De Wilton Rogers, The Rise of the PNM). It reflects a revolting aspect of our past.

In my book Beyond Boundaries (2003), I devote a chapter to what I called "Jammetization of the Culture, 1838-51." I described "jammetization," from the French diametre, the "other half," as the lively underworld of Carnival characters (including jammettes or prostitutes) that exploded during that period. If this is any consolation for Kamla, I argued: "For women specifically, it [jammetization] meant the expression of female independence that was threatened by official society."

Today there is little difference between the behaviors and attitudes of those at the top of the society (the "Rogues") and the "Lumpens," a short form of the lumpenproletariat, at the bottom.

The Rogues steal as much as they can but are not penalized for their thievery. Contemporaneously, we can trace this roguish behavior from the Piarco Fiasco in 2000-01. Those who stole millions walk around as lords of the land. They are confident the state will protect them.

The most recent manifestation of this troubling behavior occurred in the "Fake oil" scandal in which Petrotrin alleged it had "been defrauded over a period of eight years of roughly $100 million of oil [revenues] by a private producer" (Express, Sept. 13). The PM did not seem particularly outraged by this allegation.

Instead, he called his friend to find out what happened after which he justified his action: "I couldn't wait to call him to find out what this is all about. And he said [to me] he doesn't know [about it]" (Express, September 14).

The PM claims the demands of friendship trumps everything else: "If I have a friend and I am accused in that way, and the friend doesn't reach out to me to find out what is going on, I would look to him kind of funny….I don't deny or disown a friend because an allegation is made against him."

Two weeks ago John Smith, a joiner (34 years), and Virginia Nedd, a janitor (32 years), were held in the "brutal death" of Claire Broadbridge, a prominent Trinidadian. Valery Alexandrov, a forensic pathologist, indicated that the murderer slit her throat while she was on the ground.

Smith needed his medications while in custody. He asked his mother to collect his belongings at the Homicide Bureau at Riverside Plaza. No one objected to this display of filial affection.

Many people viewed the responses of the PM and Ms. Smith's differently. There was a queasy feeling about unequal access and undue familiarity in the first as opposed to the second case. Nedd and Smith were taken before the court whereas Nazim Baksh, the PM's friend, basks in his privilege and his cash.

The Lumpens are penalized for every infraction, hence an escalation of their anti-social behavior. Recently, Deborah Thomas-Felix, President of the Industrial Court, complained about "the widening gap between rich and poor and the repercussion that flow from this." She also noted that "more violent crimes are being committed by young persons" [Express, September 20]

All of us can discern how justice is meted out. Rogues are treated differently from Lumpens. Rogues believe they have a monopoly on morals, truth and justice. They do themselves a disservice when they fail to see Lumpens do not buy into this sophism.

Commenting on his mother's death, Stephen Broadbridge said: "The country does not belong to the criminals. Criminals are in the minority. We are the majority" (Express, September 4).

Stephen seemed distressed when he made his statement. He would have been more accurate if he had said: "Trinbagonians are developing a criminal mindset that does not distinguish between right and wrong. It matters not whether you are white or brown."

Brian Harry, a fellow Trinidadian says: "Those at the top cannot change the lot of those at the bottom because they are one and the same people. Each group is caught in a death-grasp to the bottom but they are unaware of it."

We must find a way to deal with this Manichean struggle.

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

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