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Raffique Shah


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Race is not my compass

By Raffique Shah
August 24, 2020

It pains me to return to the issue of race and politics in Trinidad and Tobago, but since it seems impossible to dismiss its impact on not just elections, but on the body politic of the nation, I feel obliged to address it. Note well how racism reared its ugly head as we got closer to the recent general election, and it peaked in the few weeks before and after polling day.

Much like the Covid-19 super-virus, race and racism disturb the equilibrium of the country in waves, peaks and troughs, some more damaging than others. Worse, it seems there is no cure for racism, no vaccine to halt its contagious nature. And, as if these virulent strains weren’t scary enough, there is an abundance of evidence to suggest that racism is contagious, even hereditary, possibly part of the DNA of some people.

Now, if you isolate yourself from political activities on the ground, as well as avoid the mad, mad world of the anti-social media platforms on the Internet, you could perhaps escape the race-wars, and believe that T&T is the multi-ethnic paradise that so many of our calypsonians have praised in song. You will never imagine that your neighbours, fellow Trinis by the thousands, are trolling Cyberspace, hurling invectives and racial epithets at each other, waging cyber-warfare in your name and mine, polluting the airwaves and now “cloud” with their toxic waste.

Many of them seem to be online around the clock, which suggests they are either unemployed or they are unproductive workers who spend their working hours engaging in hurling abuses at perceived enemies. Since government is by far the biggest employer in the country, one can conclude that most of the racist “warriors” who engage in stirring the race-hate pot are being paid by taxpayers to engage in such nihilistic activities.

Can we citizens who believe that the race-hate rhetoric has gone too far do anything to halt the slide into the hell-hole of racial strife such as we have witnessed in other parts of the world? I know several prominent patriots propose to stage public discussions on the issue. I wonder, though, if they would attract broad-based participation by important stakeholders, or if they would merely provide platforms for extremists in the two main ethnic groups who will the bent on sabotaging any such interaction.

While most people will argue that the race problem is more apparent than real, that we do not even have a problem, others will tell you otherwise. For example, I don’t know how many people noticed that in the tension-filled environment of what seemed to be unnecessary recounts in the recent elections, there was a bid by someone or some group to rally public support by way of signatures on a petition to nullify it and stage a new round at the poll.

Had that not-so-subtle attempt to disrupt the peace and harmony in the country gained currency, it could have triggered an uproar, or quite possibly outrage and unrest. Luckily, those who were behind it seem to have sensed the futility and they quietly slithered away, waiting to strike another day. There are extremists in every ethnic group, every religion, hell, many criminal gangs, who are eager to exploit discord in sections of the population to pursue their nefarious agendas. Whether it’s a spontaneous Black Lives Matter eruption or farmers seeking to highlight their woes, there are devious individuals and gangs disguised as legitimate protestors who infiltrate and manipulate the event.

But race is an open, festering wound in this society that is real, that we must decide at some point we need to deal with. Or we can pretend it’s not important, leaving it for our children, our grandchildren to face. As someone who was never affected negatively by race, I pity people who see other human beings only through the prisms of their colour of skin or texture of hair. I am now 74 years old. My father, Haniff, was a semi-literate sugar worker and my mother, Khairun, a simple housewife. But somehow, in an era when racism was rampant, they were unmoved by it. They saw human beings as human beings, judged people by their character, not colour The “N” word and the “C” word did not exist for Ma and Pa, so they did not exist for their children. There was never the need to tell us not to use them. Not just that, but we all had friends across the ethnic-board, and we lived easily with them, as, I imagine, they lived with us.

So when, in this day and age, I see people, many of them young professionals, use race as their compass to guide them in choosing friends, in voting in elections, in living their lives, I weep for them, for what they are missing. Thanks, Ma and Pa, for sparing m us that torture.

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