November 6, 2000 By J Clarke from Board: Across the Divide


Just the other day, the Attorney-General of the land I call home was overseas, speaking before an international group, and a gaggle of media operatives from just about everywhere. He spoke about our country's racial harmony, our unity in diversity, the example we set for a world divided across lines of race, religion, blah, blah, blah ...

Granted we are not currently undergoing some bloody civil war. Granted we are not so polarized that common folks can't enjoy each other's company. And, granted that all the theoretical goods are in place for the kind of cloud-cuckoo land described by the AG. Granted all of that, but does Ramesh Maharaj live in Trinidad?

Racial harmony? When electoral results are measurable by race? Religious unity? Where national honoree's reject awards that offend their religious sensibilities? National unity? Please! When we even need a forum to talk about it?

The intention of the AG should be obvious, and it's nothing to quarrel with: he's putting the country's best face forward, to generate a positive reaction from world leaders (and media people!). Good. We don't expect him to present our dirty racial linen for all the world to see, but must he tell a blatant lie? Now Mr. Maharaj's audience will be thinking: "Ah, good. Another little bunch of coloured people we don't have to worry about." But they're wrong, brothers and sisters. We're in trouble.

If we're going to look at local race relations, let's start by not attempting to compare; the fact that we're better off that Fiji doesn't mean we've got it right. Just because T&T is no Bosnia or Rwanda, doesn't mean our situation is acceptable. So, drop the comparisons. Are we good enough by our own standards? Have we a right to describe our situation as "racial harmony"?

A funny thing is that many who will agree with Mr. Maharaj are just those who, blinded by misguided patriotism, denounce attempts to give a more truthful picture (like this one), and despise their neighbours in their hearts.

The love-hate relationship between black people of Indian and African extraction is a very special case, wherever it occurs in the world; in Fiji, Mauritius, eastern and southern African countries, wherever sizable indo-human and afro-human communities exist, euro-people are able to calmly sit atop the heap and watch us fight each other. In places like these, as well as in Guyana and Trinidad, the efforts of the imperialists of old have been amazingly successful; we have been thoroughly divided, and completely conquered.

In the light corner are indo-people, with straighter hair and finer features, keen to dissociate themselves from those even further from whiteness. In the dark corner, we have afro-people, determined to prove that they have suffered more, and that they alone invented everything good that humanity has produced. And never the twain shall meet.

What's the solution? Maturity of spirit. Education for the mind. The realization and acceptance that nobody is better than anybody else. Really. I've encountered nasty black people, disgusting white people, nauseating indo-people, horrific Syrians, offensive Chinese ... we could go on and on. We could swap adjectives and nouns ad infinitum. We could even swap: nasty, disgusting, nauseating, horrific and offensive, for: sweet, adorable, delightful and admirable. It would still be true. By and large, people seem to agree with this assessment.

"Quite so, Clarke," they say. "All people were created equal and remain so. You can find garbage and gold in equal measure in every race." This is what they say with their mouths, but they don't believe it, because in the next sentence they often list the contributions of their race (or the one they cheer for) to civilization as we know it, and the centuries of injustice that has been undergone by their forebears.

Maturity of spirit. There's a rare thing; Dr. King pointed us to the difference between race pride and race hate, and, amazingly, people who still admire Dr. King practise the latter, often without even realizing it.

In the opinion of one Caribbean mongrel (me), we are too insecure to look critically at our insecurities, and, unless we change, we'll never go anywhere. If only to give the lie to the institutions and/or people who have divided and conquered us, we should face our own follies, and acknowledge the virtues of those we dislike.

That is the way to begin.


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