Dr. Kwame Nantambu

No Afrikan - Trini Quota at UWI

Posted: February 07, 2004
Dr. Kwame Nantambu

One of the most inappropriate and unwarranted statements ever made in the history of academia and race relations in TnT is that: "Nothing should be higher on UWI's educational agenda than to make sure that its student body reflects the multi-racial nature of our society" (Dr. Selwyn Cudjoe cited in Newsday, 22 August, 2003).

Furthermore, the notions that UWI should impose "a quota for Africans" and that "UWI is 90 per cent Indian" speak volumes as to the degree of confusion and personal self-interest that have been dragged into this serious issue.

The stark reality is that the polyglot and multi-racial nature of TnT's society has no bearing whatsoever on the genre of student enrollment at UWI.

The fact of the matter is that the current student body makeup at UWI is directly related to and correlated with, the mixing of apples and oranges on the one hand and the conceptualization, formulation and implementation of public policy and governance of the PNM administration.

At the outset, it must be stated quite categorically that the issue of Black Power is totally irrelevant to TnT.

What is really needed in TnT is not Black Power, but power distribution period.

More importantly, however, there is a vast different situation wherein Afrikan-Americans are a national minority (12.7 per cent) in America whereas Afrikan-Trinis are a national majority in TnT.

Afrikan-Americans are not in a political power position unlike Afrikan-Trinis who possess government political power, at least on paper.

These two power dynamics are totally different, uncomparable and not interchangeable.

The demand for Black Power and Civil Rights is needed for the Afrikan-American minority in America. It is not needed for the Afrikan-Trini majority.

Truth be told: human rights are needed in TnT, not Civil Rights.

As such, the spectacle of racism rears its ugly head in America in regard to University admission; however, the aspect of ethnicity rears its historical, colonial head in TnT, not racism.

In America, the student applicant's race and ethnicity variables are Black, White, Asian, and Hispanic. These detailed breakdowns do not apply to TnT.

In the specific case of TnT, the independent variables of Afrikan and Indian student applicants are predominantly and overwhelmingly Black and people of colour.


They are a people, who as an oppressed class, share a common historical experience of European enslavement and colonialism.

Ergo, a la Dr. Eric Williams, Trinis must never be under any "illusions" that TnT is basically "an African society"; such a mind-set only indicates the presence of severe, chronic and even deadly symptoms of sustained historical constipation, amnesia and denial.

In TnT, race is totally immaterial and irrelevant, albeit null and void, in regard to UWI's admission and student body representation. Indeed, such an argument is insane, preposterous and a non-starter, at its core.

In the case of university admission policy in America, "race is considered, but it is considered in context" And this is the real endemic flaw in Dr. Cudjoe's quota demand for Afrikan-Trinis. Either by accident or by design, Dr. Cudjoe has confused the context of race when it comes to university admission and student body reflection. Unfortunately, his quota demand does not compute with the ethnic, not racial, reality in TnT.

Indeed, in a poll conducted 12-18 June 2003 in America, the respected Gallup organization found that 44 per cent of Whites, 70 per cent of Afrikan-Americans and 63 per cent of Hispanics favoured affirmative action programs for racial minorities.

Asked if two equally qualified students, one white and one black, applied to a major U.S. University, 24 per cent of whites said that the white student will be admitted, 76 per cent of Afrikan-Americans agreed, while 44 per cent of Hispanics interviewed stated that the white student will be admitted.

On another question, 22 per cent of whites agreed that an applicant's racial and ethnic background should be considered while 75 per cent said that admission should be based solely on merit.

The figures are 49 per cent and 44 per cent for Afrikan-American respondents whereas 36 per cent of Hispanics agreed that background should be considered but 59 per cent stated that merit should be the sole criterion.

Of course, these figures reflect decades of overt, blatant racism against minorities in general, but Afrikan-Americans, in particular, in America. Hence, the vital necessity for Affirmative Action programs and policies to even the playing field.

Racism is the culprit in America and if Dr. Cudjoe's illthought-out quota demand is taken to its illogical conclusion, then the Afrikan-Trini student at UWI will be a laughing-stock and denigrated as an "affirmative action admit" rather than a de jure student who proudly wears a legitimate, merit T-Shirt on campus.

Let us not mix apples and oranges; people's future and lives are at stake.

University admission/education in TnT must not be caught up in any racial lacouray.

The future of young Afrikan-Trinis must not be allowed to fall off the radar screen of human expectations, progress, dignity and self-respect.

This prevention and calamity call for more responsible educators to be in the forefront, to say the least.

It is at this critical juncture that the relevance and priorities of public policy and governance come into direct focus.

And it is also here that the crucial issue of students beating pan and/or beating books in school comes to the fore. Pan in primary schools is nothing more than an unconscionable, criminal act committed by the PNM Government.

And to compound this insanity, the Ministry of Education announced an air-tight, precise, aggressive, pro-active, holistic master-plan "to introduce a pan programme in primary schools". In its ultimate, insane, carnival-like mentality wisdom, the Ministry of Education has decreed that 150 schools will each have "a 19-piece band," with "an additional 100 schools each year until 2008". A la "Carnival Crime Crackdown", the Ministry has held meetings and consultations with "tuners and builders to determine how to meet this kind of demand".

On the flip side however, the Ministry's $1,000.00 master-book loan-programme is a total, diabolical, unmitigated fiasco, disaster and debacle that only impacts a particular segment of society.

Where are the priorities of the Ministry of Education? Is this callous, sinister public policy impropriety or what?

This Ministry cannot find money to pay its telephone bills but it can find million of dollars to fund its pan in school programme.

The fact of the matter is that Afrikan-Trinis consist of over 90 per cent of the school participants who beat pan in preparation for admission to a steelband, while the smaller percentage beat books in preparation for admission to UWI.

The end-results for these students are directly related to public policy.

The fact of the matter is that under the PNM regime, certain TnT students cannot read nor write; they cannot engage in critical thinking and analysis but they can beat pan. Hence, it need occasion no great surprise that almost half of the students failed the recent CXC English Language test.

Maybe these pan-beating and calypso English-writing Trinis are what the PNM Government intends to produce in its "Vision 2020".

Trinis of a particular ethnic elk, please wake up and smell the coffee, its scent is not Afrika-centered. The PNM government is selling you a set of bad goods with a nuttin future. The future survival of all students on this planet depends of learning, understanding, analyzing, appreciating, living-out and beating books 24-7-365 about their respective history and culture. The future survival of some students on this planet does not depend on their beating pan 24-7-365. If that's the case, then "Nah leave" TnT. "Bury right here." The powers-that-be in the Education Ministry must understand that students in this world are judged by how well they can beat out the English Language from a book and not by how well they can beat out a note from a steelpan.

The same judgement is made for admission to UWI. Students do not have to pass a beating pan exam or test to be admitted to UWI. Admission to UWI is based on the student's educational achievement, not his/her steelpan prowess.

Since it is the public policy - decision of the PNM regime to teach and train over 90 per cent of Afrikan-Trini students to beat pan and write calypso English in school then it follows automatically that only less than 10 per cent of them will qualify for admission to UWI to be part of its student body makeup.

It also follows automatically that 90 per cent of those students who beat books and write universal, standard English will qualify for admission to UWI to be part of its student body makeup.

It is just that plain and simple. It is not rocket science. It is just public policy and governance gone completely raving mad in TnT under the PNM.

Garbage in, garbage out and this is the genre of Afrikan-Trini students whom the nation's public schools are producing as a direct end-result of government's public policy.

The fact of the matter is that beating pan and learning how to write calypso should be optional in school, but beating books and learning how to write standard, universal English must be mandatory in school.

For whereas beating pan and singing calypso give some Trini students a fish so they can feed themselves for one day; beating books and writing standard, universal English teach all Trini students how to fish so that they can feed themselves for the rest of their lives. And this is the only mechanism to change or affect the student admission dynamics at UWI.

The fact of the matter is that under the current PNM national education policy, one ethnic group is promoted to use language and culture as their historical clock, while another ethnic group is relegated, by design, to use pan and calypso as their historical clock.

And this stark reality is clearly reflected in the student population at UWI. A quota system for Afrikan-Trinis is not the solution; it is the problem.

Admission to UWI must be based on academic merit and not on any ethnic hand-out.

The negative and detrimental multiplier effects of mal public policy and governance are directly responsible for the twin dilemmas under discussion at UWI today.

As such, the fundamental questions that arise are as follows:-

How many more Afrikan-Trini students must fall by the wayside and eventually become trusting, unsuspected and innocent victims of educational death?
"How many more must die?"
"How many more?"
"Could you tell me?"

The bottom-line is that at the end of the day, only a macro, comprehensive, realistic, pro-active, aggressive, holistic, well-conceptualised and thought-out long-range, futuristic national education policy master-plan is the real solution to the admission and student body problems at UWI.

The ball is now in the court of public policy and governance of the PNM regime and rightly so. Nothing else matters; ego-tripping and unrealistic/ill-conceived half-measures avail Afrikan-Trini students nothing.

The fact of the matter is that according to the Central Bank of TnT, "unemployment has increased to 11 per cent in the first half of this year" and the Office of the Prime Minister has stated that "it has created 7,000 jobs in the last seven months."

Neither the Central Bank nor the Government broke down these statistics in terms of Indian, Afrikan and whatever. The statistics refer to all Trinis, period.

Unlike America, the factor of race is totally immaterial and irrelevant in regard to employment and unemployment statistics in TnT. And so too it is in education at all levels of this multi-racial society.

In a similar scenario, a United Nations Development Programme study recently estimated that "270,000 people in TnT still live below the poverty line." Likewise, the UNDP did not breakdown this statistic in terms of Afrikan, Indian and whatever. Its estimate refers to all Trinis, period.

We live in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. We do not live in the United States of Trinidad and Tobago. America is a racist society; let us not make TnT one also.

In some instances, what is good for and relevant to, Euro-America is not necessarily good for and relevant to, TnT. Student admission to UWI is one of those specific instances. Nothing more, nothing less.

Shem Hotep ("I go in peace")

Nantambu's Homepage / Trinicenter Home