Dr. Kwame Nantambu

Race versus Ethnicity in T&T: Afri-centric Analysis

By Dr. Kwame Nantambu
Posted: March 19, 2015
Updated: April 20, 2015

Now that "an ongoing NACTA tracking polling exercise has found that Guyanese voters are as racially polarized for the May 11 General Election," it is a sine qua non to delineate the confusion/misunderstanding between race versus ethnicity in Trinidad and Tobago as the 2015 general election looms.

The fact of the matter is that according to the 2011 population census figures: Indians comprise 35.43 per cent, Africans 34.22 per cent, Mixed Other 15.16 per cent, Mixed African/Indian 7.66 per cent and Caucasians (Whites) 0.59 per cent. Ergo, the majority population in Trinidad and Tobago is non-White, non-European, Black/African and people of color.

Africans are not Europeans; they are not white. Indians are not Europeans; they are not white. India is in Asia ; Asia was never in Europe.

By way of elucidation, if a Prime Minister of African descent were to deny a radio license to a citizen of Indian descent , then, that is not a racist/racial policy decision. Instead, it represents ethnic discrimination/victimization simply because the two entities are of the same racial hue.

Similarly, if a T&T government were to deport Africans back to Africa (Ghana), then, that policy decision is not racist. On the contrary, it represents ethnic victimization precisely because the two entities involved, namely the deportees and the vast majority members of the government are of the same racial hue. They are not European. They are not white. They are non-white, Black/African , people of colour.

By way of further indepth elucidation, in 1992 when genocide took place in Bosnia-Herzegovina during which 200,000 people were brutally killed, the United Nations and the international community described it as "ethnic cleansing"--- not racial cleansing because the entities involved were of the same racial hue.

In 1994, the wanton killing/slaughter of 800,000 people in Rwanda during the struggle between the Hutus and Tutsis was described as "ethnic genocide"--- not racial genocide. In May 2005, when about 8,000 were fleeing from deadly violent clashes around Ivory Coast's western cocoa town of Duekoue, the United Nations described those incidents as "ethnic clashes"--- not racial clashes.

In January 2008, when violence broke out in the slums in Nairobi, Kenya, that incident was described as "ethnic bloodshed"--- not racial bloodshed because the factions were of the same racial hue.

In May 2008, when 35 people were killed in Rajasthan, a state in western India, that incident was described as "caste violence"--- not racial violence.

In August 2009, violent clashes between rival groups in south Sudan were described as "ethnic clashes"--- not racial clashes.

In June 2010, 77 persons were killed in southern Kyrgystan during what was described as "ethnic riots"--- not racial riots.

Finally, as of this writing, violent clashes between Fatah, Hamas and Palestinians in Gaza are described as "factional violence"--- not racial violence for the very same afore-mentioned reason.

Conversely, the incidents that took place in the United States between white police officers and unarmed African-American teenage males were indeed described as racial/ racist discrimination/victimization simply because the two entities involved were not of the same racial hue. Such racial/racist incidents have taken place in Sanford, Florida; Ferguson, Missouri; Madison, Wisconsin; North Charleston, South Carolina; Staten Island, New York City; Cleveland and Baltimore..

The salient fact of the matter is that African-Americans only comprise 13 per cent of the national population (minority). Ipso facto, the majority population of the United States is White. Let that be clearly understood. That's not the case in regard to population dynamics/make-up Trinidad and Tobago.

This is the overt confusing correlation that has been and is still being made to describe events, decisions and/or public remarks/comments in the country.

Truth Be Told: The United States has a racial problem because of its minority-majority population paradigm/dynamics. Trinidad and Tobago has an ethnic problem because of its majority population paradigm/dynamics. And any attempt to equate the two scenarios tantamounts to mixing apples and oranges. Or as MC/comedian Sprangalang once put it: "mixing roti and egg."

The fact of the matter is that "foreign" is neither the solution nor frame of reference in which to analyze the myriad of unfortunate incidents/decisions/issues/ public remarks that confront Trinidad and Tobago; in fact, its use is the problem.

Indeed, now is the opportune time for all Trinbagonians "to get with the program" and to clearly understand the significant difference between race versus ethnicity.

As the erudite, Afri-centric African-American scholar/historian Dr. Marimba Ani surmises: "You're not an African (Indian) because you're born in Africa (India). You're an African (an Indian) because Africa (India) is born in you. It's in your genes... your DNA... Your entire biological make up. Whether you like it or not that's the way it is; that's the way it is. However, if you embrace this truth with open arms... my, my, my, what a wonderful thing" fo all Trinibagonians to live rby 24-7-365.

And as C.L.R. James once concluded: "The race question is subsidiary to the class question in politics and to think of (today's neo-colonialism in Trinidad and Tobago) in terms of race is disastrous. But to neglect the racial factor as merely incidental is an error only less grave than to make it fundamental."

In the final analysis, the Afri-centric perspective on race versus ethnicity in Trinidad and Tobago strongly contends that the blood that unites us is thicker than the diasporan water and culture that seek to separate and divide us. Furthermore, we might have been brought violently, involuntarily and inhumanely from Africa and/or come mostly voluntarily from India in different slave/indentured ships but as Trinbagonians "to D bone", we can only achieve national unity/identity and positive/potent nation-building in the same Pan Trinbagonian boat.

Shem Hotep ("I go in peace").

Dr. Kwame Nantambu is a part-time lecturer at Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies.

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