Dr. Kwame Nantambu

Question of race and ethnicity in T&T

By Dr Kwame Nantambu
December 16, 2019

One of the most perplexing and intractable issues/problems in T&T is the utter, total misuse albeit mis-categorization of the term "racist" to describe interaction between citizens. And this overt faux pas reared its ugly head during the recent local government elections and the puerile parliamentary squabble between a PNM government minister and a UNC opposition senator— two putatively educated grown men.

The fact of the matter is that according to the Central Statistical Office (CSO), the population census figures (2011) of T&T are as follows : Indians 35.43 %, Africans 34.22 %, Mixed-Other 15.16 %, Mixed African-Indian 7.66 %, Caucasians (White) 0.59 %.

Ipso facto, the combined majority population of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (69.65%) is non-European, non-White, Black and people of color.

The stark geographic reality is that India was never in Europe. India has always been located in Asia. And since Asians are NOT White, then, Indian-Trinbagonians are NOT White.

Africa was never located in Europe so African-Trinbagonians are NOT White—they are Black.

Moreover, China was never in Europe. China has always been located in Asia and since Asians are NOT White, then, Chinese-Trinbagonians are NOT White.

So it stands to logical reasoning that if a Prime Minister of African descent in T&T were to deny a radio license to a T&T citizen of Indian descent, then, that was NOT a racist decision simply because the two entities were of the same racial hue They were both non-White. Ergo, such a decision must only be described as a vindictive political decision. Nothing more, nothing less, according to international best practices.

Concurrently, if the opposition leader of Indian descent were to make disparaging remarks about the Prime Minister who is of African descent, then, her remarks must NOT be characterized as racist because the two entities are of the same racial hue— they are both non-White.

Similarly, the remarks by the current PNM government minister in Parliament should NOT have been describes as "racist" by the UNC opposition senator simply because the two entities are of the same racial hue— they are both non-White. Instead, the minister's remarks should have been merely described as chupid but NOT racist.

Indeed, now is the time for Trinbagonians to cease and desist from fixating/positing local human interaction in T&T into the foreign lenses/paradigm of the United States. The fact of the matter is that T&T DOES NOT have a racial problem. On the contrary, T&T has a messed-up, dysfunctional, divisive ethnic problem. Or as C. L. R. James once warned: "The race question is subsidiary to the class question in politics and to think of (T&T) 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."

By way of extrapolation, African-Americans account for 13 per cent of America's population. Ergo, African-Americans are a national minority in the United States. So if a white policeman were to shoot an African-American male in the back anywhere in the United States, then, by definition, that's a racist act. Similarly, racial profiling in the United States, by definition, is also racist.

On the other hand, African-Trinbagonians are NOT a national minority so to equate albeit juxtapose human interaction in T&T with that of the United States is akin to mixing apples and oranges or as Spranalang once aptly retorted: "like mixing roti and egg."

Now, by interjecting international best practices a la United Nations into the analysis, it becomes very instructive to observe that conversely when in 1992, genocide occurred in Bosnia-Herzegovina during which 200,000 people were brutally killed and slaughtered , the United Nations and the international community described that gruesome incident as 'ethnic cleansing" — NOT racial cleansing because the entities involved were of the same racial hue— White.

In 1994, the wanton slaughter/killing 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 simply because the factions were of the same racial hue— Black.

In May 2008, when 35 people were killed in Rajasthan, a state in western India, the incident was described as "caste violence"— NOT racial violence. The entities were all non-white.

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

Indeed, contemporary clashes between Fatah, Hamas and Palestinians in Gaza are described as "factional violence" —NOT racial violence.

In the final analysis, now is the right, opportune time for Trinbagonians on all sides of the political spectrum/divide to assiduously adhere to the lyrics of the nation's national anthem to the extent that this country is "where every creed and race find an equal place."

Prosecution rests.

Dr Kwame Nantambu is professor emeritus Kent State University, USA

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