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Exposing Racism in the Medical Fraternity, Government and Media

By A. Hotep
July 01, 2007

There have been many complaints over the years from the public that the medical fraternity discriminates against Africans who seek to become doctors. The response was a generalization that Africans were not applying themselves for entry into the medical fraternity. Many of us knew that was not true, but those in charge did not feel inclined to investigate the racism in many of the learning institutions, including the University of the West Indies. Now that Professor Bartholomew appears to be making a similar claim, suddenly it is being taken seriously.
In a strongly-worded letter to Minister Mustapha Abdul-Hamid, Minister of Science, Technology and Tertiary Education and copied to the Prime Minister, Patrick Manning; John Rahael, Minister of Health; and the Dean of the Medical Faculty, Dr Phyllis Pitt-Miller; Prof Courtenay Bartholomew, Emeritus Professor Medicine (UWI), has criticised the admissions policy of students for entry into medical school in Mt Hope.

"Over the years I have received many complaints of alleged discriminatory or preferential admission practices in the selection of certain students for entry into medical school here, several of which I am sure are not valid. However, I could not personally verify any of these until it was experienced in a most glaring way by two members of my competent and dedicated staff of the Medical Research Foundation, who in addition to their A-Levels had BScs from very reputable universities in the USA and impressive extracurricular health-related activities while there."
(See: Prof hits admission policy of Mt Hope medical school)
Perhaps having recognized that there may be validity to the claims of racism, Louis Lee Sing (a staunch PNM member and beneficiary of PNM largess), called in to the Umbala program on his radio station i95.5 FM and attempted to distort the intent of those who genuinely lobby for more African awareness before he attacked an opposition member of parliament and the medical fraternity (which is also seen as an arm of the opposition party) for discrimination against Africans.

An audio clip of Louis Lee Sing's comment on i95.5 FM during Umbala's show on the morning of July 01, 2007

The preamble to Louis Lee Sing's politically motivated support for the claims made by Professor Bartholomew is a distortion at best, while clearly showing the abject contempt he holds for African culture and African people.

Louis Lee Sing said:
...We are about a better Trinidad and Tobago. We are not about a better Africa or a better India; we leave that for people who live far away from here and are no doubt catching their times. In this place however, people are so happy they want to take us back to that place where people are catching their behinds and crawling on their bellies and bottoms and we will not permit that to happen in this society...
Successive governments, starting with the PNM, have all contributed to the racism that exists in society by continually denying that racism exists in many quarters except during political hustling. They have all suppressed efforts to develop awareness from the African point of view to help redress the colonial brainwashing that fuels racism against Africans, and from the racism that is part of the Brahminical Hindu caste system.

It has been a common banal tactic of certain PNM members to claim that African cultural awareness programs have been about trying to take people back to an imagined Africa, 'a backward Africa where people crawl on their bellies'. In the years that the political organization the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) was politically active, PNM members told the public that if NJAC won the elections people would be forced to change their names and wear dashikis. The idea of African names and dashikis was offensive to people who were colonized to feel that associating with Africa, African history and cultures was degrading. Of course, the degrading colonization worked and NJAC never got many votes in any elections although they fielded some of the more informed candidates.

One must remember that it was Louis Lee Sing who said that African historical and cultural programs on the radio would bring the nation to another Bosnia and Sarajevo. He stated this on the first anniversary of Power 102 FM while he was a partner there, when asked why he does not support African programs on the airways.

Louis Lee Sing was in charge of the state media and for many years, even during his reign, the state media hosted daily Indian cultural programs. The state media called on members of the Indian community to put together cultural programs which they hosted. This was never extended to the African community except around Emancipation holidays when they allowed fifteen-minute segments of African information. The common argument was that the state media would not get sponsorship for such programs (a stupid excuse to start with), but this was proven not to be the real reason when I publicly lobbied and challenged the station to host my program, 'Dialogue', which I also sponsored. However, the popular program ended, and when callers enquired as to the reason they were told that there were not sponsors to continue it. However, several persons including myself publicly stated that in actuality our funds were refused. One business person stated that he was told by the stations program director to save his funds for some other program because they were restructuring the radio station and were not continuing the program, 'Dialogue', at this time.

Unaddressed racism is the reason there were not ongoing African cultural programs on the state media and is also the reason that in this country where there are so many privately owned media institutions, not one is dedicated to the African perspective.

The constant uninformed attacks from the highest echelons in society toward those who are urgently addressing racism, and seek to further do so through the media, contribute to the low level of interest in African-focused radio and television stations. Many have seen the evidence that the state would not endorse such stations, and the public, who by and large are mostly not sensitive to the value of an African cultural format, would not assist and defend such a venture.

While some people could now be less opposed to admitting that racism is taking place in the medical fraternity (even if only for their own partisan political motives), for years some Africans have been expressing similar sentiments and have been denied space in the media to expand on the many aspects of institutional racism as they exist. We have been denied space in the local media to assist in addressing racism through increasing African cultural awareness that could help remove some of the negative stereotypes, while raising self-esteem. So while some are calling on the government to investigate the medical fraternity, I would like to see those same ones acknowledge the role of the media in sustaining racism.

Share your opinions here

A. Gillian
Jul 1st, 2007 at 5:16 pm

I find Mr. Lee Sing's statements to be not only quite racist and stupid but in fact contradictory. As Mr. Hotep rightly said it has always been the silly claim by many with unaddressed racism to say that discussing African issues means taking us "back to Africa" (although I never understood why that was a bad thing, considering West Indians who migrate for all sorts of reasons are quite cool with always seeing themselves as Caribbean and are seen by foreigners as holding on to their Caribbean roots, and people are quite fine with that). Mr. Lee Sing then had to take it a step further by seeming to insinuate that all Africans are "catching their behinds...crawling on their bellies and bottoms" as he put it. In other words, why on earth would anyone want to identify with those unfortunate, degraded people? This is not only an insipid generalization but speaks to his view of African people on the continent, as low creatures who exist in a world of uniform degradation and backwardness. This is unsurprising. Mr. Lee Sing's comments on National Service, some time ago also speaks to his unaddressed and unreasoned issues.

His comments in the above clip are quite contradictory. It seems as though he could not resist sticking in his own personal ideas about people who call for addressing African issues whether or not it was relevant to the issue. While he begins his statement by lashing out at those who call for addressing African issues by speaking of continental Africans in a very insulting manner, he goes on to show just why these unaddressed issues lead to so many social problems. He says that now that it was Mr. Bartholomew and not Mr. Cudjoe or Mr. Umbala or many ordinary African people that raised the issue of racism in UWI's Medical School, then maybe Prime Minister Manning will do something about it. This statement in itself shows that the views of so called ordinary Africans are not only not respected and regarded by the authorities, but that clearly Africans are not given enough air space to deal with those issues most closely affecting African people in the media that their own taxes pay for, the State media. Certainly with adequate media space to address African issues it would have been much harder to ignore the pleas of so many African students and parents who have made this claim, like many of the claims of racism in the health sector such as those made by African women suffering in the nations hospital through maltreatment by Indian doctors who attempt to convince them to opt for sterilization.

Indeed, the calls for investigations into the admission practices at Mt Hope have been around for some time. I am also personally acquainted with some post A'Level students admitted to undergraduate study at UWI who were advised by Indian academic advisors to opt for the Humanities instead of Sciences en route to Medical School because the field is "very competitive". I am aware of the present government giving scholarships for Trinidadians to study medicine at St. George's University in Grenada and I personally know of a few young Africans whom many felt were quite qualified for admittance to Mt Hope but were refused and then took up government scholarships to study in Grenada. Now, I have heard some people link this to a possible move by the government to circumvent UWI's biased admission policies and train much-needed, qualified doctors. If this is indeed so, then one must ask why the government chose to try to address this imbalance in such a covert manner? Is there an unwillingness to openly challenge anti-African biases by Indians who dominate the medical fraternity at Mt Hope for political purposes? Or could it be that UWI is a law unto itself? Certainly there are Africans who are qualified enough to attend several medical school's abroad in the United States, the United Kingdom as well as St. George's Grenada.

Mr. Lee Sing may have his own ideas about the need for African space in the mainstream media, and the need to address racism and promote African cultural awareness, but his own statement invalidated whatever point he was trying to make by inserting that diatribe. The issue of discrimination against African students in UWI Mt. Hope's admission policies is yet another manifestation of a lack of African cultural awareness and unaddressed anti-African racism, contributed to in no small part by a biased and prejudiced mainstream media.

Jul 2nd, 2007 at 5:05 pm

The more you keep lingering this Race talk the more it would be magnified. Based on how it is made to be recognised it sneakingly manifests itself into the peoples minds.

There are many in Africa and India who arent wealthy, this doesnt mean that we are better than them if we have more. They may actually be more happy than us many times.

I for one never knew that this was the extent people segregated themselves.

I remember once someone said he was planning to apply for housing in trinidad but he was 'stopped in his tracks' by another who told him he wont find a place there, he was Indian!!

I was shocked at that. This appears to be headed at Afro Trinis too, as in the above scenario.

These trends are mainly the works of the Politicians in my view.

Ruel Daniels
Jul 3rd, 2007 at 10:46 am

Senior Postulates:

The more you keep lingering this Race talk the more it would be magnified. Based on how it is made to be recognised it sneakingly manifests itself into the peoples minds.
How come you do not take the same position when the race talk comes from Indians. It is like I defined it in another response to your discernible deceitful and facetious attempts to silence debate whenever it addressed anti African racism. And like I said in the other thread, it disturbs that comfort level you and others culturally married to the Brahminical Hindu caste system have grown to expect as a matter of course.

Africans hear me! Do not allow these conniving bastards to silence your voices raised against oppression. They are involved in a conspiracy to create a paradigm in the Caribbean for discussions on race that shelters and obscures the centuries old prejudices inherent in their social order. Speak long and speak loud, and let our voices be clarion calls to our bretheren all the Caribbean and the Americas to be alert to the machinations of the "nuevo slave master aspirants". We must seek understanding, peace and inter group tolerance among all of the people of the world in general and the Caribbean in particular. But we must never do so at the expense of our pride, our dignity, or the future environment our children will have to live in. "Fire bun dem rass man"

Thomas Edward
Jul 4th, 2007 at 11:37 pm

What's interesting about Ahotep commentary is that he, in his anti-PNM rant choice to attack Mr. Lee Sing, who in my view, is more patriotic that Ahotep could ever be. I listen to what Mr. Lee Sing said and how could anyone draw the conclusion that A. Hotep drew is beyond me. But then again that's a reflection of A. Hotep anti-PNM position. Instead of dealing with the issue which is a ligitimate one and directing his critisism at the people that has shown utter contempt for the african population in Trinidad and Tobago, namely the Sat Maharaj and the Panday and all these other interlectual bigots, he choses to attack Mr. Lee Sing. Shame on you, you so called africanist.

Ruel Daniels
Jul 5th, 2007 at 8:03 pm

One must remember that it was Louis Lee Sing who said that African historical and cultural programs on the radio would bring the nation to another Bosnia and Sarajevo. He stated this, on the first anniversary of Power 102 FM while he was a partner there, when asked why he does not support African programs on the airways.
My question is, what do you think Lee Sing was inferring with this comment. Especially since from time immemorial there have been Indian programming on television and radio and he never saw that as an ignition point for furor. Is he contending that the presence of African Programming will elicit the kind of resentment that would lead to racial strife.

The biggest obstacle to Africans asserting themselves with the same cultural fervour of others is the compromising attitude among our leadership who are prepared to accept some form of intolerance as a means to an end. I say they should be as critical of the nothern racism of the Le Sing's as they are about about the bottom feeding and primitive antipathy of the Sat Maharajs and the Pandays. In toto, Africans comprise an overwhelming majority of the peoples of the Caribbean, and we should pander to and kowtow to no one. Let them do their worse, and we must do our best by holding together across the seas, and completely ignoring those who evidence a dislike for us.

L. Logan
Jul 6th, 2007 at 12:41 am

This is an important issue which to my mind is lacking in the minds of the Afro-intelligensia. As a boy(I'M 68), I have always noticed that Afro-Trinidadians of other West Indian parentage are always more serious about racism against the African than Afro-Trinidadian of Trinidadian parentage. The Afro-Trinidadian (Trinidad) mantra is almost always "let's us all get along" in the face of serious challenges and charges of racism from our Indian counterparts. One need not look far but in our rumshops, factories, CEPEP, URP to see how the African has prospered under a so called "African" government. Then look at the medical fraternity (represented mainly by MPATT), the Law Association, the so-called "religious" fraternity represented by Sat and others, the Main contractors (govt), the business associations are represented almost exclusively by one race. One only needs to open your eyes and see that these same people are always crying "discrimination".

African man wake up and see that you are not only being discrinated against but you are always not taken seriously by your own people when it is glaring that you are way behind everyone else in the scheme of things in Trinidad and Tobago. Are we waiting for the other people to form the next government to find that out?

My friends, there are no one lower down the ladder than our Afro brothers and sisters but we need to start the upward mobility with our children. We need to teach them manners, gentleness, respect, history, community and a host of educational mannerisms before we can be on the road to recovery.

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