Black People & the Social Contract
By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
March 01, 2021
"No society can smash the social contract and be exempt from the consequences, and the consequences are chaos for everybody in the society."
—James Baldwin, Conversations
There are two troubling aspects of slavery and colonialism that remain within our consciousness even though we claim that slavery and colonialism are conditions of the past. The first is the self-hate that these socio-economic formations have created in Black people and a resulting tendency to do everything to prevent fellow Blacks from moving forward. Frantz Fanon discussed this condition in Black Skin, White Masks.
The second aspect of these phenomena was the tendency of incoming groups (immigrants) who, when they met Black people in these Americas, assumed all the biases of the dominant group, and treated Black people with as much scorn and contempt as the oppressor group.
In her book Caste, Isabella Wilkerson observed that in order to gain acceptance, each of the new immigrant groups that came into the Americas (T&T included) "had to enter into a silent, unspoken pact of separating and distancing themselves from the established lowest caste. Becoming white meant defining themselves from its opposite—black. They could establish their new status by observing how the lowest caste was regarded and imitating or one-upping the disdain and contempt, learning to prove themselves worthy of admittance to the dominant caste."
I thought of these observations when Ancel Roget explained why the government rejected the third proposal by the OWTU-owned Patriotic Energies and Technologies Ltd for the acquisition of the former Petroctrin refinery assets.
He complained: "We believe our proposal was not fairly examined and it was not fairly treated with but we are willing to allow ourselves to be held to a higher standard than the multinationals and therefore, that is why our proposal will be more accommodating to the Government revenue" (Express, February 20). At least, that is what he thought.
Roget also argued that some of the information that Colm Imbert put in the public domain at Thursday's post-Cabinet press conference on Patriotic's proposal "was misleading and one-sided." He felt that and their proposals "were not treated with the respect they deserve."
Imbert responded that the government "bent over backwards" to accommodate the company for almost 18 months. He argued that Patriotic submitted "an indicative proposal," that "would have cost the Government billions of dollars," and reiterated that the major "sticking point" was Patriotic's inability to produce evidence that they had the capability to buy the refinery.
This raises the question: Why didn't the government help Patriotic to buy the refinery which seemed to be mutually beneficial to the state and its citizens?
The way the government dealt with Patriotic brought to mind the sweetheart deal it had arranged with Sandals. Afra Raymond observed that the government was "so protective of Sandals' interests that one can scarcely imagine how on earth we, the public, will ever profit from this immense investment."
He cited several aspects of this deal: First, only public money was to be invested and placed at risk in this project. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) reads: "All costs of constructing and outfitting the Resorts in a 'Ready-for-Guest' state including the cost of the soft and grand openings shall be for the account of the Government."
Second, Sandals was to get incentives and concessions that were against the public interest. Raymond notes: "Given that we are investing all the capital, how are we to get a return on that investment, if there are further concessions/incentives granted to the hotelier."
Third: The government undertook "to stabilize the tax regime" to Sandals' advantage. Raymond writes: "The MOU appears to inoculate Sandals from any future impact in terms of changes in taxes, concessions or other incentives." Such a clause meant that Sandals would pay little in taxes for its first twenty-five years in our country.
Such a scandalous provision led Raymond to ask: "Can we negate the sovereign right of Parliament to tax the nation? Can we contract-out of the Social Contract?"
Sandals is a foreign group; Patriotic is local and Black. Why was the government hell-bent on subsidizing a foreign group but showed so little interest in assisting a local group? One wonders how much Sandals would have cost the Trinbagonian taxpayer if that deal had materialized.
Eric Williams, in assessing the status of the Black person within the context of post-slavery and colonial societies, observed: "The contemporary pattern of race relations in the Caribbean necessarily reflects the theories and practices of the long period of slavery—discrimination by whites against people of color in private employment, particularly, and the jealousy between mulattoes and Negroes; to which must be added the jealousy of Negroes towards the descendants of the indentured laborers ("The Historical Background of Race Relations in the Caribbean").
Although we like to believe that racial and color biases are things of the past, it is wise to remember that "new images do not erase or reverse old ones, but like a palimpsest, we write over them to create something else out of the previous script." These new images do not replace "the prior forms of racial consciousness, but instead incorporates elements of past racial formations" (Sydney Lewis, "Looking Forward to the Past").
In spite of our pretenses, whatever our race, we continue to believe that Black people are ill-equipped to handle major financial arrangements. My instinct tells me that the government will sell the refinery to a non-black entity, be it local or foreign.
T&T will pay a moral price if this happens. Such a decision will smash the tenuous social contract that holds us together, and the consequences will haunt us for a long time.
Prof. Cudjoe's email address is email@example.com. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.
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The Slave Master of Trinidad by Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe