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Raffique Shah


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Poverty, not race, the real issue

November 09, 2003
By Raffique Shah

REALLY, all the "race talk" that appears intent on widening the divide between the two main ethnic groups in the country has begun to bore me. I am fed-up with the rantings of the Selwyn Cudjoes, the Basdeo Pandays, the Sat Maharajs and sundry other zealots in this otherwise tranquil country—not a large group, but a vociferous one. And because we give them so much media coverage, which is what they crave, we make them appear to be much more important to the future of this country than expose them for the dinosaurs they really are.

The recent brouhaha over Subhas Panday's discovery in the text of a Budget document of a simple phrase regarding COSTAATT's recruitment policy is a case in point. Given our artificial sensitivity to anything related to race (which is where we have allowed these morons to take us), maybe the targeting of Afro-males of a certain age group in the document was a big mistake. In other words, the Government should just go ahead and do what they felt they had to do without spelling it out. But Subhas and his colleagues ignored so many other flaws in the Budget to focus on this one non-issue, they almost succeeded in making it a cause celebre.

Ministers Keith Rowley and Danny Montano put the statement in context. They did it in Parliament and via media interviews, quite effectively, I thought. They raised the issue of the prevalence of diabetes among Indo-males of a certain age group. They then asked: should the Government target this group for special attention with respect to their lifestyles and for receiving preventative treatment, would that be considered "racial"? No one has answered that question. They cannot, because it's a fact of life, much the way the non-performance of young Afro-males is, or the way Afro-males over 50 appear to be more susceptible to prostate problems.

So while the Subhas discovery might have appeared to be racist, it was the proverbial storm in a teacup that was allowed to escalate into a hurricane of damaging proportions. That is for those who wanted to be damaged by it. Because nowhere in the document did it say these "Afro-males" would be registered with COSTAATT if they did not meet the basic requirements, nor did it say they will be given preference over better qualified students of any other race. In fact, when some students in the programme were interviewed, one could sense the non-existence of such concerns among them, their main goal being to achieve what they set out to do.

I need add that when the UNC was "Indianising" the URP programme they did not think that was racist. Nor did I, for that matter, since the programme had been confined to urban districts under previous governments. But what they did help create by planting the programme in rural districts is the same dependency syndrome they readily condemn.

I remember during the second year of the UNC's term of office cane farmers could not get cane cutters because the "fellas" found it easier to earn money doing nothing-a-la-URP than sweating in hot cane fields. The UNC also swept the state boards clean and planted mainly Indians on them. Wasn't that racist? And if they label the few Indians who are in the PNM Cabinet as "traitors to their race" and other vulgar epithets, then what of the Afro-Trinis who were strategically placed to benefit from UNC largesse when that party was in power? And by the way, now that the party is out of power, where are these "Afro brothers and sisters?" Gone with the wind?

I hope people understand that both political parties are rooted in race, but one remains mired in it while the other is trying to clamber out of it. Maybe the main reason the PNM is trying to shed its "race skin" is because it realises that in the future no party that's stuck in that mode will ever form the government in this country again. If, therefore, the UNC wants to continue beating up on the dead race bogey, let them be. And if Cudjoe sees salvation in whipping up the Afro-masses with a stinking heap of elephant dung, then let him and those who choose to applaud him wallow in the mess. They do not bother me, none of them, because I am one Trini-to-the-bone who "nah leaving" this here country.

In focusing on race, both parties have ignored more fundamental issues that should be of prime concern to us as a gas-and-oil-blessed country. Poverty is the first that comes to mind. Recently, I raised that matter with Prime Minister Manning during a live interview. What was his government doing about eradicating poverty? He glossed over the question by pointing to several measures the Government has proposed—increase in social benefits for the disabled and pensioners, and enhancement of the school nutrition programme. But what of the thousands outside of that net who suffer daily? What of children who wake up not knowing what breakfast is? Who have never drunk tea (except perhaps "bush tea"). These poor souls fall outside the various "nets" set up by Government, and, I should add, they exist among both major races.

People, more so young men and women, are crying out for employment, but to no avail. Many have the required CXC passes, some even have A-Level passes or first degrees. But they sit at home (or on street corners), a continuing burden to their parents who sacrificed to educate them, and easy bait for criminals fishing for recruits. Should the Government not focus on these children who have reached critical cross-roads in their lives? Or will it instead bow to the dictates of globalisation and leave tens of thousands on the breadline just to make the IMF happy? Aren't the measures proposed in the Budget designed to further enrich the rich and pauperise the poor? Worldwide the rich-poor gap is widening, and deliberately so. That's what globalisation is all about: focus on the rich, help the intelligent or educated, and leave the mass of "others" to fend for themselves, to die not knowing what it was like to live. Any wonder so many young men virtually volunteer to be targets-for-bullets when death seems to be more inviting than life?

We are in a sorry state, and it has little to do with crime or race. It's more a question of lack of vision on the part of our leaders, and their obsequiousness to the international agencies of death.