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Raffique Shah


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Judge not by colour

By Raffique Shah
February 9, 2014

I know there are many people in the country who think that Keith Rowley is too black to be Prime Minister. I didn't need Fitzgerald Hinds to tell me that, although his charge that such sentiment emanates from the bowels of the PNM, from important persons in the party, did surprise me somewhat.

I don't know why we bury our heads in the sand when the issue of colour prejudice, which is often linked to race prejudice, rears its ugly head in the society. It has always been there, and, I imagine, it always will be. Most people of lighter or whiter complexion, whatever their ethnicity, believe they are superior to others who are dark-skinned, or worse, black.

But let me explain why I state categorically that there are people who believe that Rowley is too black to lead the country. Ever since he emerged in the front rank of the PNM, but more so since he assumed leadership of the party in the wake of its electoral defeat in 2010, I have heard many Indians or fair-skinned persons of mixed, sometimes dubious race, say, “Rowley too damn racial!”

On several occasions when such statement was made to me or in my presence, I asked the accusers, “Why do you say that? Can you point to an instance in which he showed racism?” Invariably, those making the wild charges would be stumped, unable to adduce one shred of evidence to support their allegations.

“Well...well...well,” they would mutter. “Well, what?” I would ask. “Why do you say he is racial?” “Well, he looks that way! Too besides, he crude! And (Patrick) Manning call him a Rottweiler!”

Now, I am not talking about one or two persons: I am talking about scores, in different locations, at different times, but mostly after he became leader of the PNM, and within recent time, a candidate for Prime Minister. Interestingly, there were some very black people among them, but that did not surprise me. You need to read Frantz Fanon to understand why some black people hate their own.

In the scenarios I described above, I deduced that these people detested Rowley based on two factors. First, he is black...very black (don't give me the dark-skinned bull). Second, he leads the PNM, a party that many people love to hate, some with good reason, others without rhyme or reason.

On this latter score, if there is one man in this country who should go to his grave with hatred for the PNM, it would be me. Based on my revolutionary convictions and my involvement in the events of 1970, and the fact that to this day there are PNM fanatics and racists who believe I should be dead for my role then, I should hate them and their party.

But I don't. I treat the PNM as I would any other political party: I belong to none, I jealously guard my independence, and I insist on my right to give praise where it's due or criticism when necessary.

I have known Rowley as a government minister with whom I needed to interact, and as a politician with whom I sometimes had civil conversation. And not once then, nor indeed since, have I had cause to believe he is ‘racial'. If I did, I would pounce on him like the proverbial tonne of bricks.

However, I know too many fair-skinned creoles and ‘red people' who, while they may mix with blacks, will never accept them as leaders—political, institutional or corporate. And I know too many Indians who would be very upset with their sons or daughters who are in relationships with black Indians (yes, there are many black Indians: black is a colour, not a race) or Africans.

But the aforementioned hypocrites would easily embrace whiter-shades-of-pale of inferior stature or intellect or looks as leaders or as sons or daughters-in-law. Ah lie?

Admittedly, such prejudices are personal matters. People have the right to determine who their friends and in-laws are, just as they have the right to be racists.

What they must never be allowed to do is get away with the hypocrisy of denying their prejudices when they are caught out. Watch how many of them who will never support the PNM even if a ‘maharaja' is leading the party, are campaigning against Rowley because he is blacker than Penny Beckles, because they do not want him as Prime Minister.

As for the PNM faithful and its financiers who are similarly inclined, maybe their prejudice is understandable. The party never had someone as black as Rowley as its leader. Dr Eric Williams was brown, George Chambers was a ‘red man', and Patrick Manning brown.

However, leadership of the PNM is PNM business, not mine, not yours.

I have heard some party people charge that Rowley has grown arrogant since he assumed leadership, that he does not acknowledge loyalists who have remained faithful during lean times, that he has his own cabal.

If hubris has set in before the prize, he will pay the ultimate price. But for humanity's sake, do not judge the man by his colour.

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