from an address to Naeaps Emancipation Dinner 2006)
Selwyn R Cudjoe
At a time of national self-searching and self-knowing, it
is important to be objective in any analysis of our affairs.
This year represents 172 year since Africans in the English-speaking
world were freed; 89 years after indentureship ended and 44
years since our nation became independent. Yet, in spite of
all of these signposts of autonomous development, we still
find it necessary to ask the white man 3,000 miles away to
solve our problems. In effect, to tell us what is right, what
to write, what is wrong and how to order our national life.
Hence, the question: after all of this time, how free are
Part of the problem resides in an ambivalent national self-consciousness
and a traumatised psyche that is burdened still by the slave
and indenture experiences.
In 1899, Rudyard Kipling wrote the White Mans Burden.
Take up the White Mans burden
Send forth the best ye breed
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives need
To wait in heavys harness
On fluttered folk and wild
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child
In Kiplings way of seeing, each one of us in this island
was a half-devil, half-child. The function of the white mans
rule was to exorcise the devil. Ostensibly, our responsibility
was to nurture the child within us.
Therefore, our emancipation celebrations should not be only
about the exorcism of the devil or nurturing the half-child.
It should consist of an honest examination of what ails our
society and what militate against national self-discovery.
First, the centre of our difficulties resides in our inability
to determine how the two major religions of our society, Hinduism
and Christianity, speak to the questions of morality, justice
and fairness and what impact each has upon the current crisis
that we see in our nation.
Second, the major problem that faces T&T deals with the
ascendancy (or attempted ascendancy) of one ethic group and
its feverish attempt to dominate the other ethnic groups regardless
of the chaos or conflict that ensues in the process.
However, I hasten to add that it is not so much who reigns
but whether equity rules the society and how well we adhere
to the words of our national anthem which reminds us of the
national ideal that here every creed and race finds
(or is it find) an equal place.
This must be the sine-qua-non of our national existence if
we are to make our way through this morass.
One historical case demonstrates my point.
In his classic study on the origins of modern English society
in the 19th century, Harold Perkin argues that the emergence
of the new class, the working class, did not spring into existence
full-grown and fully armed. It did so inch by inch, step by
From the beginning, the function of class consciousness or,
in our case, ethnic consciousness, was to draw a sharp
line between each class (or ethnic group) and the next by
means of the conflict taking place across it.
So that all the turmoil that we see in our society today not
only represents a relentless struggle on the part of the East
Indians to dominate the society, it also suggests that the
agents of their group are prepared to utilise any meansbe
they legal, political, academic or religiousto achieve
ethnic dominance that constitutes the essence of the conflict
that we see in T&T today.
Today, the pursuit of ethnic dominance takes on the form of
An indispensable dimension of this thrust towards East Indian
dominance is to control the national agenda or, as Perkin
says: to operate as an instrument of propaganda or psychological
warfare vis-à-vis the other classes, to undermine their
confidence in their own ideal, and tries to win them over
to ones own.
In its thrust for national dominance the agents of any group
must educate its own to a realisation of its ethnic superiority
and then demand that the rest of the society accept its valuation
of its persecuted condition.
This is why Perkin says, the class which was most successful
in this educational and moral struggle, in uniting its own
members and imposing its ideals upon others, would win the
day and have most influence in determining the actual society
in which all had to live and in approximating it more or less
closely to its own ideal.
As we watch the social tensions in our society, it is important
to understand that the primary conflict has to do with a struggle
between two different religious beliefs and their imperatives;
the determination of one ethnic group to dominate and control
the society; the East Indians primary loyalty to his
ethnic group rather than the nation; and the use of propaganda
and psychological warfare to achieve that end.
There are certain imperatives Africans must follow to find
their way in this modern age.
African parents must take responsibilities of their children
and involve themselves more centrally with the concerns of
the extended African family in the society. If we do not take
this responsibility seriously we encourage the growth of the
half-devils and strangled half-children before they even reach
the age of maturity.
Black business people and professionals who have made it have
a responsibility to contribute to the elevation and advancement
of the group. They must contribute financially and give their
services to organisations such as Naeap (National Association
for the Empowerment of African People) to extract their people
from the pit into which they have fallen.
It should be a sacred duty to contribute $5,000 annually to
a national organisation such as Naeap.
African people must think more about the group and less about
their individual pursuits. As individuals, we may achieve
everything we set out to achieve. Yet, in the process, we
become poorer every time our group pride, group initiative
and group collectivity declines.
African people must redress the self-hatred within the group
and appreciate the attempt by many to devalue black life.
Therefore, part of the black mans agenda must be how
we deal with our self-hatred and to determine how it denigrates
and harms us.
The challenge of the Afro-Trinbagonian politician, particularly
those who find themselves in governance, must be to ensure
that even as they seek to keep Indo-Trinidadians happy and
satisfied; they must do the same for Afro-Trinbagonians.
In their desire to keep Indo-Trinbagonians happy and satisfied,
Afro-Trinbagonian politicians go out of their way to please
them at the expense of Afro-Trinbagonians. This must stop.
The cultivation of our religious/spiritual sensibility is
central to our regaining our centre in this land. The dread
we felt in the presence of our Yoruba gods, or Orishas, like
Shango or Ogun have diminished to the point where we, in the
African community, dread nothing, respect nothing and that
has resulted in a loss of our respect for everything around
us, even human life.
Every effort should be made to fill the spiritual/religious
vacuum that inundates our lives.
African people must find ways to have their voices heard in
the national debate.
Four years ago, Naeap applied for a radio licence. Scores
of radio licences have been granted but Naeap is yet to receive
a license or even a column in a national newspaper to express
In T&T today, the East Indians may not reign but their
ideas rule and therein lays the danger of their dominance.
As we celebrate another year of emancipation, Africans must
remember the interconnectedness of our lives.
John Donne put it best when he said, Perchance he for
whom this bells tolls, may be so ill, as that he knows not
that it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so
much better than I am, as they who are about me, and see my
state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.
Any man death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind,
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.
The bell of redemption tolls for us all, especially for those
of us who are Africans. Let us not fail to heed its call.
On this Emancipation Day, we must rededicate ourselves to
making T&T a better place in which to live.
Yes, and may God bless our nation.
Professor Cudjoes e-mail is [email protected].
The entire address can be read at trinicenter.com