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(Excerpts from an address to Naeap’s Emancipation Dinner 2006)

Black man’s responsibility

By 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 we?

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 Man’s Burden.

He said:

Take up the White Man’s burden

Send forth the best ye breed

Go bind your sons to exile

To serve your captives’ need

To wait in heavy’s harness

On fluttered folk and wild—

Your new-caught, sullen peoples,

Half devil and half child

In Kipling’s way of seeing, each one of us in this island was a half-devil, half-child. The function of the white man’s 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 step.

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 means—be they legal, political, academic or religious—to 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 legal struggle.

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 one’s 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 Indian’s 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 man’s 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 its views.

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 Cudjoe’s e-mail is [email protected]. The entire address can be read at trinicenter.com

 

 

 

 

 

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