Noble: Writers must read too; why Baldeosingh misunderstands Black Power movement

Stephen King, the famed writer, once said: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others, read a lot and write a lot.”

It is a pity that several in our community do the second and not the first. But beyond that, book publishing has a fact checking problem: it is left up to the author to catch and correct. The editor simply looks for grammatical errors and maybe libellous stuff.

Photo: Author, columnist and satirist Kevin Baldeosingh.

I guess we cannot expect Wired868 to perform fact check and so in an effort to help the process, I have a few comments about the last piece by Kevin Baldeosingh. I do this reluctantly, but it is necessary since history will judge us for perpetuating material that cannot be supported—and I do want Kevin Baldeosingh to be a better writer. God knows we need more writers.

His refutation of NJAC’s claim about the crime rate cannot be supported by the use of a table with three years of data. Studying crime trends is somewhat different from other research endeavours. One does not draw on one data source or point and conclude but needs to draw on several sources, including economic, social, and demographic. The time frame has to be longer.

For example, there was a significant rise in crime after the Black Power days were past: is it possible that this represented a lag effect and that indeed the Black Power movement suppressed crime?

I have no definitive answers, but I know enough about crime statistics and their drivers to know that a three or even five-year period is inadequate to comment comprehensively on the incidence of crime. The time series analysis by Sookram et al (2009) can be a helpful guide.

Baldeosingh asserts that the hiring by banks of non-white persons post the 1970 protests was a mere acceleration of an ongoing process. He further cites the ad run by the Bank of Nova Scotia (as it was then called) on the appointment of Ronald Chan as proof of a burgeoning loan and mortgage demand which drove the need for more staff that reflected a ‘new non-white customer base’.

Photo: Scotia Bank branch manager for Arima, Ronald Chan, addresses the public in a Trinidad Express advert on 11 June 1967.

Firstly, the bank was in a fierce fight with its competitors. It had exited the local market in 1906 and only returned in 1954. The Penny Bank, which started in 1914, was the only locally owned bank for a long period.

There was a scramble among new competitors with some acquiring older entities. For example, Barclays Bank DCO, the forerunner of Republic Bank, bought the Bank of Trinidad in 1963.

Citi Bank in their 50th anniversary book (2015) noted: “Before 1970, the bank employee was typically of European or Chinese descent. But in the 1980s banks added to the diversity of their work forces by hiring more persons of African and Indian descent.”

It contextualised the development in this manner: “For one, Government exerted pressure on the foreign-owned banks to allow locals to become the majority shareholders of the various banks by divesting at least 51% of their shareholding to local institutions and persons. Some of the foreign-owned banks did sell down their shareholding and localised and one, Chase Manhattan, decided to sell its entire shareholding. However, Citibank sold part of its shares.”

Secondly, if one peruses the Handbook about the banking system, maintained by the Central Bank, it would be seen that the steady build in financial assets began in 1972 and reaching new heights in 1976.

Photo: Demonstrators in front of the Royal Bank of Canada in 1970.
(via NJAC)

In 1970, Trinidad and Tobago earned only TT$29.5 million from oil exports. By 1979, the income had ballooned to TT$920.8 million. The oil price had moved from US$2.60 per barrel in 1972 to over US$10 per barrel by 1974.

‘Money was no problem’, intoned then Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams in an uncharacteristic moment.

The scramble between the banks would put into context why Ronald Chan, an Arima boy, would be featured. Here was a ‘Chinese’ man born in Arima and grounded in life in Port of Spain (he was an avid steelband lover), a veritable trump card for the Bank seeking business among the traders of Arima.

Royal Bank brought in Peter July (1962) and Terrence Martins (1972) from Guyana. Dunbar McIntyre and John Jardim of Republic Bank are Caribbean people.

Alison McLetchie’s 2013 doctoral thesis, “The Parasitic Oligarchy? The Elites in Trinidad and Tobago” may be helpful. I have my personal story about discrimination in hiring in 1968 at a then major bank that caused me to never darken that bank’s doors again.

The argument that NJAC focused most of its rhetorical attacks on white people is to miss the point. It is to ignore the ‘Afro Saxons’ (a term coined by Lloyd Best) and to fail to distinguish between a government headed by a black man and the decisions that were being made.

Photo: The late Lloyd Best, an intellectual, professor, columnist and economist.
(Copyright Lloyd Best Institute)

Much good can come from reading Best about the structure of the day. Better yet, speak with the surviving Elders of Laventille and understand their sense of betrayal of their Independence dream. Black Power was a cry against a system, not a people. It was an anti-colonial struggle.

La Guerre (1988) called it ‘a call to open careers to talent’ in the face of rampant unemployment. The context for the Ryan Poll result is that oppressed people seldom realise they are the oppressed, but all yearn for their turn to ‘ride the white horse of the Governor’.

It is possible that a lack of an intellectual framework causes Baldeosingh to miss the fact that the Black Power struggles opened up a space for the East Indian community to question their own life chances. Ken Parmasad, a Society for the Propagation of Indian Culture (SPIC) activist, according to Ryan (1996), claims that this was the basis of the welcome extended to the Black Power movement.

This new sense of awareness coincided with the oil boom and they took the opportunity to ‘leave their rural enclaves and increasingly participate in mainstream sectors’ Munsinghe (2001).

Migration in the 1970s was both a function of colonial ties as well as the changes in the US legislation. The UK was a prime magnet for our nurses for many reasons at that moment. A read of Docquier and Marfouk (2005) will be instructive.

Photo: NJAC leader Makandal Daaga (centre) holds a press conference in 1970.
(Courtesy Embau Moheni/NJAC)

The passage of the Hart-Cuellar Immigration Reform Act (1965) opened the door for the US and we had an emigration increase that estimated at a magnitude of seven-fold (1950 to 1970). Not only white people left. The Laventille Elders would tell you that some of their children were sent abroad to Canada.

Baldeosingh needs to read the masterful book, ‘Social and Occupational Stratification in Contemporary Trinidad and Tobago’ (ed. Ryan, 1991) to understand the changes in the nature of our society. He should particularly read Professor Rhoda Reddock’s contribution (pp 210 -234).

I strongly urge Mr Baldeosingh to heed the advice of Stephen King before writing any book on this matter.

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About Noble Philip

Noble Philip, a retired business executive, is trying to interpret Jesus’ relationships with the poor and rich among us. A Seeker, not a Saint.

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  1. Noble Phillips’ intellectual bias is an ongoing feature of all his “analyses”. Apart from his basing his argument on how much I read (about which he has absolutely no knowledge) it’s telling that he does not also argue that, by his own measures, NJAC has no basis for claiming crime dropped by over 50% in 1970.

    As for the banks, if he reads my book, he will find detailed economic data from the 1960s proving the point. My source is the same Central Bank book he cites, but apparently didn’t read.

  2. Noble Philip does not read enough. And if he reads at all, he reads with very, very dark shades fit for bright light.
    He should read this-

    • Noble, be gentle with the idiot, oops, the doctor. One of those who talks because he thinks he has to say something, not because he thinks he has something meaningful to say.

      • Earl, I happen to ‘know’ both Kumar and Kevin well from earlier exchanges in other quarters. My earned doctoral degree has taught me that research is a most necessary ingredient in writing scholarly pieces. My 2017/18 responses to both gentlemen should have demonstrated that I do read widely when I offered counter arguments to their inaccurate views. Having witnessed here the continued performance of this tag team, I am now beginning to wonder whether what I publicly described as the “dishonest stripping of context and distortion” is deliberate. As pointed out in those exchanges, “A 1960’s QRC education is a fine asset to possess”. Sadly, neither availed themselves of such.

    • Dear Kumar, I thank you for your comment. I fail to understand what additional bright light your citation has brought that either corrects a point made or a historical fact offered. I did not comment in my writing about the controversial argument re the involvement of the East Indian community but acknowledged the presence of SPIC and cited Munasinghe’s 2001 account published in Muse. You may wish to read page 20. He asserts that the East Indian community remained aloof. He in his book ‘Callaloo or tossed salad’ amplifies and supports your view about the perception of the East Indian community by citing Gosine (1986). For me to quote from both Munasinghe’s accounts and use other scholars which he used means that I have read and accepted the argument. This means you added no light except that you wish for me to read (which I have) your account. It is my view that you have added neither light nor heat.

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