Noble: The golden handcuffs—our love-hate relationship with Trinidad and Tobago

In 1958, the author, John Steinbeck, wrote an essay describing San Francisco as a city with “a golden handcuff with the key thrown away”.

The article was a rhapsody about life in that city. On the other hand, we watch our nation slide into a putrid abyss—never leaving but badmouthing it persistently.

A protester shows off her placard after the death of 23-year-old Andrea Bharatt.

We ignore that we choose empty flattery and short-term conveniences over actual development. We permit others to divide us for their benefit. We bear the costs, and they enjoy the spoils.

When will we see this rot for what it is and refuse to perpetuate it?

The historical scorn put on the emancipated people still haunt us. The planters took the pre-emptive step in preventing ex-slaves from accessing Crown Lands, designed to remove any alternative to estate work (Tikasingh, 2012).

The colonists contributed to the racial stereotypes of “bestial” Africans with innate inferiority as the cause of all the societal ills. The slander persists.

Starlite managing director Gerald Aboud shares his views on black lives matter movement on Facebook.

In 1861, George Sewell, an American observer, concluded: “…the right of one class to enjoy the wages and fruits of their labour does not and cannot injuriously affect the rights of any other class, or damage, as some foolishly pretend a country’s prosperity.”

Even the planters knew that “all our estate here … depends wholly upon the frail thread of the life of our Negroes”. (Amussen, 2007).

But they advocated: “Contribute to our well-being or be denigrated!” We still see that mindset today.

The planters sought a controllable labour source to replace their lost supply of free labour (Munasinghe, 2001). Tikasingh (ibid) describes the strictures put on the indentured workers brought from India. The plantocracy did so despite acknowledging that everything had shown “a marked improvement since the introduction of Asiatic labourers”.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago citizens march for racial unity on 12 March 1970.
(Courtesy Embau Moheni/ NJAC)

He also details the measures taken to segregate the newcomers from the ex-slaves. But most telling is the ideological wedge that was driven between the two large ethnic groups.

The planters were instrumental in creating distorted narratives about the character of the “Indian” and the “Negro” to bolster their economic case for the preservation of their enterprises. The Negro was “luxury-loving, lazy, and immoral”, while the Indian was “docile, hardworking and cunning”.

These stereotypes cloaked in coded language endure (LaGuerre and Bissesar, 2013). Why?

Because our business and political elites, like the planters, have a lifestyle they wish to maintain. Divide and rule. Destroy the peace to preserve our group’s dominance. Give no ground and never negotiate.

A depiction of slaves serving their masters in Trinidad.
(Courtesy Netssa.com)

George Orwell (1937) said it best: “Under the capitalist system, in order that England may live in comparative comfort, a hundred million Indians must live on the verge of starvation—an evil state of affairs…”

Our elites will sacrifice all of us and do whatever is necessary to preserve their future. That effort remains invisible while providing fleeting comforts to those who would be complicit: this is the essence of the tradeoff in modern life.

The less fortunate suffer so that the affluent can live well, away from prying eyes. Scraps will be thrown at some who would defend the cause to their detriment.

However, no Pied Piper can save us. The geography is inescapable.

A satirical take on the relationship between the one percent and the working poor.

The country has been suckered into a more insidious catastrophe enabled by internet search engines and social media.

Google and Facebook unilaterally claimed our private experiences and shared community activity, making it a business opportunity. They now try to influence our behaviour and rob us of any sense of a broad national community.

The Cambridge Analytica experience is a representative example. We are the commodity on sale. We do not benefit from the egging on of trolls who mindlessly attack anyone who does not appear to conform to their worldview.

They make money, but we feel the pain while descending into a swamp-like existence.

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg prepares to speak to the US Congress.
(Copyright NY Times)

The social media titans took our naïve hope about the utopia that the social media apps promised and brought us into dark places. They achieved this with super-efficient targeting, honed on advertising objectives.

We now depend on the internet to live our daily lives, which impedes our ability to understand the consequences of our “smart” televisions, phones and other appliances: we are unwittingly complicit.

We provide the data, and they monetise it. At times, they were intrusive, unknowing to us.

We had hoped for empowerment and democratisation of knowledge. Instead, we have ended up in a cesspit of vicious bile. Little learning takes place.

A racially tinged Facebook post by Naila Ramsaran on 11 August 2020.

We have experienced the incursions of an over-enthusiastic Police Commissioner with the filming of protests and patrolling of Facebook. This behaviour is not dissimilar from what happened to the USA post-911—privacy gave way to security. We now know that the FBI misused their database in appalling ways.

Who benefits? We are the pawns of those who seek to entrench themselves in the seat of power. They break community bonds and yet expect to be protected by social norms. How will that ever happen?

The mainstreaming of what is commonly called “AI” raises interesting questions about preserving our democracy. Do we believe this advance will benefit us in creating a better place?

How will we be able to sift reality when there is and will be the active propagation of misinformation? Will the necessary guardrails be implemented, or will the desire for power and money steamroll us?

Somebody is watching me…

What do we expect when those who are our leaders in every sphere think only of themselves and what is good for them? They seldom consider the impact of their words and behaviour yet expect our masses to be exemplars. What an inversion of roles!

Our blind leaders no longer lead but rob us of joy, blaming us for the horrid state of affairs.

Determined like the Biblical character, Nehemiah, let us rebuild the collapsed walls, singing with joyful sounds. Trinidad is my land, and of it, I am proud and glad!

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