Home / View Point / Guest Columns / Master’s Voice: Too paralysed to analyse; fossilised Afro-Indian attitudes to European realities

Master’s Voice: Too paralysed to analyse; fossilised Afro-Indian attitudes to European realities

I was going to delay my ranting until Independence Day. But a couple things—including the events in Charlottesville—pushed me to decide to leggo the ramble one time and done.

Almost immediately after I wrote my piece on “model” policing, two early comments illustrated exactly what I was speaking about. One person offered up a pathetic come-back by pointing to the shirt-jac as “that magnificent symbol of our ‘independence’.” Another tried to counter my arguments on education by claiming that it was our officials who had messed up (I agree with that by the way) and that the same system had “progressed by leaps and bounds” in the UK.

Photo: Two girls sport African attire during Emancipation Day celebrations.
(Copyright The Chess Drum)

How instructive were these two critiques.

See how fast some of us always rush to defend the Mother Country (or Uncle Sam)? See how easily some of us dismiss ourselves, our innovations in dress and artistic creativity in the process?

Many years ago, I came across an interesting term: paralysis of analysis. It sooo fittingly applies to soooo many examinations of how our society got into the muddled faecal mess it’s in; even many academics with master’s degrees and PhDs suffer this affliction—indeed, they’re often among the most severely afflicted.

Now me with mih farse 5-five-O-Level self eh no big fan of the shirt-jac—actually I really don’t like it—but it does represent an attempt to adopt a mode of dress more conducive to living in a tropical environment as people like Chalkdust tried to tell us here. It’s certainly a lot less absurd than a stifling jacket and tie or a tuxedo, which makes you look like a damn monkey.

The person who made the snide remark, astonishingly trying to justify the wearing of a jacket and tie in a country with sweltering heat, is evidently unaware that there are ENGLISH PEOPLE who find our wearing it ridiculous. Doubt me? Go read the book Lengthening Shadows by S. Hylton-Edwards, one of the founding officers of the T&T Regiment. He commented that wearing it made little sense in this environment–a message Gerald Yetming certainly took to heart even if he never read that book.

Photo: Former Finance Minister Gerald Yetming.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

Paralysis of analysis also prevents the understanding that the history of the suit is connected to the history of class snobbery, traceable back to the Roman Empire. It gathered momentum in a Europe that sought to put in place visual distinctions between the “inferior” class of those engaged in subsistence living, some of whom were (forcibly) evolving into industrial wage labourers, and those “superior” ones who worked in offices.

This paralysis of analysis, however, is even greater when it fails to inform those of us who look to England as the source of our salvation in education. Such persons do not understand that: 1) the education system that was developed in the colonies was not the same one that existed in England; and 2) even that system in the UK has for years been severely criticised as being too elitist, irrelevant and still overly leaning toward rote learning.

The late Dr John Henrik Clarke often said that people in power who ruled through illegitimate means—such as colonial rule—do not educate their subjects for that would lead to the colonised overthrowing the coloniser. That was exactly the case in Trinidad, even if you overlook the statement made by Lord Harris who did oh so much to develop education for the labouring classes:

They are not, neither Coolies nor Africans, fit to be placed in a position which the labourers of civilised countries may at once occupy; they must be treated like children, and wayward ones too; the former from their habits and their religion, the latter from the utterly savage state in which they arrive.

In any event, at the height of the Industrial Revolution in England, thousands of people were living in abject squalor in London. These were mostly white “black hen chicken” who were held in disdain by the British elites.

Photo: A car ploughs into a group of counter-protesters in Charlottesville on Saturday 12 August 2017.
The initial protest by mostly neo-Nazis and white supremacists came as the city announced its intention to remove a statute of Confederate General Robert E Lee.
(Copyright Ryan M Kelly/The Daily Progress via AP)

It’s instructive that one of the philosophical architects of this competitive, dehumanising capitalist ethic we are dealing with, John Locke, basically blamed the poor for being poor, an attitude shared by many of the abolitionists, such as William Wilberforce, whom we hold in high esteem. That elitist, marginalising system was simply transferred to the colonies where it assumed even greater importance as skin colour now entered into the picture.

In the 1920s, the Phelps-Stokes Report, a report by two US missionaries concerned with education in Africa, became a guiding document throughout the colonies. The core aims revolved around agricultural/industrial training—ignoring millennia of indigenous farming practices—(nuclear) family life, health and character in a Euro-centred cultural context, of course. The intent was similar to the 1944 colonial document on Mass Education in African Society, which was to provide technical training for “semi-literate juveniles.”

In Trinidad, a more elite schooling (like, oh, QRC) trained a select group of African and Indians, who would then go on to further training in England before returning to essentially run the Empire on behalf of the British.

European values, dress, mannerisms and a very selective version of European history so as to project the notion that Europe epitomised all cultural refinement, advancement, civilisation and knowledge was what was internalised by many of our intellectuals. Even many of those who, nonetheless, challenged colonialism, such as Dr Williams, remained firmly Afro/Indo-Saxonised.

So too are many modern-day analysts; for all the time they spent in higher learning institutions, their collective paralysis of analysis seems to persist. The condescending remarks aimed at the shirt-jac—and, by extension, the African kaftan and dashiki or the guayabera shirt—assume that that’s the best we West Indians can offer as our gift to the world of fashion.

Photo: Dancers for Massy Trinidad All Stars perform to “Curry Tabanca” during the 2015 International Conference and Panorama at the Grand Stands, Queen’s Park Savannah.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

It’s like some of us only understand racism in a specific context or definition and not how it applies to education, politics and religion in countries that were under colonial rule. This thing starts from ideas you know; the events currently unfolding in the United States in places such as Charlottesville are a clear case in point. There are people who have vested interests in keeping our minds in a state where we refuse to look within ourselves for our own emancipation.

So, let’s remember that African proverb that says “By the time the fool learns the rules of the game, the players have all gone home.”

AboutCorey Gilkes

Corey Gilkes is a self-taught history reader whose big mouth forever gets his little tail in trouble. He lives in La Romaine and is working on four book projects. He has a blog on https://coreygilkes.wordpress.com/blog/ and http://www.trinicenter.com/Gilkes/. Vitriol can be emailed to him at coreygks@gmail.com.

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10 comments

  1. Thank you for your take on the subject. It is one of the reasons why I walked out of the ” programming of the masses ” / teaching profession , in 1993. Assembly line. Assume that ALL students are programmable. Label them ( special needs) if they resist. Feed them processed information.( often useless in their daily lives). Let them regurgitate on demand(exams). And reward them for their memory. The system breeds segregation. We produce ( ” brains”) from prestige schools, and “tradesmen” from trade-school. The certified folk, no doubt, will feel threatened for a perceived attack at the foundation of their ivory tower. I will state only this of myself. At 7yrs – photograph in the guardian news paper with lady Pierre, wife of Sir Donald Pierre- Exceptional student….. Q.R.C. 1966-71. J.S.D.T.I . Teacher: preschool. 5th form repeaters. M.S.C.
    Lecturer :T&TEC trade school students. National Training Board . Physics, Maths & Communication skills. Yet…I am a perpetual student of life. Peace to all.

  2. Well there is mad snark from the author here. Lol.
    But I feel like those who bash our education system often confuse system with curriculum cause I really don’t know what system people would prefer. Privatized education? A voucher system?
    Our system is public education meant to be accessible to all and not favour the wealthy thereby reducing elitism. Is there room for greater equity in the system? Sure. Eradicate the SEA 20% list. Pump more funds into schools that don’t benefit from parental donations so that kids across the country are enjoying access to the same comforts and facilities.
    Do we need kids to do SBAs in every single subject for CSEC? No. But we did that to ourselves. The British didn’t do it to us.
    As for the dig at QRC? My word… lol. Sounds like real sour grapes.
    And trying to tie Charlottesville to the whole piece… why? A white woman was murdered fighting against white supremacy. Does the author’s “paralysis of analysis” prohibit him from understanding what that means? And only looking at one group of white folks?

    • Earl Best

      Chabeth,
      You think it’s a “dig at QRC?” I have no idea where Corey went to school but I know when. I think he is well placed to make measured judgements about the quality of QRC education because that is the College that provided the bulk of the principals, vice-principles, heads of departments etc in the era when he was a student. That is a matter of record.
      It is entirely possible that his judgement is flawed-on the evidence of the body of his work on Wired868, I doubt it-but I’d be surprised if it were sour grapes. Corey doesn’t sound to me like someone who has the inferiority complex that QRC people tend to spawn in those in their entourage. LOL.

    • Earl Best

      And I’m not at all sure that education system is to be understood in the narrow sense of ‘school system.’ Corey can and I suspect will answer for himself but I feel he is making the point precisely-what else could be the point of the BA/MA/PhD set vs “me with my five-O-Level-self”?-that the education system is much more than the formal system.

      Does Corey strike you as one of the many certified e-literates in T&T with 26 letters after their names and nothing in their heads?

    • But this incident is nothing new in America ,the white supremacy has always rule the system ,but it’s now showing its colours

    • The 20 percent is the elephant in the room.

    • Good morning. Yes, a young white woman was killed in the counter-protests in Charlottesville, so too were white people back in the 1960s who attempted to register southern African-Americans to vote.

      There were always whites who attempted to identify with oppressed and exploited people and paid heavy prices for taking their stances; I’m not insensitive to that. Remember too that in Trinidad Howard Nankivell was removed for showing empathy for labouring classes after the rebellion of 1937 and he died in mysterious circumstances.

      My point is how does one not see the connection with open demonstration of white supremacist racism, such as what we saw in Charlottesville, and the invisibilising and demeaning of non-Western cultures, history and forms of governance. Indeed, this is how the open racism essentially begins, as an idea of superiority. Look at our education system, which social studies book you know tells you about our extended family structure and showed connections to extended family structures in Africa and India? Or traditional marriage customs, lineage according to seniority rather than conjugality? Which history book you know in Trinidad explains the many fundamental differences between chattel slavery and the forms of servitude that existed in Africa before the 16th century? What about the African advances in medical science, astronomy, metallurgy, urban planning and architecture dating back to 8000BCE? *That’s* the racism we should be dealing with. It’ll be interesting to see how much support is given by other peoples then.

  3. A great article ,but as we could currently see with America and Britain that there system and ideals are also flawed ,sometimes we always quick to ridicule our country and our system ,while always giving props to their own ,saying that can’t happen in America ,that can’t happen in UK and look what happen to them now ,the UK is in a mess with Brexit and America has a tyrant for a President