“Class determines how they express their racism, that’s all. Poor racists are more overt, elite racists are more insidious” (Facebook comment)
“[O]ur intellectual leaders have been so preoccupied with the campaigns against the hard-line white supremacists who make no compromise in their flaunting of Western civilisation that we have sometimes overlooked the more subtle attack from the mild mannered and friendly acting liberal(s).” Jacob Carruthers, Intellectual Warfare.
I wonder how many people here are paying close attention to the events unfolding in the US surrounding race and racism, events such as the ostracising of quarterback Colin Kaepernick—and the growing support for him? What about the Black Lives Matter Movement and, most significantly, the violence surrounding the removal of hundreds of monuments to Civil War era figures that were erected during a more openly racist period in US history.
I wonder how many Trinis have drawn parallels with similar efforts here to remove and rename certain statues and street names that glorify colonial figures who can only be properly considered as criminals?
Hell, I wonder how many people here understand the importance of any of this?
These events will be seen differently by different people. For me, what happened in Charlottesville and certain incidents occurring prior to that proved that the notion of a “post-racial” era touted by some after Barack Obama’s election was more delusional rubbish than Fukuyama’s “end of history.”
The brutal killing of a young, white para-legal was tragic. But it brought the reality of hate home to a lot of people who, before it happened, were blissfully ignorant of it. That’s the other tragedy, the other obscenity. Her very own cousin was forced to ask, echoing an uncomfortable question raised at a vigil in her honour, why did she have to die for there to be the outrage being seen now?
The reason is the same there as it is here in T&T: denial and insulation. Most people simply do not want to deal with it. Many people put racism in a neat box that may take the form of the KKK, say, or individual acts of prejudice. That way they can distance themselves from it and the possibility that they too may have the same ideas that other people put into practice—rule of thumb: if you were schooled or churched in westernised institutions, you do.
Hollywood and the media contribute to that lop-sided view. As such, the idea that those expressions of hate are connected to a wider institutional framework is harder to conceive and harder to swallow.
And that’s how we in T&T get ourselves bogged down with trite arguments. Many here think the racist displays of Charlottesville and previous incidents have little connection to the issues we face here.
Easily forgotten is the fact that the cultural base of the US is Europe. Yes, the same militaristic, misogynistic, xenophobic Europe that colonised the Americas and imposed its ways of seeing the world. I mean the Europe that emerged out of its self-imposed Dark Ages and a long period of tribal wars, plagues and famine, poor in land, resources and people.
It took care of its land and resources problem by “parasiting” other and took care of its people problem by enslaving those said people—that is, when they were done with enslaving other Europeans from the Slavic countries (hint).
In the process, it normalised physical, psychological and sexual violence and created the idea of the rightness of whiteness. Almost every single person of the Colonial and US eras after whom a street was named or in whose honour a statue was erected in Trinidad became “great” by butchering, enslaving, raping—or all of the above—the people they led as well as peoples of Africa, the Americas and Asia.
From General Hampton to Lord Harris, from Pizarro to Picton, from Custer to Churchill, the history of the Americas is riddled with deified criminals we are expected to take inspiration from and to emulate—hence the statues and street names.
No wonder T&T, like the US, is so steeped in violence, nepotism and ratchafee: we have always glorified the ethics of individualistic aggressive masculinity over those of collectivist humanism.
There are those who argue that these figures are nonetheless part of our history and that they contributed to the making of the Americas—which is true. But these apologists need to pause and think about the other side of that argument: the implicit and explicit messages that nothing existed before them.
Furthermore, note the dates many of the Confederate statues were erected. They correspond to specific time periods when African-Americans were becoming more assertive or major pieces of legislation were passed in their favour. The message was pretty clear: nigger, know your place.
I understand that many well-intentioned people are tired of “the race talk”. But I support people like Earl Lovelace who argue that for us to move past the issue of race, we need to talk about it not less but more. Of course, that talk should be informed talk but it cannot not take place.
The more we strive to defer or avoid it, the longer will very toxic and dangerous ideas persist and be propagated. If comments posted on Facebook after the last general elections in T&T didn’t clue us in, what happened in Charlottesville removed all doubt.
Thus far, we in T&T have been spared the racial violence that is common to most colonised countries with different ethnic groups. But we forget at our peril that racist actions begin as racist ideas.
If when one thinks of racial violence, the reflex is to think of the US, then the reflex when one hears what Prof. Ramon Grosfuguel calls “epistemic racism/sexism” should be to think of Caribbean countries such as ours.
As this article says, historians know that forgetting is as essential to public understandings of history as remembering. That definitely is the case with understanding Trinbago’s social history.
But I will go even further and state that, regarding this country’s history, the past is often what Napoleon Bonaparte once termed “a set of lies mutually agreed upon.” Those who “built” the Americas did so to exploit the mineral resources for their own enrichment. No consideration was given to indigenous peoples or the Africans they enslaved—they weren’t even considered people.
To justify this, the myth had to be created that the rest of the world was in savage darkness waiting on European settlers to bring the light of civilisation. They had to convince themselves (and us) that the indigenous peoples of Africa, Asia and the Americas had no formal political structures, no understanding of science and had no business utilising the lands on which they had lived for thousands of years.
They remained in power by force as well as by fragmenting those subjected peoples, teaching or refining certain hierarchies with the intention of creating mutual suspicion.
So the only way to get over it is to talk openly about it. The stakes are too high. The end game in the US, T&T and everywhere else hasn’t changed; it’s still the same: to exploit mineral resources and people without having to pay what they are truly worth.
The events in Charlottesville may have shown that hate is still raw and open; however, it also shows that grassroots agitation is still effective. There is still much to be said for a group of people motivated enough to deal with a problem without waiting for officials to decide what must be done.
None of this would have happened had there not been sustained pressuring from the ground to remove offending monuments. Politicians didn’t up and do it; they think politically, first and foremost.
It’s up to us to think and act morally.