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Master’s Voice: Independence or in dependence? Sledgehammer diplomacy on we birthday

I was once told that I have the diplomacy of a sledgehammer. It was during an online discussion on religion and I was simply presenting the facts as is, with my interpretations; and with the attitude that, if it offends your religious sensibilities, well, hard luck! Get over it!

I really don’t set out to offend. I am, however, blunt and direct because certain things need to be said and it’s obvious that we in this country don’t like to confront harsh realities. You only have to read through newspapers from the early to mid-1970s, to read certain columns and letters to the editor from that period to realise that certain issues of governance, race, sexuality, highway traffic, water problems, Tobago sea-bridge, etc, were already issues back then.

Photo: The Cabo Star docks at Scarborough in Tobago.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

Many people didn’t listen then; many others weren’t forceful enough because they apparently didn’t want to offend.

Well, look where we are now.

So to adapt Funny’s 1987 kaiso, 55 years have gone; how yuh feel? You, the Independence Generation and the children and grandchildren you sired—including me—are you happy with how things turned out?

I’ll rephrase: Yuh own up yet to the shit yuh do? Have you acknowledged yet that the more you’ve tried to bend up this country like a kurma trying to fit it into Western colonial notions of modernity, the deeper we’ve sunk into the faecal pool the British (un)consciously left behind?

Don’t misunderstand me. There have always been sparks of greatness: George Bailey, Carlisle Chang, Rudranath Capildeo, Harold and Kwailan La Borde, Winnifred Atwell, Geoffrey Holder, Sonny Ramadhin, Peter Minshall, CLR James.

A few weeks ago, I sat down with two of the original 39 men who started the T&T Coast Guard on 27 August 1962. The stories they had to tell, the experiences they had cannot be priced. Like so many other things, there was such promise of what could have been if only we believed in ourselves. Many of that generation had the belief but others of that generation betrayed it.

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

The root of many of our problems is a near religious refusal to believe we can do better, deserve better and can accomplish things bigger, older countries may want to emulate. Forget foreign recognition and validation, we’ve got that over and over; it made no difference.

Learned self-contempt is exactly that, learned! It is acquired, installed through a system of schooling and churching informed by deeply racist, pseudo-scientific ideas and clever divide-and-rule measures an elite minority needed to keep in place.

Harsh words, you might think, but truths which must be spoken.

Many of our educated locals meant well, did what they could to overturn the colonial system and so found ways to use that racist education system to create new possibilities. But they were almost all scarred by it one way or another and some clearly revelled in the egregious belief that they were actually British citizens.

In The History of the Working Class of Trinidad and Tobago, Bukka Rennie tells us: “[T]he Creole-nationalist middle-class movement has betrayed the masses on whose backs they rode to power. Power to them was an end in itself and not the means towards social transformation of the country.”

Similar observations were made by (of all people!) Raymond Ramcharitar and An Address to the Right Honourable Earl Bathurst from a Free Mulatto (1824) gives a good illustration of the thinking of that educated, “coloured” elite who frequently distanced themselves from the labouring classes that built this country until it suited them to rile (and ride) them into political action.

Photo: Iconic Trinidad labour leader Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler (left) and Trinidad and Tobago’s first Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

It is principally that group who, in the Bishops and the QRCs and the St Benedict’ses—my old school—and the Presentations, were made to imbibe the subjects of history, economics, geography, literature that often taught them nothing about themselves except what part of their ancestry they must reject.

Alternative narratives and indigenous types of knowledge production are—to this day—ignored if they do not conform to what emanates from the epistemological canon of the five countries Prof Ramon Grosfuguel spoke about.

Apart from the jacket and tie, all you need to know about the bankruptcy of our independence can be seen in the rainy season when, on the UWI Campus, the first place to get flooded is the Engineering Department. And would someone please explain to me why there is an ice-skating rink in Chaguaramas? Yes. An. Ice. Skating. Rink.

The concrete monstrosities on Chaguaramas and Maracas weren’t enough, the snow theme displays at Christmas time aren’t enough, they had to add an. Ice. Skating. Rink. No wonder we have youths who talk about “summer” and social studies books with Halloween in them.

As the late Dick Gregory once asked African-Americans: “What kinda fool is you?”

Photo: Revellers enjoy themselves during the 2016 J’Ouvert celebrations.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

But it’s not all lost; there is still hope. Little beams of light shine through all the time as the old institutions and economic structures are increasingly being seen for the hollow farces they are. But for more of that light to come through, it is going to take a serious re-appraisal of what it means to be civilised.

In my opinion, some of that rediscovery of self doesn’t require much, just a re-examination of the little things with a different eye, the little things that really aren’t so little.

In the book Family in Africa and the African Diaspora, Velma Pollard spoke about her experiences as a child being taught and supervised by her mother as she sat at her Singer sewing machine, a virtual institution in many Trinbagonian houses–including mine–back in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Wisdom passed on from earlier generations was transmitted right in that drawing room. The beginnings of cottage industries and notions of entrepreneurship–the same ones that may be coming back soon as the capitalist class get robotics to kick the labour force back to the curb–were developed right there because of that sewing machine.

Pollard also recounted how a friend of hers, who was a thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon, solved a problem surgeons at the time were wrestling with of transplanting a lung into an animal’s chest based on a dressmaking problem he saw his mother solve as a boy when he assisted her on her sewing machine.

Photo: An antique Singer sewing machine.

We have almost all the models we need right here; we have most of the solutions that will move us up to a different level. It’s all there in the heads of our grandparents who could barely read or write; it’s there in the civilisations that our ancestors came from which we have been taught to scorn.

What we lack is the self-confidence to tap into it and to tell the people who laugh when we make mistakes while doing so to f**k off, and to do it again till we get it right. Yuh think Harold La Borde didn’t have defeatist detractors too?

Time and again, we’ve shown the world that we can create art out of rubbish; who we haven’t shown yet is ourselves.

Fifty-five years have gone; how yuh feel?

But don’t answer mih now; get back to me next year this time. You have enough time to check yourself and change or stay as is.

Until then, take sledgehammer in yuh m***** c**t.

Photo: The Trinidad and Tobago flag flies over the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva during an exhibition match between a FIFA/TTFA XI and Ministry of Sport/SPORTT XI on 10 April 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

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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62 comments

  1. Lol @ “An. Ice. Skating. Rink”
    The author is very well read on the topic and I continue to learn aspects of our history I knew nothing of before. While I don’t fully agree with some of his points, I feel his frustration that we have severed much of our national identity by accepting foreign cultural influence without properly developing our own. We do have a long way to go and there needs to be a major re-education initiative to bring our history into nation building.
    Too bad about the suits. I do love to see a man in a well tailored suit.

  2. The 1% are giving back by way of fireworks? Why thank you kind Sirs!

  3. Every year we hear the same pleas.

  4. In the meanwhile, “prayers” is one of our biggest problems.

  5. Our self-contempt is reinforced by the institutions around, the school being the major one, where we have been taught garbage for years on end. I recall the term GIGO from the early days of computers. Our education system is central to the re-wiring. How though is it possible when individuals still clamor for “licks” as the panacea to all our problems. In the licks lie the self-contempt and the self-hate. We hate dark complexion largely becase we were taught “mirror mirror on the wall….” We knew about “good hair” long before Chris Rock. We look down on “little black chickens.” And we reward light skin, consciously and unconsciously. All our entertainment (TV) is foreign. Gayelle cannot survive in a market where the demand for foreign is insatiable. Both our young men and young ladies in particular speak with foreign accents despite never having left these shores; be the accents Yankee, British or Jamaicain. The waters ahead are difficult to navigate….but navigate it we must. If after 55 years we still cannot get to Tobago to enjoy a weekend, stressfree, then….we f@%#d

  6. Good article ,you made some points ,some I agree with, others I don’t ,but I like how you ended it with hope and on a positive note ,I mean yes we have our problems like any other country in the world, but we also have many things to be grateful for ,as you could see in Texas ,so we can’t give up ,cuz we have to be a change in our country for the children of the future

  7. That’s the beauty of crapitalism: if you want a fireplace in a hot country, by Jove you’re gonna get it. Of course it works best alongside tropical heatwave and blasting A/C unit.

  8. “Western colonial notions of modernity.”
    There’s good and bad in everything. Does he know what life is like for women in societies removed from ideas of western modernity? From genital mutilation to stfu and stay in your lane?

    • That is some crazy shit indeed ….

      • Ms Haynes (sorry, Chabeth)

        I am well aware of the situation of women in societies removed from Western modernities. Are you? How far back have you traced their current situation?

        I am writing a book examining the impact of European social values with Christianity as the vehicle on traditional African concepts of femininity. For the last 17 or so years I have worked on that and have examined societies and territorial states in Africa going back over 10,000 years; traced the rise of Christianity and the injection of Platonic Greece into early Christian thought. I am also conducting recorded interviews of mostly women who grew up in the 1940s and 50s and gone through archival material on social life in Trinidad going back to the 19th century (trust me, Friends with Benefits and open marriages aren’t new).

        I also looked at the issue of female circumcision and it is not as simple and simplistic as Westernised feminist make it out to be as Ifi Amadiume points out in her book “Daughters of the Goddess, Daughters of Imperialism”

        You may also want to seek out the book “The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Feminist Discourse”

        Trust me, independent, autonomous women is NOT a feature of Western modernity but existed thousands of years before. When WASP feminists of the 1960s were becoming more vocal and looking for models to emulate, they drew heavily from African societies including ancient Egypt. Much of the current marginalising of women in Africa and Asia stems from colonial rule and the disruption of very old institutions that empowered women. I wrote a few articles on the subject, here are two.
        http://www.trinicenter.com/Gilkes/2015/1302.htm
        http://www.trinicenter.com/Gilkes/2010/0203.htm

  9. A re-telling of the tales shared with the author by the two founding members of the coast guard would have been a more valuable read than whatever this column was supposed to be.

    • How would you have written it? Honest question.

    • I would not have written this.
      Talking about Trinis self contempt but then crapping on the idea of a skating rink? Why? Because it’s a tropical climate, nobody is supposed to want to ice skate? Should nobody want to be an astronaut either cause we don’t have a space program?
      The author has a very myopic vision of what people here should be and do and like. It’s the kind of narrow- mindedness that says to a singer why are you singing something other than soca, or to a writer, you wrote a whole story with no dialect.
      Talks about us not believing we can produce things others would want to emulate ignoring two key facts:
      1. Per capita we excel more than most (I’m being cautious) in most fields
      2. If you want people to emulate you, they have to be aware of you. Why should people only be aware of you and you not of them? And if people can find beauty and good in what you do, why can’t you reciprocate?
      Because somebody likes something that is different doesn’t mean they are full of self contempt or self hate. If I’m in a relationship with somebody of another race, do I hate my race? What about if I’m dark-skinned of African origin and only date mixed people or Indian people or people more than a couple hues lighter than me?

    • Thanks for responding. I took his points to mean a greater focus on/celebration of local innovation. In that context, his highlighting of the ice skating rink was more a question of whether those resources could have been put towards something that’s more indigenous to us. For my part, I’m still stunned that Trini stores have Black Friday sales and that my cousin’s kids go trick-or-treating in Trinidad.

      As a gonian, this ferry bacchanal is making me wonder why we’re importing goat milk from New Zealand and what else can be produced on my little piece of rock. (Before Hurricane Flora, Tobago was the country’s breadbasket, so it ent far-fetched.)

      I didn’t take his piece as an indictment of liking other things – it’s more a question of whether you’re liking them to the exclusion of your own.

    • What qualifies as “indigenous?” And if all we supported was indigenous, how would anyone ever break the mold?
      As for the agriculture sector, most would agree it’s underdeveloped. But sometimes I wonder if we can truly compete. Something like avocado oil is all the rage right now and we’re importing. And you think look how many avocados we have, why can’t we do this? And then you read about thousands of avocado farmers in CA and wonder can we actually produce a competitive amount.
      Black Friday sales and Halloween are just marketing tools. One person wrote one social studies book that included Halloween and there was a collective wtf… nobody’s giving up carnival or any one of our religious festivals or holidays for Halloween. Nobody is liking anything foreign at the exclusion of anything local. Carib is still the most popular beer.
      Sometimes people just don’t like something. I don’t like coconut water.

    • Chabeth, no one is saying
      life is either/or. Have a good weekend.

  10. Earl Best

    The self-contempt on this rock is enormous. Remember how the current PM put it out there that people didn’t want him to be PM because he was too black?

    Blackness, of course, can be merely skin-deep but that he would even consider the possibility speaks volumes, I think. Not to mention putting it out there…

    • I had almost forgotten about that Mr. Best

      And to think the man who said it was a former minister under the Manning administration and as such enacted legislation and god kn own what else with that mindset.

      But, racism and colonialism are two completely different things and there is no evidence that one is connected to the other.

      So sayeth a student from one of this country’s prestigious learning institutions.

  11. He’s got some valid points, as a nation TT seems unable to learn from its mistakes, consistently repeating the same destructive crap over and over again, piss poor leadership, crumbling institutions, unwillingness to deal with reality, damn….it’s like a stuck record…something has to give to break the cycle…

    • That’s why we have to come together to be the change and start a movement of change ,I mean yes our leaders have made mistakes they are not perfect as everyone on this earth ,that’s why we have to pray for them ,so that God could guide them on the right path ,we can’t give up and we can’t give in

  12. Wonder if Corey taking the kids to see the fireworks tonight? Sponsored.by Ansa McAl

  13. Seriously though, how are we to do address our national self esteem problems? That might require a whole re-education process at a national level.
    I listened to a podcast recently which pointed out that butterflies were once considered disgusting and it was an entire PR exercise that encouraged children to play with them and claimed that having a butterfly land on you was actually a special thing, etc…
    Well, that’s the kinda re-wiring I think is necessary here. Without self-respect, we will always be taken advantage of as a nation.

  14. I guess, and back in 2011 Bhagwansingh was selling a full size $13,000 gas fireplace, mantel, hearth, etc….

  15. Why? there’s an ice skating rink in dubai…

  16. Holy crap…is he kidding? There is an ice skating rink in Chag?? That’s a joke right?