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Gilkes: Today Beetham, tomorrow…; residents were wrong but there’s a lesson worth learning here

It was bound to happen. What happened to Minister Fitzgerald Hinds in the Beetham was unfortunate, illegal and disrespectful. But it was all but inevitable, given a whole range of things including our society’s religious refusal to examine ourselves and our past and connect that to our present realities.

Photo: Laventille West MP Fitzgerald Hinds (left) is chased out of Beetham Gardens by residents, during a walkabout in the aftermath of flooding on 14 August 2018.
(Copyright Enrique Assoon/TT Newsday)

So, it was just a matter of time, that surfacing of people’s rage, disgust and resentment at forever being ignored, pushed to the side, invisibilised while at the same time manipulated and mamaguyed.

Let me be clear though, what happened to Minister Hinds in the Beetham was disrespectful, constitutes assault and is as illegal as the disruption and stoning of traffic a few months ago.

But—yuh know it must have a “but”; several “buts” actually and I’ll touch on a few more further down—many of the responses in the aftermath were just as troubling and showed just how disconnected many are, even in this tiny island, as to the realities of certain communities.

Almost immediately after this incident—and in between some hilarious memes—came the flow of predictable comments that say a lot about the mindset of many Trinidadians. This colonial genuflection before anything remotely resembling authority is soaked deep in the marrow of some people’s bones.

Listen, some of allyuh seriously need to figure out what allyuh want, eh. Some of you feel “protest” should only take the form of passive standing by with placards, or through the ballot box. Really?

I suspect you all are the ones sitting on certain boards and influential positions in Port of Spain and San Fernando, which is why the political commentary aspect of Ole Mas is slowly being stifled out of existence. Clearly you’ve never observed the things openly said about US presidents going back to Andrew Jackson.

Photo: Former Britain Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Vice President Cheney was told on live TV to “go f**k yourself”, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien collected a whole pie to the face, Saturday Night Live seems to make it a point to skewer Donald Trump weekly and in England—the same England that groomed our colonial minds—even as former prime minister Margaret Thatcher was being buried, dozens of working class people held up signs saying “The b*tch is dead” and “Rot in hell you c**t.”

In fact when I was in England some years ago, the number of times Thatcher was called that obscenity—routinely and openly—she could easily have legally included it in her name.

Actually, we’ve adopted some of that derogatory impetus from England when it comes to speaking about lower-income people, judging by the racist, contemptuous, “othering” comments directed at the residents of the Beetham—barbs which are usually directed at them on most days anyhow. And then there were the usual party/tribal sniping.

It’s hard to say who are the real bad guys here. But then that simplistic act of putting people into categories and binaries is part of the problem and makes a bad situation much worse.

Indeed, many of the comments and callers to i95.5FM, Power102FM and 91.1FM prove that, yet again, we’ve essentially learned nothing from the past.

Yet again, people “of influence” and “concerned citizens” are commenting on the actions and conditions of the Beetham in the same way others before them commented: as if the events of 1919, 1937, 1970 and the reports that were published after each event never happened.

Photo: In the run-up to April 21 and the declaration of the state of emergency, large crowds flocked to Port-of-Spain to hear Granger/Daaga and other Black Power leaders hold forth in the University of Woodford Square.

The Beetham area alone was a depressed community in the 1960s if this Sparrow kaiso is any indication. And if it’s the same “La Basse” I read about in David Trotman’s book on crime in 19th century Trinidad, it was a neglected community over a hundred years ago. So, if we’re good at nothing else, we’re really good at denial, deflection and erasure.

Let’s be clear again, I take no pleasure in any of this. What was done to Minister Hinds was an act of assault. But it happened and I say, yet again—to some people with degrees longer than my arm—“I told you so.”

We can condemn the actions of those residents; but if those of us who are in a more privileged positions are truly mature, we’d seize on this opportunity to finally, finally examine openly the root causes of what was expressed in that aggressive way. This latest incident brought into view several things that must be addressed.

There is of course the age-old problem of proper drainage and questions about the (in)competence of engineers to deal with the volume of water that comes down from the hills and the northern part of Port of Spain to flow out to the sea via flat, reclaimed land, such as the Beetham and Sea Lots.

Then there are the dirty, filthy habits of most Trinis who routinely clog the drains with everything between a doubles paper and a deep freeze. This goes beyond the Beetham. In fact, a lot of what is found in the Beetham drains come down from the hills and from POS and not necessarily from Beetham residents. This does not even include the effluence—which few talk about—from the industrial centre just north of Beetham Estate.

Photo: Police officers clear debris after protests at the Beetham Highway on 23 November 2017.
(Copyright CNC3)

That many online comments identified the Beetham residents as the ones responsible for all this—and the way many of them phrased the way they held Beetham residents responsible—is exactly why these last few weeks, I’ve been writing about how racist, white supremacist beliefs, theories and policies are zealously carried out by people of colour, right here, since we superficially changed flags in 1962. I guess it’s easier to pin it all on them black hen chicken and bear no responsibility; so hard luck Beetham, allyuh nasty and allyuh look for that.

But it goes deeper. In defence of Minister Hinds—I can NOT believe I’m doing that—this incident exposed some of what is very wrong with this Parliamentary system.

It exposed how most MPs—setting aside for now whether they “wotless” or not—have to wear far too many hats to properly represent their constituents.

This also connects to our fetishising of centralisation and what Susan Craig-James once called the threat of (rural) self-reliance. It throws light on an impotent Parliament that essentially revolves around one person: the Governor-General who has been recast as Prime Minister—the late Dr Morgan Job said we’ve simply moved from Picton as Governor-General to the Prime Minister as Picton.

Photo: Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General, Fitzgerald Hinds.
(Copyright Power102FM)

It also showed us what a stymied councillor, local government and other arms of the real political figures on the ground, look like when they have neither the resources, budget or independent authority to make any meaningful impact on the people’s daily lives.

This incident also brought into stark focus something else that in my opinion directly connects to the rage and disgust seen in that video clip. We have to soberly face the legacy of bad, incompetent, callous, indifferent, self-serving governance by a disconnected political elite with narrow, selfish agendas.

They have been disrespecting the people of Laventille, Morvant, John-John, Felicity, Enterprise, Bangladesh, Icacos, Toco, Penal, Nelson St, Sea Lots and the Beetham long before Beetham residents disrespected Minister Hinds.

Bukka Rennie and CLR James’ scathing dismissals of our middle-class and political elites must be looked at in detail.

One can say that the actions of those individuals who splashed water on Minister Hinds may have been enticed by someone in the Opposition. Maybe. But even if this is indeed the case, it doesn’t change in any way the fact that there was already a fertile ground of anger in which anything could grow.

That anger, by the way, is not only found in the Beetham—contrary to what was implied by one text to i95.5 on Thursday morning—but can be found in all the areas cited above and others.

Photo: Beetham residents chase Laventille West MP Fitzgerald Hinds and councillor Akil Audain, during a walkabout in the aftermath of flooding on 14 August 2018.
(Copyright Enrique Assoon/TT Newsday)

We have to start facing up to the uncomfortable reality that the messiah complex many are still immersed in is as responsible for the Beetham floods as the choked drains. We’re still looking for a saviour among the same people who, since the 19th century, have been using the working underclasses as pawns and convenient footstools to elevate them into power.

Even Raymond Ramcharitar pointed out how they rode the backs of the masses to get into office and, once sworn in, wed themselves to the financiers at the expense of the [m]asses.

Perhaps Jean Baptista Phillips, a mixed-race aspirant to political office, put it in a more crudely honest way back in 1824:

“All persons of colour, whose morals and intellectual attainments were at all conspicuous, should be entitled to the same rank and consideration as the most of the white fellow-subjects.”

He was referring, of course, to those who were privileged to pass through the British school system. His mindset is what has typified the culture of political officials from that period to this one: a coveting of the trappings of power in a European-created structure.

Photo: Then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) shakes hands with her successor, Dr Keith Rowley, en route to Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa.
(Courtesy News.Gov.TT)

These are harsh words, especially when one connects it to displays of rage and destructive behaviours by the underclass. But this is the level we must dig to if we really have any desire to effect lasting change.

To dismissively state that this kind of behaviour is typical of Beetham people—as one texted to i95.5 on Thursday morning—is to ignore the same conditions in many other parts of the country. And it’s only a matter of time before they too do something similar.

To speak glibly about poor choices, laziness and personal responsibility—not that they don’t have validity—is to continue to lazily and cowardly suggest that individual actions alone can deal with systemic failings.

If so, expect a lot more of this to come. And don’t say I didn’t tell you so.

About Corey 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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