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Gilkes: Happy In-Dependence: reviewing 56 years of cynicism and self-hate

Happy birthday Iere; yuh tun 56… which means yuh mature, and with maturity comes reasoning and a clearer understanding of who you are and what you still need to do to reach where you want to go.

But that’s when yuh mature, not when yuh eh sure of yuhself, confused as to what you supposed to be, and the little you do know about yourself, you try hard to run as far away as possible because yuh shame ‘bout yuhself.

Photo: Motorcycle policemen perform during 2017 Independence Day celebrations.
(Copyright Office of the Prime Minister)

Such is the case with this strange land as David Rudder sang; this land where societally, we’re constantly in revolt against our own selves. This strange land where some of the people most vocal about dealing with “crime”—which here only refers to shooting, gang violence and robbery—are themselves under investigation.

Or they are the ones who walk into a bank with almost literally a huge bag of money. Or condemn as illegal a nature park in Chaguaramas one week (and rightly so) and the next carry children to that same park. But it’s just to wall off them pests and cockroaches in the Beetham, Laventille, John-John and Morvant and de crime go solve, right?

It’s easy to be cynical, even easier to be apathetic, detached, callously indifferent… all in keeping with the people elected to political office every election cycle. I argue that that is because many of them, for various reasons including ignorance of social history, are trying to build on the legacy of a class of political elites who, since the 19th century have continuously served mostly themselves and only ride the back of the underclass they actually despise—because some see themselves in that underclass—to get access to the trappings of power they’ve always craved.

It’s instructive that today as many cuss ‘way the Labour Movement and wish them to disappear along with the refinery, most of what we enjoy today in terms of rights and privileges as citizens came from that same Labour Movement, only to be hijacked by the ruling elites, assisted by the departing colonisers. Everything has a history and a starting point, even our cynicism.

Photo: Late Trinidad and Tobago trade union leader, Adrian Cola Rienzi.

Our self-contempt runs deep, very deep in fact, and education, that thing that is supposed to liberate and transform us, mostly entrenches that self-loathing and self-doubt. We celebrate our independence but religiously refuse to acknowledge in what ways we remain in-dependence.

Mind you, we have a lot to celebrate and project: how does such a tiny island that is but a speck on a global map manage to produce such profound thinkers and activists who shaped the thinking of so many people in other parts of the world?

From Henry Sylvester Williams to Eric Williams; from George Padmore who has a research library named after him in Ghana, where he is interred, to Claudia Jones who, fused together class analyses of Karl Marx—next to whom she is buried—with race and sex, which Marx all but ignored.

We have essentially all the skills and mental capacity to take ourselves out of the holes we keep digging ourselves into. We can celebrate that long before recycling was the buzzword, we were already doing so through annual Carnival productions in which social and ecological statements were made disguised as festive street parades and theatre. We had calypso tent mangers utilise all the fundamentals of managers in the corporate world who never read a book on the subject.

Photo: George Bailey’s “Back to Africa” hits the Port of Spain streets in Carnival 1957.

The man from whom I’m learning wirebending (yes, ah learning it) told me how a professional engineer acknowledged the level of physics that goes into making large, yet portable, Carnival costumes. And many of those who were masters of it were barely literate.

So how is it that in a heavy downpour of rain, one of the first places to get flooded on the University of the West Indies St Augustine campus is the Engineering Department? I guess Western models really aren’t universal.

Clearly there needs to be a decolonising of knowledge because to celebrate much of what we’ve given the world, we have to fling out many Western definitions of what is philosophy, poetry, art, etc. We must learn to look through a completely different lens that takes in the uniqueness and paradoxes of our society, history and geography.

But when oh when will our universities see it fit to establish a Department or chair of Caribbean philosophy?

On Thursday morning, on i95.5fm Reginald Dumas, who always manages to say with ease things I struggle to say here, said that for all their desperate poverty, which he pins squarely on the French and Americans, the people of Haiti maintain a deep, fierce sense of pride and nationalism no matter where they go in the world. To the contrary, he said, we’re forever running from ourselves, struggling to change our accents and import “summer” yet cannot tell me when to get my winter coat.

Photo: Former Public Service head and Ambassador to Washington, Reginald Dumas.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

Much of what Mr Dumas said about Haitians applies to Jamaicans as well. I was in Jamaica during during their 50th anniversary celebrations and there wasn’t a place one went that one didn’t know what they were celebrating. Their airwaves were clogged with even more of their music.

Compare that to here and our “independence” celebrations. I mean it’s true that Trini guitar and pan artist Nerlain Taitt was a pioneer figure in Jamaican reggae, but allyuh eh find allyuh playing de arse now?

Some of my most treasured Bob Marley songs are from the Ska and Rock Steady years. But how is it that some 20-something year old Jamaicans could sing them word-for-word and Trinis the same age cyar sing a line from Cypher, Young Killer, Spoiler or Atilla?

How is it that of all people, that same recently departed Naipaul who cuss ‘way Trinidad as a place only united in its hunger for shallow displays of “American modernity,” also said “it’s only in the calypso that the Trinidadian touches reality.”

VS Naipaul, who admittedly was an awful human being, was nonetheless as dead accurate in his contemptuous criticisms of Trinidad as he was in indicting the British in creating the mess of a fragmented, self-scorning society terrified of facing itself. But he at least took the time to examine the society, which is more than can be said for a great many influential people in Parliament or the universities.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago novelist VS Naipaul won the 2001 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Indeed, me eh vex with the Trini reggae posse. You could talk about love for country all you want—something many politicians are doing lately to guilt-trip people into accepting whatever grand scheme they or their financiers thought up to dig themselves out of their last grand scheme.

That “nation-building” bullshit makes no impact on a very wide cross-section of the population who have never been made to feel like they belong in the country they live in.

There’s a reason why last year’s Road March “Full Extreme” was such a runaway hit as it was taken to heart by many of the underclasses who know that “nation-building” and “patriotism” is hollow Robber-talk.

So theirs isn’t any desire to build, not after several oil and gas booms and trillions of dollars later, squandered or squirreled away in offshore bank accounts and hotels in Holland with no real change in their lives. No, they want to burn and bring the lofty down where many of them belong.

For those who take issue with any of this… tough. You better remember that the culture this society developed is built on a foundation of a singular mindset to extract what you can from here and make a fortune enabled by those considered less than human, fit only for manual labour. As such, they neither deserve nor require the rights and comforts more “deserving” people felt entitled to.

Photo: MX Prime (right) from the Ultimate Rejects moves the crowd with 2017 Road March tune, Full Extreme.
(Courtesy Annalicia Caruth/Wired868)

They tried to re-create the class segregations of Europe here and we’re still living with the remnants of that. Hence the enclosures of land, now apparently being remodelled as the enclosures of beachfronts; hence the transformation of green spaces into obscene concrete monstrosities

The Prime Minister said there’s going to be an increased focus on the teaching of history in schools. I wonder about the sincerity of that—or what he really has in mind—given that many of our celebrated figures dedicated their lives to ending the exploitative, exclusionary, racially tribal systems our current elites and politicos still enjoy.

We are yet to develop the arrogance of historical confidence that the Haitians possess. How is it that during the farce of acquiring a new fast ferry to Tobago, there was next to NO discussion of building the vessel here? This, despite the fact that this country has a very long maritime history; this despite the fact that two boats used by the Coast Guard (TTS El Tucuche and TTS Naparima) were built right here and they ran for years.

Didn’t the late Brian Bowen make certain innovations in power-boat racing? Wasn’t the same yacht—now rotting away on South Quay—that Harold and Kwailan La Borde use to sail around the globe, built right here in Trinidad? We really don’t deserve the gifts we got nah, cobo really cyar eat sponge cake.

Enjoy the fireworks, but the real explosions have to come from the mind. When you understand that, Happy Independence to you too.

Photos: Patrons enjoy the festivities during Trinidad and Tobago’s 2016 Independence Day Parade.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

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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  1. WE TALK TOO MUCH! We listen sometimes… to ourselves… not even to others… especially those who can teach us something positive that we may not have known and can now use to build…. It seems easier – that is less stressful to imbibe and take as our own ‘chupidness…’ from others that allow escape into the culture of idle ‘mash-up’ or ‘mash-down’ of another. And so we escape into the Land of a vulgar Ha-Ha… all ah we escaping into comedy. Time to grow up T&T ….yes… mature into men and women who respect self first and respect for others will follow naturally. HOW YOU, ME, WE, DO THAT is up to each of us.
    Now on to T&T INDEPENDENCE 2019.-