It was a surprise and perhaps something of a mark of appreciation that Noble Philip reminded readers of what I said in 2000, while I was in the Senate, about the shameful conditions at the St Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital.
Insightful commentator that he is, Noble Philip lamented our lack of shame and the farce of spinning occasional routine performance as significant progress while there is continuous decline in the quality of life for ordinary citizens, who are not merely satellites orbiting around those who run something for them. He described us last week as ‘shame proof’.
In a Senate speech, I did liken the St Ann’s Hospital to the Inferno—Dante Aligheri’s epic poem, which describes the journey of Dante through hell—where Dante hears the anguished screams of outcasts existing in putrid conditions.
What made the comparison of Dante’s Inferno to St Ann’s most telling was the reputed inscription at the entrance to Dante’s fictional Hell: “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.”
The Government of that time was pompously boasting about the re-design of the St Ann’s roundabout. It roused me to ask: “How about this? How about beating your chest about the St Ann’s roundabout and about a mile and a half away you have this!” I then exhibited media pictures showing young persons caged up.
On that occasion I also made one of my frequent references to the serving of eggnog in 1993 which resulted in the death of 10 patients at St Ann’s. The eggnog incident is one of those events that I never let us forget because it is one of those signature events highlighting our lack of civilisation and our lack of shame.
Similarly, I have never let-up in keeping alive the shame of the fatal assault on Akiel Chambers in an upscale residence. For that reason also, I stated in last week’s column that, to many with money or power or perceived status, violent crime means nothing more than an additional cost of doing business.
Many elements in our society despise their own and there are careless references to ‘those people’. ‘Those people’ is a term of disdain that I particularly dislike. That profiling is one of the reasons why the true genius of our indigenous performing arts does not receive the encouragement and proper structure it deserves.
Our Marie Antoinettes are probably content to let those people play their music, perform their gigs and pass out each other with guns.
Currently, as a result of a chance meeting, my wife and I engaged someone to do some work for us. She is a person of substance and proven competence.
In recommending her to others, I made the remark that her hairstyle is one that might have her thrown out of class. This is in my mind because I read on Tuesday last that the mother of the 15-year old student, who was warned about her Bantu hairstyle by her school authorities, said that after one month she is still awaiting the outcome of an investigation by the Ministry of Education—even though the enlightened Minister in the Ministry, Mr Lovell Francis MP, stated that he saw no problem.
What is there to investigate? Are we still in the backward days when children were disciplined for playing pan?
Readers will recall that several prominent persons including Maxine Williams, who was awarded an honorary doctor of laws at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI, last week, spoke up in support of the pupil who was subjected to official harassment for an expression of her culture.
I had the privilege of attending the ceremony in Barbados as a guest of Maxine. It is an occasion about which I may write; but, for the moment, let me record that many of the graduates wore their hair in twist-out styles.
The valedictorian, Andiesa Weste, a Trinbagonian, obtained first class honours in law and was a proud secondary school graduate of Rio Claro West.
We maintain indifferent attitudes toward the mentally ill. We regard scornfully certain hairstyles and skin shades, as well as certain schools and addresses, instead of promoting real talent.
Andiesa and her peers deserve better.