Stuck between a growing social revolution here in Lebanon and our annual floods brought about by rampant political corruption—which gave rise to the aforementioned unrest—I had little time or interest in watching the recently concluded Miss Universe Beauty Pageant.
My interest piqued of course when I saw on BBC World News that Miss Zozibini Tunzi from South Africa had won the pageant. Miss Tunzi is a strikingly beautiful black woman with a charm and poise very much like our own Wendy Fitzwilliam; and I could not help reminiscing on that day when Wendy won.
I was contracted by the United States’ Major League Soccer (MLS) at the time and playing, ironically, for the New England Revolution, who were in DC for their opening game of the season. I was still captain of the Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team and I was happy to have dynamic compatriot, Evans Wise, as my teammate in the US.
Evans, who would eventually become a close friend, and I watched the pageant in our room and came down to the team dinner buzzing with excitement and joy that, once again, another of our country’s beautiful women had made us proud. While we accepted the congratulatory remarks of most of our Revolution colleagues, our good mood quickly went south when a Dutch player by the name of Edwin Gorter exclaimed that Wendy ‘had won only because she was black’.
I replied, faster than a Muhammad Ali jab, that maybe it was about time since most winners before had won only because they were white. It quickly escalated. The Dutchman, who I considered racist—incidentally he had played for the Swiss mid-table team, Lugano, while I was at perennial Championship winners Grasshopper Club Zurich—was in his element: in the United States of America. A country that Malcolm ‘the X man’ once correctly stated turns most white men into racists the moment they come off the plane.
I am sure Gorter would never have said what he did back in Europe. Don’t get me wrong, he like so many others would have been undoubtedly thinking it; but the mask of civility is well-worn in Europe. No such pretensions in the good ole ‘US of A’.
“She looks like a black monkey!” Gorter shouted, as we were all being seated for dinner. Well, I let him know quickly what parts of his mother looked like a black monkey.
The room was now as quiet as a church, which Evans, seated next to me, interrupted by inviting the Dutch ‘racist’ to take it outside where they could ‘talk about things’ further. Evans wasn’t playing around!
I had gotten to know Evans quite well and I admired his story: an ambitious self-made man who wouldn’t back down to anybody. His invitation was, of course, refused; but the enmity lingered throughout the season. It reached its logical conclusion when, nearing the end of the season and after Evans had been released, Gorter emboldened by the perception that I was now alone, blurted out a racist epithet to me on the field and immediately took a swing in my direction.
I may have attended St Mary’s College and come from one of the most Catholic families on our island; but I grew up in a house with Ken and Colin Nakhid, and played with Santos FC in the Eddie Hart League for years. I was prepared! Sufficed to say, he was bloodied by the end of the encounter and I knew my time in the MLS was up.
I’ve looked back at that incident during the course of my life in administration, especially as most of my work takes me to the European and Asian continents. I still believe now as I did then that the USA holds the key to the racial crisis that is becoming more existential by the hour.
For better or worse, the racists are in plain sight; and, in ‘Evans Wise fashion’, no one is in the mood to enable them and sing ‘Kumbaya’. We’ve had enough. So when I note the hypocrisy of sentiments afforded to the late Sat Maharaj, who was actually described as a patriot by some, I feel ashamed and disgusted with our insipid behaviour.
Sat cared nothing about Trinidad and Tobago as a holistic whole, a nation under construction with a multicultural identity. He didn’t even care much about our so called Indo-Trinbagonians who were not Hindus, unless they could satisfy a social and political demographic that suited his ‘Hindu nationalist agenda’.
Sat, for me, was a racist; and unabashedly so. I met him in 1997 at his Curepe office, in a meeting organised by my brother Jamal Shabazz. I wanted to see what the political landscape looked like and had also met with the MSJ leader David Abdulah. After five minutes, Sat remarked that a ‘red negro’ like me would always have a place in politics in Trinbago if I joined one of the two major parties. I cut the meeting short. Nothing to see here, I thought; same old, same old.
I sincerely hope that whoever succeeds Sat as Head of the Maha Sabha points the organisation in the direction of Port of Spain, Penal and Point Fortin and not Delhi or Mumbai.
Ah mean our beautiful mixed heritage is the perfect formula for more victories in the Miss Universe pageant. Ah gone; meh house flooding!
Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read the MLS verdict on Edwin Gorter’s racial slur directed at then Trinidad and Tobago football captain David Nakhid and the subsequent altercation between the pair.