“[…] Another key claim that NJAC always makes is that, because of Black Power, banks were forced into hiring non-white persons. It is true that, after the 1970 protests, banks did diversify their hiring practices. But […] this was just an acceleration of a process that had already started…”
In the following letter to the editor, author and satirist Kevin Baldeosingh claims that several of the gains claimed by the ‘Black Power’ movement are ‘historical distortions’:
In an article published to mark the 50th anniversary of the Black Power protests, the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) asserts that: ‘such was the spread of love that was generated across the nation that the crime rate went down by a record 56 percent in 1970’. This romantic claim, even if it were true, is empirically unprovable.
As it turns out, however, it is not true. As the table below shows, crime totals in selected categories showed statistically insignificant declines between 1969 and 1971. And, given the state of emergency imposed from April to November in 1970, this means that the overall crime rate was actually higher in that year.
Another key claim that NJAC always makes is that, because of Black Power, banks were forced into hiring non-white persons. It is true that, after the 1970 protests, banks did diversify their hiring practices. But, as I note in my new book on Trinidad’s history which is available on Amazon, ‘From Colony to Curse: A Social and Economic History of Trinidad 1901-2001’, this was just an acceleration of a process that had already started.
In 1967, Scotiabank—which, as the Express notes in its editorial of 25 April 2020, was one of the institutions attacked by Black Power activists—was running full-page newspaper ads with a photo of the manager of its Arima branch, Ronald A Chan.
Moreover, loans and mortgages were increasing at a rate that required more staff than could be drawn solely from the minuscule white or even Chinese populace in Trinidad, with a tenfold increase in personal loans that reflected a new non-white customer base.
Although NJAC says it stood for racial unity, the organisation focused most of its rhetorical attacks on white people. This perceived antipathy led to significant emigration among this group after 1970, with a 14 percent drop in their numbers by 1980.
But a 1970 survey conducted by the St. Augustine Research Associates (SARA) headed by Dr Selwyn Ryan found that ‘contrary to what our black power advocates preach, a significant majority of our respondents do not believe that whites oppress blacks’, with 60 percent of persons thinking otherwise.
As for social changes after 1970, it is difficult to trace any specific effects. This is largely because the 1973 oil boom totally disrupted the trends of the previous decade. But one significant change was an increase in births to unmarried women—a phenomenon that also started in the black urban community in the 1960s in the United States, from which NJAC’s leaders learned their Black Power ideology.
Between 1971 and 1977, the illegitimacy rate in Trinidad and Tobago went from 42 percent to 44 percent, although this rate had been declining steadily since the 1950s. This hike occurred even as the birth-rate per 1,000 women 15-49 years old went down from 113 to 102 per 1,000 and the marriage rate increased from 13 per 1000 to 16 per 1,000.
These figures are odd because marriage rates in Trinidad had previously gone up only in times of socioeconomic uncertainty, such as the two world wars and the Great Depression. Also, if marriage rates were going up, the illegitimacy rates should concomitantly have declined even further.
The simplest explanation is that the figures are statistical artefacts—that is erroneous. However, if the statistics were accurate, certain social implications arise from the apparent contradictions.
There are three main possibilities: (1) Marriages only increased among a particular cohort, most likely middle-class Afro-Trinidadians; (2) women from this same cohort started having fewer children and/or women from the lower socio-economic bracket started having more children; (3) more married men started having affairs and so more women had more children out of wedlock.
It is noteworthy in this regard that legitimate births increased by just three percent between 1971 and 1977, whereas illegitimate births rose by 12 percent. So, contrary to the historical pattern, married women were now having fewer children than unmarried ones. This was partly a function of class, since women from the higher socio-economic brackets were more likely to be married and educated, and more education also correlated with fewer children.
At any rate, this new demographic pattern had significant negative effects on the Afro-Trinidadian community. Whether this was an outcome of Black Power or not remains an open question.
Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read a retort from columnist Noble Philip who suggests that Kevin Baldeosingh did not show evidence that he read widely enough to properly understand the 1970 movement.