“[…] As a black Trinbagonian, I am truly offended that you felt that you should have gone to such a base degree through invoking the horrors of slavery in defence of your name. The UNC and Trinidad and Tobago deserve much better.
“[…] You forgot to mention that when you invoke the notion of another carrying a ‘slave master’s name’, you are establishing your privilege over another…”
The following Letter to the Editor, written in reaction to recent comments made by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar which are deemed offensive by the writer, was submitted to Wired868 by Dr Moriba Atiba Baker:
Mrs Kamla Susheila Persad-Bissessar, you need to learn to humble yourself and apologise. Or resign.
As a black Trinbagonian, I am truly offended that you felt that you should have gone to such a base degree through invoking the horrors of slavery in defence of your name. The UNC and Trinidad and Tobago deserve much better.
My name is Moriba Atiba Baker. It is a name given to me by my parents, who were proud to call me Moriba (Knowledgeable/Curious) Atiba (Man of Understanding). Despite being told my name was strange, funny and different and although my name was often mispronounced, it never diminished what it meant and the story it told. Knowing who I am, I always share with joy the history, the future and meaning of my name.
Historically, you too were very proud of your given name. In fact, in the 2015 and 2020 election campaigns you and your team placed your given name on the ballot. The name ‘Kamla’ was emblazoned on every campaign advertisement, slogan and logo.
It was then your badge of honour which you wanted the country to see and use. It was impossible to go anywhere without seeing your name and your face on billboards and on marketing materials, from copybooks to teacups. Your name was your hope of victory—‘a new day’.
Now, why is there a problem to hear your own name in the mouth of others?
Conversely, my surname—Baker—represents another part of history, a history which you claim to know quite well and felt obliged to bring to the national attention. However, you forgot to mention that it was not just a ‘slave master’s name’ but a name with a history tied to the transatlantic slave trade and slavery.
Both were declared by the United Nations as involving some of the most egregious acts of human rights abuses, forced labour, rape, genocide, kidnapping and murder. It lasted for almost 400 years, causing multi-generational trauma together with continued oppression and absence of opportunity to access the benefits available in the society.
You forgot to mention that the ‘slave master’s name’ is a name tied to the stress of contemporary racial prejudice and internalised racist beliefs. You forgot to mention that when you invoke the notion of another carrying a ‘slave master’s name’, you are establishing your privilege over another.
You forgot to mention the bias. Or did you?
I hold no personal brief for Camille Robinson-Regis; I have never met the lady. But your statements towards her, and, by extension, people who hold ‘slave master’s names’, highlight in my mind a hatred towards a people which can cause you to miss love for country.
Has your desire for power and misplaced politics replaced serving the people?
As a knowledgeable man of understanding, I suggest that you reflect on the motives behind your statements and make amends. During your term as prime minister, the United Nations declared 18 October as Anti-Slavery Day. It is seen as an opportunity to raise awareness of human trafficking and modern slavery and encourage government, local authorities, companies, charities and individuals to do what they can to address the problem.
Your statements did just the opposite. Your statements were fodder for click baits, labelling and division.
Around the world and within the Caribbean, there is a move to address the impact of slavery and the legacies of the ‘slave master’s name’. In recent visits to the Caribbean, both Prince Charles and Prince William apologised for the role of the United Kingdom in slavery. Prince Charles’ speech during Barbados’ Republic Day celebrations identified slavery as one of the darkest days of the past and noted it as an appalling atrocity which forever stains our history.
In Jamaica for his part, Prince William claimed he felt profound sorrow for the appalling atrocity of slavery, denounced it as abhorrent and affirmed that it never should have happened.
For this reason, countries around the world are calling for reparations for the atrocities of the past. At the Caricom level within the Caribbean, there is the National Commission on Reparations for Slavery. In the US and at the UN, the 1619 project has highlighted that slave trade reparations are essential.
California recently took a major step in setting the stage for an official government apology and a case for financial restitution. In Holland, in the city of Utrecht, the city is removing any bureaucracy and paying all costs to assist people who want to shake off their ‘slave master’s name’.
Meanwhile in sunny Trinidad and Tobago, the Leader of the Opposition is invoking the ‘slave master’s name’ as a defence against someone who merely said her given name out loud.
You ent see that as troubling?
Those of you who felt offended by the term ‘Calcutta ship’ but never reacted to ‘slave master’s name’ need to do some introspection. Is it that one history of oppression and dark difficult days is better than another? Is one ship better than the other?
Or are both symbolic of hurt which should be corrected and not used as an area to elevate one over another?
Mrs Persad-Bissessar, you should know better; the arrival of no ship is to be used in that manner. Nothing can be done to change that history. What we can do is acknowledge what happened and then try to build relationships together.
So, today, I use the name Baker as a hope to reunite with other family members whom I will only be able to identify by the familiar marker, Baker. If I see a Baker doing well in the news and the newspapers, I feel proud. That is my family even through the unfortunate bonds of history. We Bakers represent a new opportunity to stand on the shoulders of history and redirect it.
Mrs Persad-Bissessar, it is now your turn. History is not about the past; it’s about the present! Therefore, I suggest you utilise your vantage point as a former prime minister and the leader of a major political party to survey a new horizon in the present. Don’t quibble and use the ‘slave master’s name’ as a form of mudslinging in the present. It is wrong, offensive and should not be condoned.
Learn about historical trauma and its negative associations. Spend some time understanding the meanings of micro-aggressions and their impact. Spend some time learning about the Post-Traumatic Slave Disorder as suggested by Dr Joy DeGruy Leary.
Join the fight of many around the world, including within the Caribbean, for reparations for slavery. Remove the associations of privilege and internalised racial bias that you have created, promoted and endorsed through your statements.
Serve the people one more time by learning and apologising. Or leaving.
Please take this counsel offered freely and with the best will in the world by a knowledgeable man, a man of understanding.