Trinidad and Tobago is in its 57th year of independence, and moving to 43 years of republicanism. Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Harris in his final interview with the Catholic News before his retirement had observed that after independence in 1962, there was no programme of nation building instituted.
Thus, according to him, we have remained a “nation of minorities”. He continued: “We have never learned how to love ourselves. That is a big issue in education that is not being dealt with at all.”
Fifty-seven years later—a young country still—there is as yet no real impetus to a theory of whole, a sound foundation for taking pride in and understanding what constitutes Trinbagonian identity, culture or outlook.
And it seems we are travelling more distantly from that point. During the Venezuelan refugee influx of this year, many Trinidadians took to social media to ask their fellow Trinbagonians, to stop telling them to “go back home to Venezuela”. They apparently did not have the ‘look’ of a local.
In the near 60 years after decolonisation, who ‘owns’ this island-space, and what constitutes a ‘local’ is still up for debate, even while we proclaim the ‘cultural’ benefits of the food and dance of particular groups.
Nelson Mandela in his visit to Trinidad and Tobago 2004, described the people of the country as a “rainbow people”. He had used the same term to describe South Africans, but there are deeply entrenched divisions between black South Africans and their coloured counterparts some of whom are descended from the Khoi, an early African tribe.
There is as well hostility aimed at ‘foreigners’ (Nigerian businesses, for example, are being looted in riots in Johannesburg), and South Africans of East Indian descent. In the United States and England, white supremacists claim rightful ownership and see all other comers as threats and interlopers.
Our local politics thrives on the absurd and implied right of ownership argument, hence the racist rhetoric that often emerges. Either one or the other party is viewed as having prejudicial practices once they “get into power”; each is viewed as being more corrupt. And each fans the flames of suspicion.
Raffique Shah’s article ‘One step away from Hell’, in August of this year, ends on this note: “Mercifully for us, the carnage is not race-driven…not yet. But one stupid man, fired by the equally stupid rant of another stupid race-monger, and armed with the sophisticated weaponry that is in the hands of hundreds of … criminals, are all it takes to reduce this one-time paradise to Hell. Think, people, think…”
Commentary on social media threads, and emerging platform declarations beg the question: To what vision of country are we, from political leaders and economic elite to the working class, moving?
Enjoying the Independence Day parade and fireworks is not patriotism and neither is wearing red on the day, when we do not hold ourselves and leaders accountable for the little and big ways in which there is irresponsibility to the good of the nation.
Archbishop Gordon, and the editorial in last week’s Catholic News, emphasised the rabid culture of disrespect. It is unthinking, boorish behaviour that manifests in how we speak, how we treat with others, what we allow our leaders under the guise of party support.
Surely, we should strive to be better than that. Perhaps it can begin in acknowledging that we, individually and as a country, are the sum of parts, and every part is crucial to the whole. We all own this space.