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Our implicitly racist language

Some of the language/rhetoric which have become commonplace locally carry racial undertones particularly towards Afro-Trinbagonians.

“Allyuh too wicked”; “He was a good boy”; “Trinidad is not a real place”; Black people not good at business”; and “Black people real lazy” are statements made “almost exclusively” with reference to Afro-Trinbagonians with “implicitly racist overtures”, said Fr Stephan Alexander.

Fr Alexander, priest in the cluster of Sangre Grande/Coryal said, “The individual and collective effect of these phrases causes those to whom they are addressed to devalue/undervalue themselves and think of themselves as inferior to others.”

He was one of the presenters on Thursday, July 16 at the Conference on Theology in the Caribbean Today (CTCT) Black Lives Matter: Caribbean Theological Perspectives virtual forum. His topic was, ‘50 years on from Black Power, Do black lives still matter?’.

Other presenters were: Dr Alison Mc Letchie, Assistant Professor, South Carolina State University Department of Social Sciences, ‘Reflections of a Catholic Caribbean immigrant in the US South’; Rev Dr Sonia Hinds, rector of St Leonard’s Anglican Church, Barbados, ‘The Anglican Church in Barbados and institutionalised racism’.

In reflecting on the forum theme Fr Alexander said Matthew 13:13, “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand” resonated. It makes clear some will receive God’s revelation while others will look without seeing, listen but not hear or understand. He surmised, “perhaps it’s the same with issues such as racism, inequality and other attacks on human dignity”.

Fifty years after the Black Power Revolution, in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, he identified great parallels of blindness and coarseness of heart/mind within the local reality. “At bare minimum several contemporary occurrences can be contemplated in light of French philosopher, Henri Bergson’s statement, ‘The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend’.”

The social climates of the United States of America, United Kingdom and several Caribbean nations suggest that many minds are not prepared to comprehend, Fr Alexander said. The question is: What are these minds perceiving that they refuse to understand?

Responders may identify the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin or the inequalities and injustices meted out to countless Black Americans within the systematic racism prevalent in the United States.

He however, questioned why there were such passionate responses from the United States, UK, Caribbean nations and specifically, Trinidad and Tobago.

To understand the local response, he touched on the 1970 Black Power Revolution. This local event was “the child” of the Black Power Movement in the US, and struggle for equal rights by students of Sir George Williams University, Montreal.

It challenged institutionalised racism in T&T that was grounded in a dominant Eurocentric cultural ideology and supported by the government, the education system, Christian churches and the media while cultural aspects of African and Indian origin were denigrated.

Fr Alexander found statements like: “I don’t see colour” and “We want a colour-blind society” to be as “problematic” as those statements previously identified as implicitly racist.

He explained, “They disclose a failure to see and understand the worth and contribution of Afro-Trinbagonians: their colour, culture, history etc and to honour them because of it instead of honouring them for their conformity to the Eurocentric ideal.” The statements are “subtle yet damaging”.

Fr Alexander observed the education system has not transmitted to young-Afro Trinbagonians the greatness of their history and cultural legacies which should ground their consciousness.

He proposed the eradication of the blindness and coarseness of heart via a “balanced approach” grounded in the ethical and spiritual. Fr Alexander said, “it is through intimacy with Christ that we mature to be fully human” and the divine is revealed—seen, heard, and understood, as Matthew 13:13 suggests.


‘All Black not Black’

During the discussion period that followed various points were shared. Donald Kortright Davis, Professor of Theology, School of Divinity, Howard University, United States, commented, “As long as the term ‘Black’ leaves the shores of the United States, it has a different meaning so just as in the Bible you say all Israel is not Israel; all Black not Black”.

Davis, born in Antigua and Barbuda has been at Howard for 36 years, said the Caribbean needs to be mindful in using terms originating elsewhere.

He said, “When we who are not African Americans use the term ‘Black’, because it is very easy for us to be reminded that we are not Black; we are Africans or we are West Indians”.

Stemming from this he added that it became necessary for him to coin a new phrase “we are not Black but we are all blessed with ebony grace”.

He authored a book titled, Compassionate Love and Ebony Grace: Christian Altruism and People of Color.

Davis continued, “We need to be careful even with the term ‘Black Lives Matter’, because it brings out for us the challenge in one or two directions: first of all, to remind us if we are going to adopt a term that was generated here (US), who are not African Americans need to say ‘All Black lives matter’ and not just some”.

He noted that in the talk of reparations for slavery in the US on the question of ‘Who gets the money’ there is the view only African Americans should be recipients.