A commentary by Fr Martin Sirju, Vicar General for the Archdiocese of Port of Spain
“Give her what she wants because she is shouting after us…I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel,” Jesus replied.
The relevance of last Sunday’s gospel (Matt 15:21–28) rings loudly and disturbingly two weeks after the elections.
Racism is a subset of a wider problem—fear of ‘the other’. There are problems in our country that go deeper than personal deficiencies.
For instance, many people have the impression that Africans are lazy, party-minded, don’t save, disregard family life, and neglect their children’s education. We should not make these sweeping generalisations.
What we fail to realise is where we find instances of this, we discover not only domestic issues but deep systemic problems—marginalisation of communities, political exploitation, poverty and an abhorrence for any kind of ‘constructive discrimination’ or preferential action.
Similarly, why do we have these racist rants after general elections? Are Indians naturally racist, or more racist than Africans? Notice it rears its head most around elections time.
Does this not clearly indicate that the politics has something to do with it? Have we imagined or would we love to see an Indian PNM Prime Minister or an African UNC Prime Minister? If there is visceral opposition to this on either side of the political fence, then we are all racists.
Let me say clearly racism is wrong and a grave evil. It is evil of those who utter racist rants and it is evil of those who respond to them in an equally racist manner. But like poverty and other systemic evils, we have to ask what is generating this systemic evil and then work to remove it.
It is like Jesus in last Sunday’s gospel. He confronts ‘the other’ – a woman, a Gentile i.e. an alien, a victim of Jewish religious/cultural systemic prejudice. Jesus fights His own people against this structural prejudice: He affirms her feminine dignity—‘Woman’—and celebrates her faith.
Whenever a country is locked in racial voting with the winner takes it all, including the hallowed practice of post-election expulsion of people from their jobs, all in the interest of ‘my clan’ or ‘is we time’, racist rants will arise.
Since the nation has consistently rejected a more cosmopolitan political party membership and successive PMs have been quite happy with this mould, with religious leaders not doing much to challenge it, why do we complain like spoilt people who have shot ourselves in the foot?
Let’s not fool ourselves about it. We have this African-Indian racism/racial tension in the Catholic Church as well. It’s just swept under the carpet. So, don’t look to me to point fingers at any one group in this post-electoral commess. Let’s talk systemic issues; then I will listen.