In Trinidad’s racial contest winners doing badly, losers doing well.

It’s been well over 50 years since the Africans and Indians went head to head in open competition to see who would replace the eager to depart  British colonial empire.  More than enough time to judge how the groups have done.

In Trinidad’s racial contest winners doing badly, losers doing well.

Photo : Sat Maharaj, Secretary General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha and Managing Director of Radio & TV Jagriti

It’s been well over 50 years since the Africans and Indians went head to head in open competition to see who would replace the eager to depart  British colonial empire.  More than enough time to judge how the groups have done.

The paradox is that the African winners who have been in control for decades are failing badly in all important areas and the Indians who have had no control over any important areas have done quite well in comparison.  The Africans have no idea how to remedy the situation and none of their thinkers have any way forward.  Indians are in a much better place but need to reaffirm the values that got us here, and stimulate another Indian revival of the type that boosted us upward in the seventies, and most critically, avoid the pressure to imitate the failing Africans.

In the late fifties the Africans won the competition with Indians, took the prize of political power, and launched a creole nationalism based on, what else, the hopes and dreams of black people.  With it came a drive to make the black culture of calypso, steelband, and Carnival the national culture of Trinidad.  We remember the great hopes to empower black people in politics and economics, to uplift black family, parental and social values, to make the African a more enlightened, civic minded, educated, democratic person.  The plan was to wipe out the stain of colonialism and slavery and bring about an admirable new society to compare with the developed white nations like America and Britain. If I remember correctly, they were actually talking about Trinidad becoming the New Athens!

Fast forward a half century, and where are the Africans now? Even their best apologists are saying black people are failing everywhere, in everything that matters. They have had political power for most of the time, and retain effective control of the administrative system and the bureaucracy all the time. But black people are dreadfully incompetent rulers.  All the government and national services they run are in chaos and the businesses they have run are a wasteland of failure.

The Africans’ creole nationalism is in ruins, not least because it failed to bring in the Indians who make up 38% of the population.  Black leaders from Eric Williams on never attempted to bring about even an understanding, much less unity with the Indians, and so the nation remains tribal and divided.  How can a nation move forward in unity when at least one third of it is standing on the sidelines looking the other way?

Kamal Persad has written that black creole culture is in crisis and he is absolutely right.  Despairing black commentators say openly that calypso is dying,  steelband is in casualty ward, Carnival on its last legs before total collapse.  Black people have made negative progress in owning and operating private business. Many of their housing areas are decrepit and dangerous, full of vicious gangs, drugs and violent crime. The black family is in crisis too, not specially better off than they were in the fifties, and it’s the same with fatherhood models and parental values.  There are plenty of schools in black areas but not a lot of interest in education from black youth.  Black people as a whole have not uplifted themselves in any serious way, have not adopted the progressive values and behaviour patterns that they seemed to aspire to fifty years ago.  There are exceptions to this grim picture, of course, and some would say a sizeable minority of enlightened and responsible black people, but a minority nonetheless.

So where do black people go from here, since their current path leads only to more failure?  I have no idea, and apparently neither do any of the black leaders, thinkers, sociologists or apologists. Endless lectures on the effects of slavery and colonialism are not helpful. Neither is blaming Indians or Syrians for stealing the black man’s heritage.  Black people will have to tackle this one themselves, and I would suggest a start in taking responsibility for the failures of past and present and tough love measures for the future.

Photo : Ramdath Jagessar

When we turn to Indians in Trinidad the picture is very different and much brighter, but not entirely without red flags. We can claim relative success despite heavy odds against, compared to Africans failure in spite of favourable conditions.

Indians have never had sustained political power, have been cut off from massive government patronage in jobs, community development, and state cultural support.  Still, many many Indians have educated  ourselves and generally done well in education, created our  own businesses and professional  jobs,  uplifted and really developed our housing areas. We have largely continued our Indian social and cultural lifestyles and passed it on to younger generations and yes, created a more responsible, forward thinking, civic minded group of citizens out of a rural agricultural sector absolutely abandoned by the PNM administrations  and the British colonials before them.  We have created something out of nothing, with little or no help from a hostile black controlled state. Here is the paradox again- this is pretty much everything that the Africans set out to do so long ago

Still, all is not rosy.  We Indians have the same old problem of being able to act dynamically for individuals and family, but poorly as a group. Nobody seems to be looking out for the interests of the Indian group as a whole.  We seem utterly helpless to deal with critical area of security against crime and targeted racial crime in particular.  Indian political parties are pretty much a running joke. We are not good at looking forward and anticipating problems coming down the line. Despite living with them for so long, we don’t seem able to understand the mind and mentality of the Africans. The old problems of alcoholism, suicide, wife beating, conversion of Hindus by aggressive Christian missionaries, intermarriage with blacks, all remain. 

We have a new and perplexing issue with a sizeable minority of Indians adopting the black lifestyle: Carnival, calypso, steelband culture, bacchanal behaviour, yes yes, the same lifestyle so obviously failing black people all around! Most Indians have the lunatic belief that black people are going to sit quietly and let us Indians go past them like a maxi-taxi on the Priority Bus Route!

Politically, Indians have to rethink the idea of winning political power via political parties like the UNC. Black people will not put up with that, as this is the one thing for them that is not negotiable. Notice how black people have convinced themselves that the Panday and Kamla administrations were corrupt, racist and incompetent when any independent observer could see plainly those were the best governments Trinidad has ever seen.  Remember the despair of black people in those times when they cried “Indians have education, they have money, they have land and now they have government  too- what’s left for black people?”

There must be other ways for Indians to exercise influence in Trinidad, and I would suggest pressure groups and lobbyists American style rather than head to head combat for the prize of Whitehall. We must learn from what is happening around us, for example, the fabulous success of the Syrians who came to Trinidad with nothing decades ago and are now an invisible power in the land despite having less than 1 percent of the population.  Their edge is not that they have money but that Syrians know how to act together behind the scenes for their joint interest.  Do you think Syrians have more money than half a million Indians?  No way. They just know how to use their money smarter than we Indians and nothing is wrong from learning from their success.

Looming on the horizon is big security trouble for Indians from angry and envious black people, and especially from a huge core of several thousand young black males.  Expect more targeted racial crime from the young criminals eager to “take back” what they believe we Indians have stolen from them.   Black people as a whole are being egged on by a group of radio station racist commentators and newspaper writers in the new “blame the Indians” pitch for all the problems and failures of the black community.  Next thing they’ll be calling Indians cockroaches who must be exterminated!  You need only to look at Rwanda, at Fiji, at Guyana, at Uganda to see where this can lead if these nasty behaviours are not neutralized or put down before they grow too large to manage. We can’t manage this in the same way we failed to deal with the terrible Indian kidnapping epidemic during Patrick Manning’s term as prime minister.

Otherwise, I would say we Indians need to count our blessings that allowed us to be in this enviable position among other people whom we cannot count as our friends, and apply more of those blessings on the way forward.  We have to measure our luck in avoiding pitfalls and trails that lead nowhere, and continue to do so and alert our people.

The blessings I speak of are just the marvellous Indian heritage and culture and values we have kept as our compass against terrible pressures from the blacks and before them the colonials.  In fact, we could do with another Indian revival of the type that blossomed in the seventies and eighties and brought us back when we were at a historic weak point and near surrender.  The pitfalls are the pressures to fall for creole nationalism, to pick up the creole culture and lifestyle, and become black like black people, which most Indians have happily escaped. 

We can’t be shy about this for fear of offending the others who are not our friends.  The Gita says we make our own destiny, make our own karma and so must Indians in Trinidad.    There’s no other place to go for the half million Trini Indians, even if they wanted to join the 300,000 in Canada, the US, Britain and elsewhere.  Following black people and creole culture in Trinidad is simply not an option, as imitating failure is not an option.

Fifty years must have taught Indians some good lessons, lessons we must apply going forward. If black people have had  more bitter lessons from their fifty years than good ones, they must remake their beds and create a new and better destiny.