Balancing race

April 2, 2011 By Rajiv Gopie

At some point it was destined to happen, at some point somebody was sure to cause the spark that would singe the entire face of unity that was being peddled by the current Government. At some point the ugly spectre of race was bound to resurface.

The comments made by the gentleman are just the tip of what is an undercurrent that we in Trinidad and Tobago live with every day. Race is part of who we are. We are one land of many races and many people and race is something that we need to discuss and rectify, not sweep aside and hope for the best.

Race is not all we are but it is self-evident it can be seen and it still forms the basis on which many social and political activities are organised. Differences in race, however, should not be a problem. Racial traits are simply phenotypical and thus are not reflective of who a person is. Shame on anyone who may try to divide us, shame on anyone who sees only race, shame on these who see skin colour and not people.

Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. This is very true for us in T&T who have the great penchant for ignoring the past. Race issues are real issues. We have a history of antagonism between the major races in our country and no concrete steps have ever been taken to soothe these tensions.

With the arrival of the East Indians in T&T as indentured labourers the dynamics of existence changed for the resident former slaves. History has shown that tensions ran high between the groups with both being guilty of anger, hatred and prejudice. Both groups were also played against each other by the ruling British elite who saw no reason to foster good relations and were all too happy to let the antagonism continue.

There is no victim and no hero in the ancient tensions between the groups. Both were equally ignorant and prejudiced. With the founding of our own independent nation no steps were taken by our new leaders to ease this tension. In fact many leaders and unscrupulous persons over the years have sought to incite these tensions for their own personal gain. The major races have always been played against each other in a macro sense though on the ground neighbours get along quite well, struggling to make a living and facing the same problems, having the same joys, eating the same food and crying the same tears.

But history has shown that neighbour can turn against neighbour when those who are blind and full of nothing but ignorance and hate rally the masses to causes that serve no purpose but to keep a nation divided, just so that some can loot the coffers whilst the people fight.

It happened in India, it happened in Rwanda and in many other places. Places much like ours, with dominant races who were played against each other by the colonial powers. Places where neighbours once got along but soon hacked each other to pieces, places that were ripe with possibility then carried down a road of ruin. This must never be allowed to happen in our beautiful nation. The blood of no race or citizen should be spilled over the colour of one's skin or one's hair texture.

Historical and philosophical lessons aside, the comments made by the gentleman were, for the most, unsavoury and worthy of rebuke. The notion that things need to be made artificially balanced by some form of micro-management is not only a ludicrous idea but also worrying in many ways. The issue of affirmative action and reverse discrimination continues to be hotly debated and many people are undecided on whether or not it is moral to support any discrimination at all and to what extent do these policies bring about any real change.

Our complex society is a product of not only our culture and history but our aspirations. The goals of different sectors of society lead them to make decisions that have come to form the way our system is composed.

It is an issue that seems to be too politically incorrect to articulate but it is indeed reality that some groups tend towards being doctors rather than policemen, teachers rather than farmers, lawyers rather than masons and so forth. This is not to say there is not a distribution of races across the spectrum of professions but simply that there are higher concentrations of one race according to different factors. This is not something to be "fixed".

This particular phenomenon is also reflected in degree and subject choices in schools. Are we now going to make people choose a certain field of study or try to balance out the choices racially? It sounds very ridiculous when used in this sense but that is exactly what some people may be suggesting.

The lessons to take away from this debacle are the following: Firstly, racial tensions can be swept under the rug but they should be addressed and defused in meaningful and positive ways, to wipe out the old misconceptions, to erase the prejudices and highlight the similarities.

Secondly, we are still under the control of people who seem to have a very colonial way of thinking and we need to ensure that the citizenry is not divided by artificial issues, but continue to hold the powers that be accountable.

Finally, social engineering is a dangerous road and along with miracles it may bring monsters that may be born. "Here every creed and race, find an equal place."

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