Thursday, January 10, 2013

Commentary: Race talk in Tobago exposed PNM's deep seated Afrocentrism

We humans have a curse that has got us into trouble all through history - our ability to speak!

I thought about that when I heard that racist remark from a Tobago politician on the hustings using scare tactics to frighten people and warn them of an impending Indian invasion of Tobago if the PNM loses the January 21 Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election.

The politician in question - Hilton Sandy - has offered an apology, saying he was "unfortunately overwhelmed by the exuberant atmosphere and erred" by making his "calcutta ship" comment. He made matters worse by suggesting that it was just political picong and that he had many Indian friends.

What happened was that Sandy exposed his true self, a classic case of failing to put his brain into gear before engaging his power of speech. So he spoke without making a calculated analysis through rational thinking.

I think Sandy was genuinely honest when he expressed the fear that is ingrained in his psyche. His dishonesty was in his apology because he knew that what he said on the platform was imbedded in the PNM for decades.

And the PNM and its leader are being dishonest and hypocritical in condemning the statement as an afterthought and then continuing to support the candidacy of Sandy for the election.

Why, for example, did Rowley endorse Sandy right after that racist statement? 

"Send him back to the THA...Let him bring his experience to guide the youngsters who would put him there." 

That was what Rowley said right after Sandy spoke, in effect telling the PNM supporters that this racist politician was a role model for the youth of Tobago. His demand for an apology came only when it became clear that Sandy had stepped into a political minefield.

The trouble with spin is that you can't change history or alter people's deep seated feelings. The PNM has always been an Afro-centric party and in 50 years it has not changed. So Sandy was only expressing what he knows to be acceptable to the party.

Even Patrick Manning acknowledged the PNM's race bias.

In a speech at a PNM convention in 2003 Manning said: "It would be a glorious day when the composition of the PNM is a reflection of the society from which we come...that is yet to happen ladies and gentlemen." He was prime minister at the time and he could have done something to change that but he didn't because his party was not ready for that.

And Rowley has boasted of taking the PNM back to its "moorings", which is code for the party's Afro-centrism. 

The PNM has always seen itself as the party for people of African origin and has castigated Afro-Trinis like Jack Warner for being disloyal to Africans. I recall PNM jefe Louis Lee Sing telling me that Wade Mark was Basdeo Panday's "house nigger". 

Our history of colonialism has contributed to the problem that we have faced for the past 50 years trying to find our place as a nation-state built on the strength of slavery and indentureship.

Back in 1956 the PNM and the People's Democratic Party (PDP) campaigned on the basis of an appeal to race. The PNM survived through the decades, holding on to its founding principles while the PDP went through several incarnations, purging itself of the bigotry as it went along and finally manifesting itself as the United National Congress (UNC). 

The UNC's founder, Basdeo Panday, understood that while his party's core support was from the Indian community a political party could only survive and win office if it treated everyone equally. So the UNC became a genuine multi-ethic party.

Kamla Persad-Bissessar won election as the UNC's leader based on a pledge to embrace everyone. And the electoral success of the People's Partnership in 2010 was clear evidence that we had reached a level of maturity through which we could elect representatives on the basis of policies rather than ethnicity and religious beliefs.

But the PNM has remained stuck in the past, which is why Sandy felt comfortable making such a racist statement in the presence of his leader, who endorsed him without batting an eyelid about the overt racism.

For Rowley, the challenge today is to find a cure the PNM's political schizophrenia.

He has been busy with a makeover in Trinidad embracing the Indian community, which he has recognised is a political necessity. However the PNM in Tobago is not in tune with that change and Rowley finds himself today leading a party with a dual identity.

This isolated incident will likely have little effect on the outcome of the Tobago election. However it would have serious repercussions for the PNM at the national level where it must convince citizens that it represents everyone. 

So far it has failed to do that by choosing instead to engage in divisive politics by which it sees everything the government does through racist lenses. And the "Calcutta ship" is a ghost that will haunt Rowley and the PNM for a long time to come.

Jai Parasram

Additional comment:
Anand Ramlogan
Rowley has no moral authority to 'reprimand' Sandy. He led by example when he falsely accused me of making racist statements at a visit to our New York Mission and refused to apologize even though I produced my passport to prove that it was impossible and untrue...race is the weapon of the PNM...always was, always will...

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai