Race, Politricks & Crime in Trinidad & Tobago’s Electoral Debate

It’s election time in Trinidad and Tobago right now and it’s been very, very interesting so far, taking stock of the two contending parties. That being said, of course, I have to make the requisite elections post—‘the mother of all elections‘ even, says the Jamaica Observer.

It’s all so fascinating. Pondering all the main issues. The concerns. The relevant “wajang” behaviour newspaper headlines. The discussions being had with and amongst friends and family of mine. The fascinating facebook notes written by friends, popping up in my mini-feed. People in my mini-feed liking Patrick Manning’s latest insipid status updates. The person who did the wack photo edits on certain profile pics on this Kamla Persad Bissessar page in the neck area. I peeped her page the other day and thought, seriously? The woman looks fine, just as she is and the tweaked texture of her chin and neck are not preferable.

The banter back and forth between Adi and Kim (two of my dear friends whose exchanges keep me delightfully abreast of political things on the ground in The Island. What with Kim’s updates of the latest PNM rally and Adi contesting it each length of the way). Not to mention, the proliferation of the word “tribalism” at this time—it’s especially popular among Trinidadians when contextualisation of politics comes up—or really bad attempts to. It’s like the go-to descriptive word that’s supposed to aptly sum up the racial politics of Trinidad and Tobago–in one word. 

It doesn’t.

It really doesn’t because the word really doesn’t do the work of  encapsulating the specific, racialised histories of Afro-Trinidadians and East-Indians and the complexities of their relationships to each another and the rest of society. Catch words for really complex, nuanced and multi-faceted racial constructs that are woefully insufficient to boot are extremely annoying to me. Everything is tribal dis, and tribal dat. Urgh. I wish that term would go away now. In fact, some people should tribal and replace it with racist/racism. (Euphemisms for racism where applicable are also incredibly annoying to me).

[Which reminds me that if I was any good at graphics and shit, I would already have my own version of the ever handy racism bingo cards made, like this:

and this:

but specific to Trinidad and the Caribbean region in general. So I’d have squares for things like: I love eating roti! But look at all who living in dem areasBut I mix-up like a callaloo/am dougla/”Spanish”/mix with black, Indian etc.

And yes, people of colour can be oppressive/discriminatory to other people of colour and have fucked up ideas about privilege. You don’t have to be white.] 

Additionally, the latest parody videos, the picong, the calypsos, the perfectly acceptable use of nick-names: Pope Patos and Dooks for example, for Patrick Manning and Winston Dookeran respectively. All  together now: “only in Trinidad.” And I say that with love. Where the love ends though is with some of the heated discussions going on right now in regards to politricking, crime and race.

Yuh know is crapaud smoke yuh pipe for all three of the aforementioned.

Cause all the Indians must be voting UNC, everybody black voting PNM—everybody else falling in line somewhere (depending on where one’s allegiances lie, or something). On top of which, is only Afro-descendant people engaged in said criminal activities, purportedly enabled by the current ruling party. Getting them out then, becomes linked to a magical panacea that will help cure the social ills of those blasted thieving, lazy, criminal and lawless black people.

Right. Uh huh

And everybody is venting all over about all three. And worse yet, way, way too many people definitely believe that. I’ve seen countless instances on the net of such sentiments getting spewed like a fact. It’s also slightly depressing that elections time is the only time where you have a narrative of race & identity getting discussed (albeit in not very constructive ways) on a wide scale in Trinidad and Tobago. So of course it’s a lot like uncovering, a full and almost overflowing, semi- stagnant storm drain–and all this icky smelly stuff comes rushing out.

Some people truly have some fucked up ideas about race in Trinidad and Tobago and there’s no time like now for some of it to start flowing right out. So here’s what I have to say and I shall reiterate:

Black people alone are not the sole purveyors of crime & criminal dealings anywhere we happen to be. Despite how things may appear to some.

Black people in Trinidad and Tobago are no more inherently criminal than anyone else. East-Indians are no more inherently law-abiding than anyone else. Neither is anyone else. Despite certain blog posts I’ve recently read with all the coolie-UNC-dis and nigger-PNM-dat flying all around the comments thread (and it even gets worse) and even self-identified black Trinidadians acquiescing in the thread that they, as a group alone bear the brunt of all the crime and spiralling murder rate in the country. Despite that, I’ll still reiterate that all kinds of people commit crime in the country—all kinds. Some commit white collar crime, some commit other kinds of crime. Some have colour privilege, economic privilege—some have less, or none.

But there is no one group that has a monopoly on crime just because of their colour alone. And I am really and truly fed-up of hearing this spouted where ever on earth black people happen to be. Sure, they get arrested more but that by itself doesn’t say jack. In the states, for example, studies show that black and Latino men get arrested AND they are profiled more as a result of gross institutionalized & structural racist policies, beliefs and ideologies still in place. Studies like the infamous doll test also show how some black people and other people of colour can internalise negative stereotypes about people who look just like them and thus Laventille raids are standard business but this is not the case in other affluent and/or racially mixed areas around the place. Concentrated police surges into select places hasn’t seemed to hamper nor especially improve the safety of living conditions for people in these places.  

Speaking of crime in Trinidad: someone sent me the chapter “No Other Life: Gangs, Guns and Governance in Trinidad and Tobago” (2009) by Dorn Townsend in my e-mail a while back. I have no idea what Townsend’s area of expertise are but the front blurb calls him “a consultant and journeyman spokesman for the United Nations in conflict and post conflict zones”. This paper: “a working paper of the Small Arms Survey” was an initiative by “an independent research project located at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland”. This particular section notes how “the multiplicity of urban gangs has coincided with an increase in the number of killings” (18).  The chapter also makes some interesting connections and allegations between urban gangs, the drug trade and increased presence of guns along with the ruling political party.

Thus, Townsend notes that “overwhelmingly the violence is occurring among the country’s poor, urban African rather than its Indian or Caucasian residents. Primarily city blacks are the victims” (27). Yet Townsend throws only a small acknowledgement to the ‘speculations’ of  “higher-up movers and shakers” behind the scenes of all of this, as “members of the country’s tiny Syrian community, working in concert with senior police” (29) and part of a “murky,” “shadowy network” (29). After which, there’s not much more to be said as “no high volume drug trafficker from T&T has ever been arrested in this country” (29). (It would be interesting to see someone investigate & honestly extrapolate the why that is so). Following this, the author plunges with gusto into a careful examination of the inner workings of the Jamaat.

Townsend shortly mentions the presence of “East Indian crime syndicates” and their gangs with interesting differences. While, “the African population has been historically urban, whereas T&T’s Indians come from rural communities” (31) and Townsend makes further interesting assertions between the two.  (Though it’s not clear in this chapter at least, where the author’s insight into all this comes from, or how he really knows this is actually so. He isn’t studying and infiltrating these gangs on the ground and he’s not doing an in-depth comparative study between the two groups of ethnic gangs here. If he does so later, elsewhere in the study—it was an interesting set-up for further engagement). 

East Indian gangs, in the author’s estimation, of what he’s gleaned, differ from the ‘African gangs’ in Trinidad because they actually have certain kinds of rules—that they adhere to. And they are kind of better organized too. They are also more civilised as disputes are neatly “resolved by meetings between leaders” (32) unlike the brutality of Afro-Trinidadian gangsters who kill indiscriminately in their violent and bloody gang clashes in various sub-urban Port-of-Spain communities.

Fascinating postulations.              

Ok now, questions for all Trinbagonians, when was the last time you saw/heard a Trinbagonian of a certain ilk and/or shade arrested for anything? And sentenced? And do you think that this is because they are inherently more law-abiding than everyone else who does get arrested? If you are too young to remember the Brad Boyce case—then I suggest you go out and get familiar with it—it’s a great example of what can happen when someone non-black with social and economic privilege gets arrested for a crime (when it actually happens) and what happens in the aftermath.

This matters a lot because some people are actually voting on crime and prejudicial notions about rising crime statistics in Trinidad and Tobago and who is supposedly doing so. The root causes of rampant social and class inequities, in the meantime, never get thoroughly examined and wrestled with so things don’t ever really change. Like the myth of  The Black Rapist and The Brute Caricature—these all serve to ultimately dehumanize black people and lump us into a lawless and scary monolith.  It also helps to detract us all (black, Indian, white, mix, whomever) from cohesive community organizing and building across social, racial and ethnic lines. It promotes fear and stilts growth. It doesn’t matter who is thinking so. I guess, I just wish more Trinbagonians would question and think critically about these constructs. Or stop to consider why things appear to be the way they are and only that way. Especially at this time of year. There is a historical precedent linking black people to crime devoid of context and this needs to be challenged, broken and interrogated.

Who ultimately benefits from things remaining the way they are? And the same kinds of cultural racial belief systems staying in place?

Like David said: “it is strange, more we change, rearrange, everything just seems the same.” 

This pervasive, cultural idea of the lawless black underclass ruining we country—cause that is really who & what some folks explicitly have in mind when they say things along those lines. Many of these constructs don’t get challenged and the right discussions aren’t being had around issues like this.

I think we should think carefully about all this even beyond elections. Fun experiment: examine what you profess to be true sometimes about certain kinds of people and ponder why that is so. Crack your prejudices wide open and empty and examine the contents inside. Pay attention to what you see. Reformulate and challenge if needs be. Think critically about the process and discuss said ideas with others when you can. Continue to do so, not just when elections are in the air.

Also, this apt quote by Elton Joe from a post on racialicious on “Racism 101, Beyond Bingo Cards”:

Can we begin by agreeing that racism is not just about blacks and whites? Can we agree that racism is not just about you and me as individuals and our personal experiences, but rather, that things happen and things exist whether or not we’re aware of them? Can we make sure we’re on the same page about facts like white privilege and the racial injustice integral to the history of the United States?

If we can’t form a basic launching pad of factual information about racism in the first place, I’m afraid “dialogue” on racism is going to continue to take the form it’s taken for hundreds of years–denial and hypocrisy. “Dialogue” will only serve as a way for stereotypes and personal prejudices to become even more subtle and reinforced.

Insert “history of the West Indies” up there for United States and you still have the exact same need, requirements and necessity.

Related links & info:

Registered to vote but no poll card? You can still vote! Take a T&T government issued ID with you to polling station: ID card, passport, driver’s permit.   

Before you go vote Monday, make sure you know your correct polling station address:


UNC-COP-the People’s Partnership Manifesto: http://www.coptnt.com/ver03/media/peoples-manifesto-2010.pdf

People’s National Movement (PNM) manifesto: www.visionpnm.com/2010manifesto.htm

People’s Partnership site:  http://peoplespartnership.unitednationalcongress.org/

PNM site:  http://www.pnm.org.tt/ 

Congress of the People (COP) site: http://www.coptnt.com/ver03/index.php

United National Congress (UNC) site: http://unitednationalcongress.org/

National Joint Action Committee (N.J.A.C) site: http://www.njactt.org/

Energy sector and the 2010 Elections: http://www.ihsglobalinsight.com/SDA/SDADetail18676.htm

NAPA–Honour them!

More on NAPA and its flaws: http://www.tntreview.com/?p=1319

Racism 101. Societies like ours could do with taking heed to no 12. especially (but everything really): http://resistracism.wordpress.com/racism-101/

And as a bonus, Anti-Everything’s “Iz de Man” vid, just cause it’s funny and a great chune.

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One Response to “Race, Politricks & Crime in Trinidad & Tobago’s Electoral Debate”

  1. 2010 in review « creative commess Says:

    […] Race, Politricks & Crime in Trinidad & Tobago’s Electoral Debate May 2010 3 […]

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