Now that Carnival done and allyuh head settled (somewhat), could someone explain to me how in his February 22nd column Raymond Ramcharitar saw it fit to subtly equate the organisers of the Canboulay event on Piccadilly Greens with the alt-right white supremacist hate group of the United States?
This man is forever washing his mouth on the commemoration of the Canboulay Riots of 1881. Now as someone who often nitpicks over historical accuracy, I appreciate that there’re some issues over the Canboulay “re-enactment”. Me eh too sure it had clowns and bats during the original riots in Port of Spain or the ones in San Fernando and Princes Town in 1884 (although there would have been midnight robbers of a different kind). But say wha, artistic license.
However, maybe it’s just the huge chip on my shoulder, but by repeatedly connecting the Canboulay organisers to the alt-right – which he cleverly disguised by explaining it as “alternate”….yet look at how the sentences are constructed – is simply obscene. And he’s done this before; once, he lumped all Africentrists into one bloc and then equating them (us) with the Ku Klux Klan. So I’d like clarification given the roots of the alt-right in groups that have openly murdered people of colour; something I don’t quite recall being done by people who’ve read and followed Molefi Asante, Cheikh Anta Diop, Ivan Van Sertima, Asa Hilliard, Marimba Ani, Yosef ben Jochannan or John Henrik Clarke.
I‘m also curious about his definition of resistance. Indeed, throughout his column one picks up an elitist arrogance typical of many Western-trained academics.
Dr. John Henrik Clarke used to say that the Euro not only colonised the world but also world history and academia: things only meant something or existed when they said it did. So here is Ramcharitar:
“An immediate effect of the failure of government-funded tertiary institutions, which are paid to produce local knowledge, is the pervasive idea that ‘roots’ or oral history and ‘tra-dish-ans’ are more authentic and valuable than ‘book history’, assuming you could find books…”
You almost cannot get more Eurocentric than this: this is the core narrative found in the most racist 19th century intellectual viewpoints that sought to define all cultures that were not European. Oral history is not ‘real’ history and let’s face it, black people, even when it’s acknowledged that they wrote books at all, could never be relied upon to speak the truth, not even about themselves; only David Hume and those of his calibre are objective and trustworthy.
In this article Ramcharitar classifies the original riots as based on pure criminality, committed by other islanders, who came to Trinidad “because of its general lawlessness and corruption”. Xenophobia aside, this is an interesting point. PNM and UNC weren’t around then, so who were those corrupt people?
Well, let’s see. In his 1938 book “Glory Dead” Arthur Calder-Marshall says that: “Trinidad [is] an island in which the government can accuse a man of putting into circulation a vast quantity of notes that should have been destroyed and yet take no legal action against him: and which while he is awaiting trial for manslaughter, the Acting Solicitor-General can continue to prosecute his fellow citizens for sedition and murder.”
My history and sociology is a little off, weren’t the people being spoken of here, y’know, mostly white?
But back to the Canboulay Riots. In his article Ramcharitar dismisses the notion that what happened on that fateful morning had anything to do with resistance by telling us with these pearls of wisdom:
“The Riot of 1881 was carried out by criminals…who…with their local henchmen, were incited to riot by a small group of educated black and coloured Trinidadians as retribution to the colonial government, for two dismissals from civil service. It had nothing to do with resistance or heroism, just corruption.”
Now the manipulation of the emotions and resentment of the masses by charismatic people is a very valid point and one that is probably as old as the hills. Trinidad has had its fair share of that and the current mess otherwise known as party politics is most definitely in that vein. But Ramcharitar’s Eurocentric condescension just drips off the page; in just a few paragraphs he sweeps away decades of well-documented racist separatism, favouritism, exploitation, unequal dispensation of justice. He ignores any hint that ordinary, often illiterate labourers had enough understanding or autonomous thinking of their own. Isn’t that the exact same aloofness that saw an allegedly grassroots party, the Democrats, virtually give the White House to Donald Trump?
And Ramcharitar, didn’t James Scott in his book “Weapons of the Weak” argue that peasant resistance to oppressive regimes – which usually are militarily stronger – are mostly through passive go-slows, sabotage, disobedience, absenteeism and theft, rarely open revolt? And what were the living conditions that forced ‘small’ islanders out of their homes to come to Trinidad? Not the same slum conditions that existed here in the barrack yards that colonial officials created to force labourers to work close to the estates? The same slum conditions that existed right up to the riots investigated by the 1938 Moyne Commission? He know the answers; they’re there in his doctoral dissertation “THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF TRINIDAD: UNDERGROUND CULTURE IN TRINIDAD 1870-1970”, which I read.
Interesting thesis I must say; constantly, as I read through it, the words of Chancellor Williams in his book “Destruction of Black Civilisation” kept coming back to me. That is, the part where he said that even the books of the most virulent racist are valuable to the reconstruction of Africa’s history as they often contain information even the author overlooked. So it is with Ramcharitar’s work. It is clear by the evidence he put together, Trinidad and Tobago, like most British colonial societies, emerged out of a slaveholding past but retained the hierarchies that existed at that time. There was a minority white and free coloured elite who were terrified of armed revolt – an annoying thing people tend to do when they’ve figured out you were brutalising and exploiting them. Consequently the “legal,” religious and political systems were all developed by these elites to cement the superior positions they arrogated unto themselves. The very title of Ramcharitar’s dissertation points to the creation of parallel social and economic systems by the laboring class who clearly understood that whatever wealth was generated was not for them.
Equally interesting is that between pages 9-12 he recounts the criminally exploitative behaviour of British capitalists against their own people. On pages 11 and 12 of his dissertation Ramcharitar, citing Donald Thomas’ The Victorian Underworld, wrote of:
“a London where the poor lived lives of misery and vice, sometimes within a stone’s throw of the Victorian moralists. According to Kellow Chesney polite society termed these people “the dangerous classes” – not to be confused with “working classes.” This meant “certain classes of people whose very manner of living seemed a challenge to the ordered society and the issue of laws, moralities and taboos, holding it together …. An example of [their] exploitation…was the existence of the sweatshop…where clothes for the middle classes were made and where the workers were paid “starvation wages…and required to live on the premises. It was common for them to be charged more for food and lodging than could be earned,”
….which as we know would then lead to a vicious cycle of debt bondage. Sounds familiar?
So if that’s how they treated their own citizens how did Ramcharitar think they’d behave when it came to people of colour and the question of “race” entered the picture? The West Indian barrack yards were essentially London’s sweatshops. The horrific conditions were well documented in archival accounts Ramcharitar himself cites in his thesis. This includes the West India Royal Commission into the Disturbances of 1937 aka the Moyne Commission. Here, decades after the Canboulay Riots, the 1903 Water Riots and the labour riots of 1919, we see the same slum and racial conditions that existed before and were recorded in all sorts of Commissions of Enquiry, diaries and journals.
Indeed, Ramcharitar pontificates about “riots, steelpan and violence as primary or significant components of Trinidadian history” but on page 191 of Hidden History acknowledges that “overt values held by the masses…were entirely determined by their reactions to a hostile physical environment, authoritarian control over the citizen by police and authorities (and) a contemptuous social structure…”
It’s also curious Ramcharitar argues that “Captain” Baker – who, according to David Trotman’s study of 19th century crime in Trinidad, was no Captain at all but fraudulently made himself one and suffered no consequences (unequal application of the law again) was right in putting down the marches because of the threat of violence and fire. Yet he made no mention of The Diaries of Abbe Armand Masse, written by a French Catholic priest who on 30th April 1881 wrote that the marchers often:
“amuse themselves in a more or less noisy fashion but peace is not compromised” (but that year) “by a sort of bravado, the Chief of Police…at a dinner…made a wager to stop these bands”. (my emphasis)
How does that fit into Ramcharitar’s arguments I wonder?
Last year I wrote “Cancer of the Ramcharitar” in response to his article where he attributed this country’s history of violent crime to what he called the “cancerous underclass,” the influx of migrants from St Vincent, Grenada and other Caribbean islands who flocked to Trinidad since the late 19th century. It’s very interesting how he continues to link our current crime to the influx of black Vincentians but not the criminal act of George F Huggins, a white businessman who was one of those that dominated the economic and political landscape of Trinidad in the early 20th century. Huggins came to Trinidad from where? St Vincent, where he was born. Ramcharitar described Huggins as belonging to a “ruthless capitalist class” who, during the 1930s “simply refused to yield to moral, practical, or humanitarian grounds.” Indeed, Huggins and others were clear that in response to the clamouring of labourers for better pay and living conditions, they will “let the black dogs starve.”
All this is in Ramcharitar’s Hidden History, yet he writes in his column
“colonialism is long gone, the present operates according to different, completely unrelated exigencies”
Eh heh? Really?!
So how then does he explain what is written by the good Mr. Gerard Besson – another researcher whose works he frequently consulted – in his online essay Independence of Trinidad and Tobago – the Big Moment:
“Williams did not want to destroy the “old money” in Trinidad and Tobago; he did not set out to destroy the family-owned import-export business that had been founded by the English and Scottish merchants in the 1830s and 40s, like Huggins, Alstons, Gordon Grant and others….Williams saved some of the old firms from foreign takeover bids and introduced the Alien Landholdings Act to protect the local private sector from foreign “predators”. He instituted the Industrial Court and passed acts and statutes that appeared to be specifically anti-trade union and obviously pro capitalist. Williams, unlike Forbes Burnham or Fidel Castro, did not want the merchants to leave. They were important to the economy, especially in this time of transition. He disapproved of their way of doing business, of them exporting capital, and of their links to British and Canadian banks. He accused them of being racially prejudiced in their employment practices, of forming monopolistic cartels with interlocking directorships, and of practising an incestuous oligarchic hold on opportunity. Nonetheless, he wanted them as well as the old French Creole families—the businesses they ran, the professions they practiced and the experience they possessed—to stay on as the non-oil sector; very important in an oil-based economy that generates wealth but not much employment.” (my emphasis)
Note that Besson’s essay is very much on the conservative side; indeed some of what he writes is laughable. Yet he at least possesses a little more intellectual honesty. The frightening thing about Raymond Ramcharitar is that he is a lecturer; he is influencing young impressionable minds. No wonder the current spate of violent crimes is spiraling out of control while a glut of incompetent people who are responsible for dealing with the crime rate look on. We have history researchers who don’t learn from the very history they research. In her examination of the riots of 1937 Susan Craig-James informs us that in the aftermath of the disturbances the colonial authorities looked at it and the causative factors as if it was something new; as if it was unrelated to the conditions that caused similar disturbances in 1934, 1919, 1903 and yes, 1881 and ’84. Raymond Ramcharitar seems to be very much in that position of blinkered ignorance.
Frankly, I have major issues with the way Carnival is dealt with as if “town” alone have Mas (even the history behind that is highlighted in Ramcharitar’s thesis). And I get it, there are some people who are pimping Africentricity for their own self-serving and often narrowly tribal ends. I too have a major problem with that. I will also readily acknowledge that by 1962 the old elites were joined by new Afri/Indic elites who were often more concerned with inheriting the old privileges and trappings of power. Hell they all manipulated the working classes when it suited them. But that’s the point: the underclass understood that then and today (which is why MX Prime’s song this year resonated among them; it expresses how they feel about a system that was never meant for them at all)
That Ramcharitar, an academic, reduces the struggles of the laboring class and lump them along with those who legitimately attempt to examine this society through an Africentric framework to create a inclusive society together with a white supremacist movement that clearly runs on hate, he’s just saying more about his own self. Indeed, I can easily point to many articles by Ramcharitar that shows how much his xenophobia qualifies him to esteemed membership of the alt-Right or the Tea Party Movement, maybe even the KKK if he lucky.
Keep that in mind the next time you pen another xenophobic rant, Raymond Ramcharitar. Better yet, read over your dissertation as I did.