I don’t know who I heard it from years ago but the saying went like this: in this country the more you go up in education the more you drop in common sense.
This is what kept coming to mind after reading “Dr.” Raymond Ramcharitar’s latest offering of written effluence on March 15, a follow-on from his February 22nd article on Canboulay. This current article, while not as shallow and one-dimensional as Baldeosingh’s article on March 12th that claims patriarchy is a myth, was no less trashy, elitist and Eurocentric.
Look, I get it, we have a very big problem with mediocrity and unproductivity in this country, buttressed by tribal insecurities and notions of entitlement. All this feeds into the spiraling crime rate the country is facing. And as if all that wasn’t bad enough we have a long festering issue where a large portion of the African population treat with the Indian population as if they don’t belong in this country, that they are a bunch of savages, nepotistic ole tief and inveterate liars…pretty much the same terms the Europeans who colonised this country used to describe, well, all of us who were brought here from Africa and India.
This is why subjects like history should have been among the most sacred subjects at primary and secondary level along with geography. Too bad from early on it got hijacked and by some of our own intellectuals who saw us through the early years of independence. But this is 2017 and the last thing we need are the intellectuals we have now holding the same mindsets they had. They were products of colonial schooling and churching, with all the racism and Eurocentric smugness that that entailed. We should have been in a better position to make a break from the past.
It’s been said many, many times that institutions like universities tend to insulate both students and faculty members from the real world. I don’t know if that was always intentional or if it’s necessarily good or bad – sometimes one does need a kind of insulated space in order to develop new transformative ideas – but regarding institutions that are anchored in societies that haven’t appreciably moved past colonial rule (read Trinidad and Tobago), it’s definitely not a good thing. Some of the racist, xenophobic, neoliberal crap I read are the things I should be saying, someone who never went to university and just have a big chip on dey shoulder, not from Ramcharitar, or Job or Boodan.
On the issue of unproductivity, while I am not excusing it, there is a reality behind that which gilded academics and politicians – the other chief offenders – simply refuse to face: the unproductivity and love of mediocrity that dey cussin stem from deep undercurrents of apathy and disgust among the labouring masses. We can easily link that to their figuring out since the colonial period that their primary role was to create the wealth for other people to enjoy.
That’s what people like Ramcharitar will never figure out even though much of the information is right there in his own unpublished doctoral dissertation “The Hidden History of Trinidad: Underground Culture in Trinidad 1870-1970”. In fact I chuckled when he wrote about the “hidden curriculum” of Carnival in his column as if he forgot that in his own thesis he showed how the relatively powerful military strength and marginalising institutions of the colonial state, taken over by successive Afro and Indo-Saxon elites following 1962, led the underclass to creating their own hidden (actually invisibilised) spaces and institutions. The state set about criminalising that to force the masses to remain beholden to the Governor-General – and later the Prime Minister in the role as Governor-General. In fact very little of our justice system and the laws we inherited had anything to do with law, order and curbing destructive behaviour to build a society. They were developed in the context of white/free coloured fears of retaliation in light of the Haitian uprising and in response to masses of Africans moving away from plantation estates, starting their own communities, engaging in farming and entrepreneurial ventures of their own that were beginning to rival the white-owned estates. One only has to read Ms. AC Carmichael’s book “Domestic Manners and Social Sondition of the White, Coloured, and Negro population of the West Indies” to realise this. To give just a few quotes:
- pg 126. Every Negro had one day in the week to work his provision ground. There was a market every Sunday, closed however at ten am., and a market every Thursday, – in order, as far as possible, to check by degrees the fondness for Sunday markets, and to lead finally to their abolition, – a blessed change, which has been effected in Trinidad, and also in St Vincent. I have never saw any of the white population who did not deplore the Sunday market: they were suffering the error, nay the sin, of their ancestors, who had ever permitted such an arrangement, – and which, when once established, although only by custom, is not so easily stopped as some people imagine
- pg 127/8. There is a weekly market at St Josephs, and….several other small villages throughout the island, where the negroes dispose of their surplus produce. I believe there was a little ebullition of feeling on the part of the slave population, when the Sunday market was abolished, but government was quite right to persist in it; it was an intolerable nuisance to everyone who had a spark of Christian feeling.
- pg 230. People at home talk of negro provision grounds, as if they were something like the cabbage gardens of English labourers: do they know the extent of those grounds, and the value of their produce? Until they do, they are speaking upon a subject of which they are utterly disqualified by ignorance from giving an opinion. I have walked over the negro grounds of many estates; and can assure my readers, that some negroes possess grounds which would be an object of no small ambition to many in Britain as a small farm; and any man possessing, rent free, the grounds that every negro may possess, would be reckoned at home, a man in very comfortable, and even independent circumstances.
It’s unbelievable how Ramcharitar and other aspiring elites in their little bubbles, refuse to see this and therefore why MX Prime’s song “Full Extreme” resonates so much among the working people. All this degreed charlatan could see is a setta lazy ingrates who want to mash up de place. Dey eh want to wuk and build this country; they eh have no love for the place and doh even bother talking to them about no personal responsibility. But about four weeks ago Tony Fraser in his Sunday Guardian column and activist Rubadiri Victor in a radio interview hit the nail on the head much better. I shall condense and translate what they said in a way that there is no mistake for others who think like Ramcharitar: *ahem*
Don’t preach to me about no fucking nation-building shit, haul yuh muddercunt. The treasury, the economy and the whole country that allyuh tief out could burn down for all I care because nothing here was ever truly developed for me anyhow, the common citizen. We went through yet ANOTHER big, big, big oil and gas boom and trillions of dollars pass through here. What it have to show for it outside of wasteful mega-projects, shitty institutions and what money you politicians and businessmen didn’t steal, squander or mismanage. So fuck you and your empty patriotism; I just waiting for the whole place to mash up so you could come down to my level; the level you and those before you placed me. Then I go hold you and “wuk” yuh.
As cold and callous as that sounds that is the general sentiment I picked up as I moved around the country and interfaced with people. And that, Ramcharitar, is what sets “Full Extreme” apart from the kaiso classics you called; you clearly never listened to them. Shorty’s “Money Eh No Problem” was a sarcastic repeating of a statement made by Dr. Williams. Sparrow’s “We Like It So” was more in keeping with your argument about the indifference of the people – especially PNM sycophants – but still was not composed in the spirit of the apathy felt by the laboring classes.
You come like yuh pardner, Kevin Baldeosingh; on February 26 he wrote a whole column under the question “Why is T&T making Terrorists?” and 1) made no connection with the social (read depressed) conditions that spawn the fatalistic mindset that propel young impressionable people into terrorist groups (and criminal gangs) 2) made no connections to the culture of lavishness, “bling” and opulence that has been projected by elites since the 19th century 3) notwithstanding his citing of Eli Berman, contributed to the egregious idea that terrorism is related to Islam when it’s clear that insofar as some of the current terrorists of ISIL are familiar with Islam at all, the religion is just the latest vehicle – as communism was not too long ago. What branch of Islam was the IRA? Or the Baader-Mienhoff Gang? Or for that matter Stern Gang? What mosque did ETA members pray in or the members of the LTTE of Sri Lanka? And 4) reinforce the equally egregious idea that the radical Muslims of Trinidad were only from the “Black” Muslims (read Jamaat al Muslimeen)….well, in whose house did the authorities find those weapons in Valsayn a couple years ago? Baldeosingh, haul your muddercunt too yes.
Returning to Ramcharitar, he apparently finds it odd that the racial wounds are “open and angry” given that “black culture has been dominant here since Independence”. What, I ask myself, is this “black culture” he’s speaking about? I suspect that he, like the white colonials he highlighted on page 112 of his thesis, believes African cultures “looked and sounded all the same”. If the PNM has been in the government longer than any other party (and they were) and they and Dr. Williams were seen as the champions of “de black man” (which many claim….not sure where black women fit into this narrative), then explain 1970? Explain the rigid retention of jackets and ties in parliament and the courtroom or the boardroom? Explain how that same PNM treats African studies and Emancipation Day as a “pappyshow” but otherwise holds it in disdain. Explain “gollywog” night in Club Coconuts some years ago and the discriminatory double-standards found in places like Touch-n-Taste Restaurant, 51 Degrees and certain other nightclubs. Explain the disrespect shown by a Naparima College teacher to a student’s Orisa beads. Explain the near complete lack of any understanding in social studies books of indigenous African cultures here in the Diaspora or in Africa itself?
The very thing Ramcharitar speaks about: the “we vs them” you find in kaiso tents, referring usually to Indians, means there has never been any open discussion of the history of British racial divisive tactics. So Ramcharitar, explain how, in spite of those tactics, you found such festivals like Hosay with African drummers and wire-benders? Or La Divina Pastora. Explain the historic March to Caroni by NJAC.
In fact, reading through his columns and the way he speaks about the prevalence of “black culture,” such as the TV show Blackish, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me” and of course our own Carnival and the existence of the PNM, you get the impression he believes that Eurocentric racism simply faded away into this ‘post-racial’ nonsense I kept hearing about when Obama was elected president. Perhaps that’s why in 2011 Ramcharitar, in response to me calling him mentally lazy, wrote that the Black Athena debates had settled the question of the ethnicity of the ancient Egyptians so people like me should try and move on. Funny, the makers of the movies “Exodus” and “Gods of Egypt” didn’t seem to have gotten the memo. Or maybe, the Mary Lefkowitz side of that debate still refuses to acknowledge, no matter what evidence is given to them, that the people of the ancient Nile Valley and their culture were African.
This, then is why we have to keep coming back to the invisibilising and reflexive disrespect shown to things African, even by other Africans. Contrary to what he likes to think, our issues with race and “racial wounds” really do stem from pre-1962. He himself in his own thesis writes that since the 19th century educated African and mixed-race people had to acquire European dress and mannerisms in an attempt to gain ‘respectability’ and move out of the crippling system they were living in. Those mannerisms include deeply racist ideas; he writes on page 318:
- The problem of colour…affected the prospects of employment, and the colour drama was played out in public, as in the stores, where lighter skinned clerks would treat their coethnics with open contempt, or signs would advertise for “brown skin” applicants only….
- This state of affairs is not difficult to transpose to Trinidad (in the 1950s or the present). Colonialism had left all the worst elements of British society, and few of its virtues. The Colonial Office, by the end of colonialism, seemed to be in the thrall of local and foreign capital (pg. 322)
So colonialism did leave some things behind eh? I thought he said “the present operates according to different, completely unrelated exigencies”? And what is this about the Colonial Office being in the thrall of foreign capital? Kinda like how Guatemala was? Or Iran? Guyana? Chile? I am no big fan of Dr. Williams but let’s be honest here Raymond, if de Doc attempted to implement major economic changes that favoured the working classes, he would have ended up exactly as Jacobo Arbenz, Mohammed Mossadegh, Cheddi Jagan and Salvador Allende did…or Patrice Lumumba, remember them?
And it’s very interesting that in his column Ramcharitar condescendingly treats with kaisos and attitudes that confront the continued demeaning of anything visibly African when on page 341 of his dissertation he wrote:
- By the 1950s, Carnival had been converted into a benign, tourist festival, and the calypsonians into entertainers for the Americans. Williams changed this and restored the calypsonian (and Carnival) to social significance, and made them a main medium through which the PNM message would be transmitted to the masses. Of interest here is that the cultural agenda, and control of Carnival, and its unquestioned status as the national festival, were the result of the brown middle class’s ideation…Dutch anthropologist Peter van Koningsbruggen, notes that although it implied mingling with the black masses they despised, the “Creole middle-classes” betook themselves more and more into the Carnival arena post-1956, because it provided them with a theatre to perform their own fantasies of superiority. This materialised in brown-skinned rather than white women being Carnival Queen. It maintained the colour hierarchy, cementing their authority over the black underclass. And it allowed them to project themselves as cultural innovators to the outside world.
Socadrome anyone? What about the stifling of Ole Mas and Traditional Mas? What about the use of ropes and heavy security to close off bands? This learned man suffers from a paralysis of analysis; if, as he wrote in his column JJ Thomas wrote about “complexion prejudice” in the 1870s, CLR James wrote about it in 1931, Dr Williams had to do it in the 1950s and we still had the 1970 Uprising, then what does that suggest about the entrenched power of what he himself called the “mystification of whiteness”? History really is a funny thing.
The same goes with our current issues with criminality; one only has to read David V Trotman’s fascinating and disturbing “Crime in Trinidad: Conflict and Control in a Plantation Society 1838-1900” to make the connections. Better yet, just read Ramcharitar. Again on page 318 we read:
- Underclass aggression was expressed in various forms of violence, gang wars, domestic violence and criminality, but its main characteristic was that it was internally focused, to such a degree that the middle classes were largely unaware that it existed. And of course, hostility to the police was an inbuilt feature of the culture; indeed, police were recruited with an eye to perpetuating this. This led to a “class bias” in police prosecutions which was readily supported by the magistrates, and which generated a great deal of injustice to the working class, and the institutionalisation of a culture of martinet punishment for minor infractions to “keep the brutes in line.” Women from this class who worked for the middle, upper and merchant classes were frequently pressed into concubinage for the employer, and but for “lightening up the colour,” there were rigid class barriers which prevented the lower orders from vocational and social mobility.
So this runs deep and needs to be examined in a profoundly different way; a way in which the “Broken Windows” model Gary Griffith and others want to impose – as if there weren’t colonial antecedents – will not be helpful at all. The examination has to come more from the ground up to balance off the traditional Euro-centred top-down model. To do so requires looking at non-traditional, informal models and examiners, such as ole mas, kaisonians, traditional mas and yes, 3-Canal as well.
The model Ramcharitar prefers to follow of having groups like 3-Canal know their place and stick to being entertainers is grounded in the elitist, Eurocentric – and thus shallow – model that places things into rigidly sectionalised categories. So Ramcharitar is disconnected from his own ancestral roots. In non-Western cultures, particularly those connected to Africa, music and dance is much more than just for entertainment. Dance conveys all the range of human emotions and often puts into a deceptively entertaining package, advice for those in power. Kaiso/calypso and rhapso came out the African tradition of the djali/griot praise singing and oral historicising. For Ramcharitar to talk that nonsense he did in his February 22 column, he has to ignore the significance of Atilla the Hun, Growling Tiger, Lord Executor, Mighty Sparrow, Paul Robeson, Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holliday, Nina Simone, Fela Kuti, Boukman Experianz, The Wailers, David Rudder, DeFosto and I can go on and on.
Raymond Ramcharitar has some issues me eh think it have enough people here to help him with. I will not deny that there is a lot of narrow Afro-Saxon tribalism that needs to be confronted. Much of that came out of a need to provide counternarratives to dehumanising European racism. It should have evolved and probably would have were it not for following generations of Afro-Saxonised leaders. But his writings are too much like the writings of Mukdar, a journal that appeared in the mid-1970s. It too reflected the pain of generations of prejudice among a section of the population whose parents and grandparents were isolated by Trinidad’s geography as much as Eurocentric racist thinking. But it’s targets hardly seemed to include the British and the legacy they left behind. Ramcharitar will do well to remember that the Afro is not the real enemy here and the same way the Habshis and Siddis were African dynasties in India centuries ago and much of African and Indian music are similar and not by coincidence either, so too could new alliances be formed over here – as they were during Hosay generations ago.
Shem Hotep (I go in peace)