By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ, & Director, CREDI. Visit rcsocialjusticett.org for our columns, media releases and more.
The world will observe The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21. The theme this year is: Promoting tolerance, inclusion, unity and respect for diversity in the context of combating racial discrimination.
“Every person is entitled to human rights without discrimination. The rights to equality and non-discrimination are cornerstones of human rights law. Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. And based on Article 2, everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Declaration, without distinction of race or any other kind. Yet racism, xenophobia and intolerance are problems prevalent in all societies, and discriminatory practices are widespread…”(UN).
Racism should be denounced in all its forms e.g. individual, institutional, direct and indirect. There is only one race, the human race. Humanity exists as a single human family. Sadly, around the world, the issue of migration, the closure of borders, the building of walls and barriers and ‘ethnic cleansing’ are all signs of “raw” racism.
We in T&T must address racism in our own society more vigorously; build community and the common good; and live up to our anthem, ensuring that every creed and race find an equal place.
Some of the judgements of T&T’s Equal Opportunity Tribunal (tteot.org) on which I sit as a Lay Assessor, highlight the fact that some individuals are treated less favourably in T&T on the basis of race.
The Equal Opportunity Tribunal is a superior court of record established pursuant to the Equal Opportunity Act, 2000 as amended by Act No 5 of 2001. “The work of the Tribunal is to resolve matters referred to it by the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) pursuant to section 39 (2) of the Act. In the resolution of matters the Tribunal is empowered to administer a wide range of remedies including the making of orders, declarations and awards of compensation as it thinks fit.”
For the many years that I lived in London, I was involved in the anti-racist struggle e.g. as Co-Chair of Britain’s Anti-Racist Alliance. Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London, was the other Co-Chair. The struggle continues there, as it does in many parts of the world today.
Being a dougla, I grew up having to combat racism which seems to be endemic in our society. Having returned to help build the country of my birth, I am saddened by the fact that this evil still exists here. I recall that in 2015 I received an award for my work in the area of community development. The award was bestowed upon me by the NRI Institute in Delhi, India. On my return from India, I was in a public gathering with someone of Indian origin whom I thought was a good friend. She said loudly: “Ah hear yuh get an award in India. Like dey eh see yuh hair, or what?”
Some years ago, on an occasion when my mother returned to T&T from London, an immigration officer of African origin, who, on hearing that she had nothing to declare, looked at the form she had completed and asked her if her surname was really ‘Ramdeen’. After scrutinising her, he said: “Yuh doh look like ah ‘Ramdeen’; yuh look like ah ‘John’. Go on.” She said she wondered what he would have done if she had looked like a ‘Ramdeen’!
I share these incidents to remind us that we have a long way to go in promoting inclusion and harmonious coexistence in our beloved country. Racism/racial discrimination is an affront to human dignity, hinders mutual understanding between peoples, and stands as an obstacle in the operation of principles of fairness.
The UK journalist, Kehinde Andrews, is right. Countries must not focus only on individual racism but must root out endemic/systemic racism that leaves significant inequalities.
The media should play its part to raise public awareness about the scourges of racism, racial discrimination and their consequences. Are we happy with the daily diet provided by some radio talk show hosts? And do we agree with Daurius Figueira’s analysis in his book: The Politics of Racist Hegemony in Trinidad and Tobago?
Let’s do as Pope Francis has said, and “overcome all forms of racism, of intolerance and of the instrumentalisation of the human person…We are called to live not as one without others, above or against others, but with and for others.” Let’s unite against racism.