“Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, everywhere is war…”
Haile Selassie’s words in his address to the United Nations in 1963—and memorialised by the late great Bob Marley—have found new vogue and convenient usage in social media.
The murder of George Floyd has caused waves of outrage both in the US and around the world as many took to the streets in a desperate attempt to demonstrate that black lives matter.
Coinciding with what were largely peaceful demonstrations, opportunists and anarchists (both black and white as evidenced by video footage) looted and burned several businesses.
These became the defining mark of the protests for many—not the accumulated injustices that led to the point of national protests, but fires and broken glass.
Facebook was an exhausting experience last week for the Trinbagonian who could, at that point, only but use his/her keyboard in the ideological battle. ‘Black out Tuesday’ June 2 became an online war of semantics, with a few Trinis declaring with some of their white American counterparts: “All lives matter”. Floyd’s death, and the African-American lived-experience of credible fear of police, became the platform for locals to hurl ethnic and colourist barbs at each other with savage glee.
In Germany, London and New Zealand thousands marched to support justice; here, Trinbagonians verbally assaulted each other, or made tone-deaf observations leading to more than one public apology. Why the deep-seated anger, on one hand, or lack of empathy on the other?
It may take psychologists and historians to collaborate on untangling the threads of colonialism and its lingering impact on a still seemingly traumatised population. The core of the rage which manifests itself in a perpetual anger-attack loop may have at its heart the unequal distribution of opportunity. It is an uncomfortable truth that we continue to evade.
The regional Church has been clear in its support of our African-American brothers and sisters at this time. Archbishop Jason Gordon identified racism as a “sickness” (see page 4).
In his homily during the commemorative Mass of the Black Power Movement 1970, the Archbishop cites its importance to the nation. “….the Archbishop explained that the wound of a person is the same for a nation. When a nation is wounded and there has been no real apology, no reparation, until that wound is healed, ‘we cannot find the Trinidad and Tobago that we want to become,’ he said to applause” (3, Catholic News, March 1, 2020).
There is a world in Trinidad and Tobago, in the proximity and exposure to heterogeneity. That is our blessing. There is also intergenerational wealth and intergenerational poverty and neglect which prevent people from “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps”.
The seeds of rage here are in a complex mix of racism, classicism, elitism and colourism, all reduced to one word—racism.
How then do we move from this point, to where “every creed and race finds an equal place” is more reality than aspirational?
While as Catholics, there is the feel-good of assisting those in need during the lockdown period—and certainly this was necessary and a boon—can we take a step back, and look at the groups who were left without income and food, and perhaps consider why?
Shall we blame them for not doing enough for themselves? Or will we look at the possibility of our own systemic and social mores that make neglect and inequity fine once we are able to ameliorate our consciences through charity. Perhaps we can look at who constitutes our immediate circles and why, thus beginning a much-needed personal interrogation.
This year, as we celebrate the Body of Christ, let us remember the most wounded parts of that body and seek daily ways to heal them.