Q: Archbishop J, what do you see as our greatest challenges in Trinidad and Tobago?
Quite possibly, we are facing the most challenging decade since independence. Low oil and gas prices, a global recession, a pandemic, high unemployment, insufficient diversification of the economy, underdevelopment of both our urban and rural communities and unsettling racial discourse during and after our recent General Elections all contribute to the present situation. Without question, we are facing fundamental challenges as a young nation.
Some of these challenges, we have no control over. In some instances, we can seek to change course. Others we are completely responsible for and need to exercise maturity and leadership.
The global challenges require us to adjust and adapt, to do more with less while ensuring that the poorest and most vulnerable are protected as best we can. This wave of COVID-19 cases could lead to more social disruption and we have to be prepared to step up once more to feed the hungry and support our children who will be out of school for several more months.
If we intend to have a future that our children and grandchildren will be proud of, then every citizen needs to take exaggerated responsibility for this our twin-island republic and commit to building this place into a home for all of us.
We need to find a way for every citizen to be productive and contribute, to work together to build a nation of which we can be proud, one where all of us have a place.
The oddities of our nation
VS Naipaul, in his seminal work, A House for Mr Biswas, reflected on his life struggle, seeing all of the oddities that plagued his house. It was ill conceived, lacked design, and was built badly.
Yet Biswas says: “How terrible it would have been, at this time, to be without it; to have died among the Tulsis, amid the squalour of that large, disintegrating and indifferent family; to have left Shama and the children among them, in one room; or worse, to have lived without even attempting to lay claim to one’s portion of the earth; to have lived and died as one had been born, unnecessary and unaccommodated.”
Like Biswas, we see all too clearly the oddities of this nation, Trinidad and Tobago. We see the obscenity of racial epithets rising every five years, only to cool down again once the electioneering is over.
We see the high levels of crime and domestic violence. We see underdevelopment of our brothers and sisters in the urban communities that we have created and neglected to invest in.
We also see the underdevelopment of our brothers and sisters in substandard dwellings grow in central and in rural Trinidad. We see the ongoing tension between Trinidad and Tobago. We also see the high corruption that is a cancer eating away at the soul of our people.
Like Biswas we too must conclude, how terrible it would be to live and die in a colony and never have the opportunity to chart our own destiny and become one people.
Our nation is not perfect. But it is our nation! We the citizens of this beloved nation need to recognise that we are the only ones who can make a difference to our present and future condition. This single fact, this realisation that the place belongs to us, and by taking responsibility for it, we alone can change the future.
The responsibility of every citizen
Only the resolute responsibility of every citizen, straining to build nationhood together will change into a future of hope what may seem to some as dismal.
This election (2020) was one of the most racially charged that I can remember. I heard young Trinbagonians calling people of other races names that cannot be repeated. Then I heard the others calling for rape and murder of the first group. This is the extreme irresponsibility that will destroy this place if left unchecked. This is our house; if one room burns, the whole house burns. We are united together in this twin island republic for better or worse.
The way ahead may be difficult, but only through struggle and sacrifice do people build community, character, and culture. That is what we need. There are many young people in our nation who see this and have taken a different road.
A young Trinbagonian began Project Why? He sent out a video calling for a national campaign, #MyCountryYourCountry.
He argues: “Racism in Trinidad and Tobago does not make any sense. Trinidad is a melting pot of cultures where segregation does not belong…All of we eating each other food, wearing each other clothes, listening to each other music, taking part in each other holidays, living in each other neighbourhoods, and we are socialising amongst each other since young.”
Truth, fairness, benefit to all and goodwill
In the 1860s there were 23 friendly societies formed by ex-slaves from Africa. They fought bitterly amongst each other. They were from different tribes and guarded their identity fiercely.
Some 100 years later, Afro-Trinidadians gathered together to protest white discrimination in Trinidad. Black Power sought to embrace the Indo-Trinidadian population.
In another 100 years, we will have a very different racial composition in our nation. The 1946 census identified 14 per cent as racially mixed. In 2011, 24 per cent of the population identified themselves as racially mixed.
Our young people are intermarrying. And across geographies, social class and ethnicities, integration and mutual respect must also increase.
This is our house! Only we can change the internal threat that we face by race, underdevelopment, and corruption. It starts with you! It starts with me!
Each choice we make will either lead to a better Trinbago or the destruction of our house.
We all, from captain to cook, need to embrace exaggerated responsibility for the common good—in our actions, our social media posts, our radio talk shows and our speech in general.
Rotary has a great four-way test for discerning or evaluating an action. It is a good place to begin:
Trinidad and Tobago belongs to us alone. Only we can face up to and address the internal challenges that we face. By exercising a resolute responsibility for the common good we can build a better nation.
Use the four-way test to review your social media posts and your conversations and actions for the last week. Then use it before you act socially and virtually.