It would seem that we have come full circle; or, at least, that the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. No longer governed by the East Indian Trinidadian woman accused of being a drunkard (even as she took the helm of the nation), the people of Trinidad and Tobago have elected an African Tobagonian man who has been described as, well, “angry” (though visibly restrained as he claimed a victory for his party). It is a time of celebration and sour grapes, of jubilation and despair, of breaking molds and broken down cars, of promises to run a country (as opposed to running it aground). Signs and symbols abound, river banks burst, and a new day has begun. Or maybe it’s just Wednesday.
There should be surprise here. This is what happens when we have a system in which there is a winner and a loser. Between the former PM and the PM newly sworn in, it’s clear to tell which is which.
Soon enough, it is hoped that the nonsense will subside, and that the stereotypes of the “drunken coolie” and the “black beast” will give way to a more civil discourse. But we know that it will likely be a discourse that buries its insults and reserves its cut-ups for rumshops and backyards, preferring innuendo and other indirect ways of voicing our dissent. The memes will fade, as is the way with popular culture. Status updates will return to whatever it is people do. Tuesday will turn into Wednesday and Friday and then December.
Among the people, however, it is not quite as easy to see who actually won and who actually lost. I know some of you see this in terms of black versus brown. It’s easier, I admit, to try to frame things in this way. (Less to figure out, I suppose.) But we Trinidadians, Tobagonians, and Trinbagonians are nothing if not ironic and tragically, beautifully absurd. We draw our hardest social, political, and economic binaries between two purist racial lines then rally behind colors that emphasize the generations of genocide, rape, miscegenation, oppression, classism, and other violences that we pretend to celebrate (as “history” and “culture”) but secretly despise.
We forget things. Politicians are merely the lightning rods of our flaws. They concentrate our pains and passions, then mix it on our behalf, then serve it back to us. And we drink.
We drink because we are thirsty. There is no shame in it. Then, drunk in our own mad and narrow, forgetful nationlism–our jingoism, really–we turn against our own best interests. It’s an old, familiar cycle. Heartbreaking, but consistent.
One the one hand, I can say to my people, if you know people who are spouting racist, sexist nastiness toward your duly elected officials (and their opponents), then you are duty-bound to check them. Fast, unapologetically, and hard. One time! Doh stick! Nastiness, like other human frailties, thrives when it has an audience. And you can’t expect to teach who doesn’t want to be taught. So check it. Ignorance may be natural, but stupidity is learned behavior.
But then I figure they expected this to happen. They have long been aware of the racist connotations of “rum and roti” politics, the “is we time” politics, the “eat a food” politics, the “we go do fuh allyuh” politics. The list goes on, and I expect more mentions of cutlass and gramaxone to assault the eyes and ears of the pretend-apathetic before things settle into a normal–or a new normal.
In the meantime (and empathizing wholeheartedly with the justified cynicism of the young and the old) I would ask: How are we to collectively declare (with a straight face) that the democratic process has worked when the very essence of that process–the intrinsic value we are willing to place on a human voice and its sacred autonomy in voting for a preferred candidate–continues to be treated with such shameless scorn? Scorn that is both public and private.
We know how to play a mas, often to our own detriment. Get your bearings, my people.