And the person I have to thank, or is it blame for making me relive those experiences is the now-former, opposition senator Harry Mungalsingh, who was treated just as ferociously, as were his words, by his political leader Basdeo Panday and was sent packing for his obnoxious comments about cash induced sterilisation and abortions to be used to fight crime in “hot spots” which happen to be heavily populated by people of African descent. Whatever his intent, his words hurt.
And they were a poignant reminder of the first time discrimination on the basis of race first entered my home. My second daughter, who is more chocolaty in colour than the rest of her siblings, came running home to me in tears one day, from primary school, to tell me that one of her teachers, an Indo-Trini male, had called her “black” and “nasty” and “stink.” I could not stop her tears as she told me that this teacher had stopped her best friend, a Chinese girl, light-skinned, with whom she was playing, pulled her aside and asked her why was she playing with that “black, nasty, stink girl.” My daughter said he told the Chinese girl that she was too nice to play with her (daughter). I too, cried, but not for long. I realised that I was now confronted with a big problem that would not go away, since my daughter would never outgrow her colour as she did her shoes. My natural instinct was to confront the teacher and attack him in the way he had done her, but instead, I called all my children together, the fair-skinned, the brown-skinned and the dark-skinned, and that day began a series of lectures to them about racial pride, ancestral linkages with a continent, whose richness and culture were synonymous with Kings and Queens and whose worth was never to be devalued by anyone. They also learnt of their roots and racial connection with their indigenous ancestors, the Caribs, and why they should never feel dis-empowered in this land, Trinidad and Tobago. As a parent, I have also had to confront a problem which arose at Common Entrance time at a government primary school at which one of the kids attended. She had only one shot at it. At the time the cursed Common Entrance was the main, recognised avenue to secondary education, if you did not have money, that is. It was imperative for her to pass. Like most children her age, she was scared stiff, nervous and fearful of failure since, at the time, it seemed her entire future depended on passing this test.
Someone at the school told me of this particular teacher who among others who marked the “mock exams” and who was known for “marking down” the “African” students. This teacher would give them a 45 percent or lower score, which not only served to damage their self confidence, but caused their parents to pressure them to perform better. The mock exam at the time was the only way to gauge whether or not your child was going to pass. Thanks to former prime minister Basdeo Panday, this albatross has since been excised and all children are now guaranteed secondary education. Removing the Common Entrance Exam was the greatest legacy of Panday’s administration and was the single defining act of his government, I believe.
Anyway, I called the school, asked the principal if it were mandatory for my child to sit the mock exam, and when he told me no, I did not allow her to do it and perhaps saved her from any psychological trauma of failure. She went on to pass for a five-year school, did her As and is now doing a degree programme overseas. Whatever the intent of these teachers, their actions hurt, as did the former Senator’s.
Supporters and especially, political leaders of both sides of the political divide should be warned not to stoke the already burning flames of segregation on the political platforms, when general elections campaigns kick into high gear. We know elections time is foolish season and in the heat of the hustings people say stupid things. But rumshop talk has no place on the platforms and in the Parliament. Like TT, fractured along ethnic lines, societies like in the USA, continue to search for ways to deal with racial issues. New York City has banned the use of the N word, which is rooted in slavery and segregation, and has started a campaign to excise this racial slur from hip hop music and television.