The truth about race talk

The Nizam Mohammed controversy has raised a hornets’ nest of controversy. But alarmingly that controversy has missed the point. And missed the point spectacularly.

For a start, nobody is bothering to even read what Mohammed actually said before the Parliament Joint Select Committee (JSC) two weeks ago in relation to the Police Service Commission (PSC).

“You get the impression that we are not sufficiently mature to look at this,” Mohammed told the committee (how right he turned out to be!) He continued, “You cannot hope to revive or restore the confidence of the public in the Police Service if you do not have a properly structured Police Service.” Observing that nearly half of the population are of East Indian origin, Mohammed said: “They have to provide the Police Service with information. They have to feel protected by the Police Service and when they see the hierarchy of the Police Service.” He added, “I will never advocate affirmative action. That would not work in Trinidad and Tobago. I will advocate meritocracy.”

Mohammed gave statistical details of the composition of the upper echelons of the Police Service.

Out of ten assistant commissioners of police, three deputy commissioners, 15 senior superintendents, there are no officers of Indian origin. With regard to the superintendent level, you have 21 of African origin and ten of East Indian origin apparently because the service has been emphasising the question of meritocracy as opposed to seniority, Mohammed claimed.

Thus his statements amounted to: there is a statistical racial imbalance in the Police Service (which is in institution which interacts, in a most intimate and potentially invasive way with the population); that promotions in the Police Service are now to be based on meritocracy and not length of service; positive discrimination or affirmative action will not work in Trinidad and will not be adopted; he will find some way to deal with the issue (perhaps these comments were the first steps?)

These, ladies and gentlemen, were the statements condemned by the Office of the Prime Minister as “unacceptable”; described by one politician as “seditious” and led the Office of the Opposition Leader to issue a statement describing the words as threatening “the social fabric of stability which has been the hallmark of our existence as a multi-ethnic society.”

While my mixed race heritage is not the be all and end all of me, it has nonetheless had an impact on my life and my outlook on the issue of race. In the first instance, unlike many who have taken objection to Mohammed’s statements, I feel no discomfort talking about race. And this is the problem in this country today.

Our political system is – wrongly–based on race, Calypsonians openly sing about race (and some of them are racist), our National Anthem pays homage to our racial diversity, our daily lives, holidays, practices, culture, beliefs and families are strongly affected by issues of race.

But a hypocritical few would have us believe that we cannot raise the issue of race; an issue that is the subject of millions of words of academic discourse in developed countries (United Kingdom, United States) where the issue of institutional racism is dealt with by affirmative action.

Perhaps Mohammed’s error, then, was being too honest in a country of full of dishonesty and political expedience.


"The truth about race talk"

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