Lecturer in Anthropology and Political Sociology at the University of the West Indies, Dylan Kerrigan, explained that the anthropological definition of culture was fluid, something that shapes us rather than determines who we are. However, he said political parties and religious organisations promoted older models of a “bounded” culture from which a person’s identity was defined.
“This old idea of culture fixes groups as unchanging and determined by these checklists of characteristics when in reality, when different cultures come into contact, they don’t bounce off each other, they merge and produce new things. But political and religious leaders don’t like the anthropological definition. They prefer the older version because, in a way, it’s what their power is based on, if they can create and unify in-groups,” he said.
“I feel that one of the problems we have in society is that we don’t turn to the experts to understand culture, and what this does is feeds into racist and ethnic politics and made worst by the firstpast- the-post election system. It fixes our political system along geographical and historical lines of where the population originally went, so that you can only flip between two sides,” he said.
Kerrigan said it was no surprise that politicians use simplistic notions of culture to support the electoral system because they have used different aspects of culture and mobilised it to get into power.
Instead he suggested the Government gather experts to come up with as solution that was indigenous to our society, possibly a system in which votes were transferable.
In addition, Kerrigan believed politicians were using the wrong model of culture in their policy decision, for example, legislation on how certain groups are financed.
These decisions promote racism and polarisation of groups as the population reads between the line.
“They don’t have to say it because it’s imbedded in our legislation and in the ideas being pushed by governments. Everyday people are smart so what they do is pull from the ideas that are floating around in the discourses they have access to.
The ones they hold as official and correct are the things that are sent out by top down organisations — government policy, religious organisations — these things promote this bad idea of culture as bounded, as not changing, as eternal and that is something that feeds into the populace,” said Kerrigan.
He noted, however that Trinidadians and Tobagonians understand the correct definition of culture which is evident in their daily lives. They lime together, share in each other’s religious and cultural festivals, respect each other’s values, and enjoy each other’s foods. “If the populous turns away from what they are being fed and to their own lives they can see examples of where that definition isn’t true,” he said.
However, instead of paying attention to ourselves, many pay attention to what the religious and political leaders are dishing out. According to Kerrigan, the result is that persons do not have empathy for others or see themselves in other groups, and so it becomes combative.
“All these racist things we’re seeing on Facebook are basically a manifestation of these deeper philosophical and historical problems that are embedded in our society and they come to the surface at these times,” he said.
Kerrigan’s position was in opposition to one sociologist who believed the population was still in a “state of emotional flux” and so were saying things they would not normally say. In addition, this sociologist who did not want to be named in this story, said some comments may have been in response to other persons’ statements and so may be interpreted out of context.
Many of the Facebook comments and memes were derogatory and racist in language and tone such that users expressed dismay and disappointment at the negative feelings and hostility being generated and shared among members of the population.