Post 298.

The Prime Minister has finally apologized for the PNM’s Family Day debacle. Unfortunately, in this being made a Hindu issue, with apologies to the Hindu community, all and sundry have missed the broader injuries.

Overzealousness from the newly expanded Tabaquite base and collective enjoyment of violent picong by the wider, more established base led to this tangled web.

It’s an interesting example of the complexities of traditionally Indian and UNC constituencies changing party loyalty, and reflects deep disregard and disgust for the UNC amongst those willing to turn against the hierarchy that was once their own.

Indeed, the scene was a premier example of pre-election gutter politics, which is why it was received as uproarious bacchanal among the PNM and high-handed terror among the UNC. If Tabaquite has turned against you, do you have any chance of winning Tunapuna?

Both Stuart Young and the PM could have avoided a wrong and strong approach. Meaning, a wrong happened, but shouldn’t persist with impunity and both acknowledgement and humility, or recognition and apology, were the right first instincts to have in communication with the nation.

Instead, trivializing the skit, as public statements by Womantra, CAFRA and the Hindu Women’s Organisation pointed out, reflected a failure to understand how rape culture, or treating sexual violence as normal fun by women asking for it, continues to powerfully and instinctively work in our society.

This doesn’t mean that individual men, such as the PM, are themselves being labeled rapists – which it seems only letter-writer Kevin Baldeosingh and ex-Central Bank Governor Jwala Rambarran – found it hysterically and stupidly important to say.

Rather, the term rape culture refers to the possibility of a scene where a women’s public disrobing can be made into an acceptable show of political power, and many not see how profoundly predatory that is.

This is standard stuff in tribal politics, so well entrenched that we don’t think of it explicitly. In inter-ethnic, cross-caste and multi-national conflicts, it’s the conquering of ‘their’ women that are the signs of triumph, for women remain objects of ownership and exchange, and controlling them remains a sign of man power and status.

At the same time, the nation is considered to be feminine, under rightful masculine or at least patriarchal authority, so the wider symbolism was not only of conquering UNC bodies, but also the body of the nation one constituency at a time, rescuing it from potentially becoming too Indian of the wrong kind.

In the discomfort of seeing women’s disrobing as political fun, its religious and racial marking was clear, but its not just an Indian or Hindu or UNC insult, and treating it this way divides women along racial, religious and political lines.

These wider implications seem to have missed the PM and the party. There was also the discomfort of seeing party faithful depicted as gorillas, which is unimaginably racist, and shouldn’t happen with impunity either, but that injury has disappeared from the narrative entirely and unfortunately, but conveniently.

The UNC and Kamla Persad-Bissessar seized on this issue as an opportunity to rally their base, and were right to do so. The skit was meant to directly symbolize a public dress down of Persad-Bissessar, as the most visible and vilified Indian woman in the nation, and the stripping of other Indian, Hindu and UNC women from these identities in order for them to become truly PNM through replacement of an obsolete yellow sari by the modernity of a red t-shirt.

Underneath it all must also have been a realization that the UNC is imploding or at least bleeding from within, and the protest was necessary to show morally respectable leadership and resilient political power, covering what should be internal party worry, for if ex-UNC Indians will turn against still-UNC Indians so publicly, and if Beetham will rather flood as PNM, despite their own disgust, than go yellow at the ballot-box, where will votes come from in 2020?

So, as the world turns, the PM is yet again denying he is a rapist, while being clueless about rape culture. He’s playing the ground war in placating Hindus while the UNC is rallying the Hinduvata and broader race-baited ire for whatever mileage it can offer, especially in the face of the SDMS’ grumpy withholding of support.

And, the issues of how women are seen, included and represented in public life, as shaped by the tangled web of sexism, racism and violence, yet again make front page, though nothing in Trinidad and Tobago appears about to change.

Post 230.

I entered this new year far from home and, over just these short days, have been reminded that we have less to overcome than we think and more resources than we realise. It sounds optimistic to say, given our daily and long term troubles, but it is possible to make everyday life better, to end unjust systems, and to be driven by redistribution as much as by reconciliation.

Traveling South Africa, from the Eastern to the Western Cape, the duration, force and severity of apartheid is memorialized across the landscape. In Johannesburg, the apartheid museum encloses everything from dozens of bold resistance posters to yellow and bullet-pocked police vans, feared by old and young alike, for their association with police impunity and state killing.

The images of massacres go back to the 17th century, to Dutch Boer land grabbing and enslavement of Africans indigenous to Southern Africa as well as those brought to the area along with others such as Malays and Indians. There were also merciless torch-earth strategies by the British to establish their own sovereignty over the Boers. The possibilities for European wealth sustained centuries of suffering.

Coming from the Caribbean, I thought I understood colonialism. Living in the Americas, I thought I understood how recent it was that racism, such as in the US, dictated state policy. South Africa presents something else entirely – a social experiment that extended across every aspect of life, from the prison where both Mandela and Gandhi were held to the buses domestic workers could use.

The bus driver’s mother, who lived in the infamous District 6 in Cape Town, lost her home along with 60 000 others across a range of ethnicities, when they were forcibly removed to make way for a ‘Whites Only’ policy for the area. Her home has not yet been returned today. That is only another layer on the dispossession of Black people that occurred, by imposition of Boer law, since 1913, when whole communities were moved, enslaved, forced to work to pay taxes, made homeless and jailed. Africans who were indigenous to this area, known as the Khoi, had to go work on the wine-producing farms, and were paid in wine. They have the highest rates of fetal alcohol syndrome in the world today.

School children did not escape. It almost reads like a chapter in Aldous Huxley’ critical novel, ‘Brave New World’, which documents a world built on engineering inequality and subordination. The novel is absurd and clearly fantastical, but it is also disturbingly like the South African state then for whole groups were given different chances simply because of, sometimes random, labeling of their race.

Free schooling was for Whites. Black children had to pay. The quality of education at ‘Black Only’ universities could not compare to those reserved for Whites. Some children, like Hector Peterson, were killed in the 1976 peaceful protests against the imposition of Afrikaan as the language of schooling. Children were also jailed and disappeared. The cost to individual lives is hard to get one’s head around, and I walk around wondering how Black people manage to not still be angry. Turns out, they are, particularly around issues of land. Racism itself, as manifested in economic inequality, if nothing else, continues to heat a pot about to boil over. This is obvious from seeing shacks, slums and humble housing in townships in comparison to the palatial suburbs.

I saw one poet perform a piece called “I’ve Come to Take You Home’, her tribute to Sarah Baartman, stereotyped as the Hottentot Venus, who was considered to embody the link between apes and humans, and who was put on display for European audiences to gawk at her body. She then told us that her poem was translated and read in the French parliament as part of a campaign to bring Bartmann’s remains back to South Africa. They flew back with her remains, bringing her to be eventually buried in her homeland of the Eastern Cape.

What people survived here is a reminder of why all forms of structural inequality must be struggled against, and that change is always possible. It requires organization and commitment, and deep learning from the past to move ahead.