Getting Our 'Equal Opportunity' Act Together

To be honest, I did not intend to pay any attention to the most recent "rumbling and a tumbling in the atmosphere" ensuing as a result of statements by PSC Chairman, Nizam Mohammed. I am addressing it here only because I'm now wondering why there has been such an exaggerated show of indignation from the heights of the government. I would have been happy if even fifty percent of this scrambling had been demonstrated over recent occurrences which I found much more deserving of public outcry and remedy.

I read in passing that Mr. Mohammed said something about the Police Service and a disproportionate number of citizens of African descent in the senior administrative positions. I know that there is more to the story and that he probably said other things and there was a context within which he offered his opinion and that he probably had the statistics to back up what he was saying. I lost interest precisely because of the response to the statements. I tend to avoid "discussions" where important inputs will be ignored or where the writing on the wall predicts that the shouting match will lead to nothing of much value, to be quelled eventually by another distraction of equal or greater shock value. Heads may or may not roll, more likely the latter, a plaster will then slapped over the whole thing until the next time somebody feels brave enough to jook de jep nest.

I smiled when I saw this photo of Nizam Mohammed adjusting his spectacles because it amused me to imagine that he had been captured giving something the finger. I remain unconvinced that that something was "racial" harmony. Take a deep breath, people. Now exhale.

Someone speaking about race does not make that person and his/her statements racist. Stating statistical facts about race is not racist talk. Saying that more people of African descent are in the upper management of the Police Service or in the jails is NOT a racist statement if there is statistical proof. To make it racist you would have to say that the reason that there is a disproportionate representation is due to inherent qualities of that race. For instance, if you were to say that people of African descent are more likely to end up in jail because they are black or that Afro-Trinbagonians [hate these terms!] are genetically or politically advantaged to become policemen. Did Nizam Mohammed say that? I don't know. I've been distracted by the dizzying spectacle of the world trying to catch its tail.

It is instructive and interesting to be told about the history behind the present state of affairs - the social factors that lead to more policemen of African descent occupying the senior positions in the Police Service but how does that inform how we proceed from here? Do we need to proceed from here? It sounds like the status quo is just an innocent outcome of one group being more interested than any other in entering the Police Service. Have we proof of historical wrongs? If it takes a while for officers to be promoted to senior positions, perhaps East Indian officers due to their late interest in the Service are still making the ascent? Is noting that situation somehow more inflammatory than the observation that East Indian people were always more interested in becoming doctors, lawyers, businesspersons and composers of songs about rum? Hence their numbers in those fields? Well, if according to the PM, we are cultivating a meritocracy, we need no intervention at this point in time. More people of whatever extraction will continue to apply and the process will be as fair as it has always been. The best persons for the jobs will continue to be chosen. Records will be kept of applicants and the eventual intake with the evidence to support why certain candidates were chosen over others. There will be transparency and these records should be available for perusal and to be contested.

Talk done? No!!

Unless we are happy to tolerate all the other imbalances that make our society hum [for some] you have to remember that when you announce yourself as being willing to start picking at one patch of crab grass, to be as universally fair as possible, you'd better be prepared to crawl over the entire lawn. What you ent attending to today is what go be waiting fuh yuh round de corner tomorrow. Maybe Mr. Mohammed's statements scared people because there is the slight possibility that spotlights may eventually be turned onto other areas.

I don't know this Mr. Mohammed and I admit that I am not qualified to judge his motives since I haven't followed what he has said or done in the past. I have no preconceived notions about his "agenda". Perhaps, being a forward thinker, he was simply trying to get us to reflect upon and do something about this and all the other sticking points in our society. He spoke about the Police Service because that is the area in which he serves. Now we need others to ask the same questions about the other fields of employment and endeavour. Are people of all ethnic persuasions well represented everywhere in our society? Are we certain that they really want to be? Because from the little that I know, certain "races," for example, do not want to be well represented among those who will actually be convicted for their murders, drugs/weapons running and graft and they certainly do not want to be, and will do everything within their power to not be well represented among the inmates of the nation's jails. If I have to make any criticism of Mr. Mohammed's statement it is that he remains bogged down in the old Afro/Indo-Trinbagonian dyad. If I had been in his position, I would have said that I was disturbed also by the lack of persons of obvious Chinese, Syrian and Caucasian descent [imports aside] in the TTPS. I would have said this with lines of sincerest regret and consternation etched upon my noweyrian brow. How could we, as a progressive society, stand back and do nothing about this travesty? How many unfortunate lighter skinned compatriots have been summarily relegated to the ghettos of administration and upper management in the professions, industry, academia and the fine arts, to name a few, without any thought given to the fact that they too may harbour lifelong desires to join their Afro-Trinbagonian compatriots within the ranks of the Police Service? Ting to cry and I laughing.

I believe in equal opportunity and so do most Trinbagonians. After all, that's why the PP won the elections. We had to give another party an equal chance to cock up this country. [Hopefully, on that score they will disappoint.] And now that we've also remedied the other glaring lack by inserting a female Prime Minister into our pantheon of leaders, there is no turning back. I don't know what is happening with the Equal Opportunity Act after that glitch some years back but that should have been our opportunity to state for the record what is expected in the nation's hiring practices.

Rikki Jai acknowledged in his song "Identity" that a bogey man of race does exist and it seems like after all this time we haven't yet devised a protocol for addressing that elephant man in the room. I actually don't like to talk about "race" although I will if I feel that the environment is respectful and conducive to productive discussion. Maybe like religion, I feel that it should be kept out of the business of government. Don't get me wrong, I do not deny the importance of "race" to some people because I understand the ineluctable pull of family and tribe. I know, for instance, what I feel about my countrymen. I know what it is to be far away from them and to want to run up to them, whether I know them or not ,wherever I encounter them in the world and hug them up tight, tight, tight. When you associate childhood comfort and familiarity and goodness with a particular group, it is hard to extend that trust to those who are unlike your home people. I guess it's a form of filial imprinting. When you are in a position to gather persons around yourself to constitute a team, it is not impossible to understand why you may feel more inclined to select "your own." Consider then, those persons in our society whose home people are still mainly of one "race." Apart from dying to ask them how in the world did they manage to achieve that feat after all this time in our society, I cannot denounce them as racists for gravitating towards those who look like them and share certain cultural traits. But there must be an agreement, preferably enforced by the law, that requires us to take off our tribal shoes especially before entering the commons of public interaction.

As I have said before on this blog, my personal situation is different and there are many others in my country who live this. My "tribe" is not East Indian or African or Chinese or Lebanese or Portuguese or Caucasian or First Nations. We are all. Within my own family I can see the full spectrum around me, the products of various mixtures of african blacks, north european and iberian whites, chinese, east indian and amerindians. Under what circumstances would I ever be associating any one of these with strangeness or familiarity when they are all family to me? If I should ever go to the TTPS to apply for a job, what category would I fall into? Are there hiring quotas for noweyarians?

I welcome Nizam Mohammed's turning of the sod and I look forward to seeing more people of all extractions in all the areas where they are now not well represented IF that is what we all want. If we are going to abandon "ethnicity" as a factor influencing intake then we have also to abandon it as a factor influencing the ones excluded which is to say that we are not going the way of either affirmative or negative action. We are drawing a line and saying that from this point onwards admissions will be based only on merit, on how the applicants meet the requirements.

But we cannot stop there.

We have also to look at the system that supplies the applicants, we have to note the ones who are being turned away. Those statistics are also important and merit equal attention. If certain persons appear to be historically and now chronically disadvantaged, we have to ask and answer the question, WHY? If we do not address this question, then meritocracy will be just another pretty word for continuing a now officially sanctioned unequal entitlement.
"Patria est communis omnium parens" - Our native land is the common parent of us all. Keep it beautiful, make it even more so.

Blessed is all of creation
Blessed be my beautiful people
Blessed be the day of our awakening
Blessed is my country
Blessed are her patient hills.

Mweh ka allay!