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The Limitations of Multiculturalism in T&T Part III

Published: 
Thursday, March 3, 2011

Any society that aspires to be a cohesive national entity must be willing to accept all of its history; not just parts of it. And herein lies a problem that no multiculturalism in Trinidad and Tobago can fix: that is, a proper estimation and acceptance of Dr Eric Williams’ role in our national development. It is precisely the inability of most of our Indian population to accept the totality of our history and the heterogeneous nature of our origins that prevent them from acknowledging Dr Williams’ status as the father of our nation. Dr Williams is considered the father of our nation because he was the leader of the nation when it was founded. We may question aspects of his stewardship. We cannot contest the incontestable fact that he was there at the beginning and led us during the first 30 years of our existence. It was so for George Washington as it was for Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. They are the fathers of their respective nations not because they are white or Indian but because they were there at the crucial moment when their societies were born and were responsible for nurturing their society at the formative moments of their birth.  In seeking to put in place multiculturalism as a national cultural policy we must also learn our history anew and accept that all aspects of the society belong to all of us, her children. In doing so we must take a serious look at how our society was made, the contributions that each group made toward its construction; and what constitutes the essence of our nation.

We would then know what is distinctive about our nation; which would help us know what we need to cherish and what we need to discard. Such a course of action depends on serious scholars who see their scholarly and national task to tell our history     as it is.The prime minister has    intimated that she wishes to    have comparative religions taught in schools and that is a good move. But before we talk comparison, would it not be better to teach the three or four religions that we know to all of our students and acquaint all of our citizens with the cultural vocabularies of our various peoples?  I suggest that all students should be conversant with Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, and traditional African religion. These religions should be taught in all our schools, be they Catholic, Anglican, Muslim, or Hindu schools. A Trinidadian or a Tobagonian cannot call herself educated (as opposed to being skilled) if she does not know what the Ramleelas, Hosea, gyap, Shango, Orisas, our major celebrations and the cultural practices of all the major cultural groups. We should also stop the bad habit of thinking that all the initiatives of a former government are bad. For seven years I was a member of the prime minister’s Cabinet-appointed committee on race matters. We met monthly to discuss innumerable conflicts that affect racial relations in this community. During those meetings I interacted with Sat Maharaj,      Deokinanan Sharma and Yacoub Ali.

Although embracing all the members of the committee, I established a particularly warm relationship with Sat whom I am proud to call a friend. Sat still has his concerns and I still have mine. However, we are able to come together in a way that allows us to disagree vehemently with one another and yet remain friends. The committee erred in not making its deliberations public. Any cultural policy must speak about the expansion of our civilisation and our humanity as a people. We cannot think about cul- ture unless we talk about how we empower people in our communities. In moving from colonialism to independence we did not empower our communities and build on the social and cultural capital they had accumulated over the centuries. It is true that Dr Williams started the Better Village Programme to mobilise the various talents in the community and to preserve elements of our T&T culture. To a large extent it was successful. However, any cultural programme that’s worth its salt must emphasise the three ls: the development of local libraries; the development of local culture; and the writing of local histories (that is, the history of our villages and of the people who made them what they are). The communities must be the vortex around which all our cultural aspirations revolve. In a recent article in the London Independent (January 23), Tim Lott wrote that libraries remain “a beacon of civilisation, a mark of what we [the British] stand for.”

We may have moved from reading the hard copies of books to the reading of books on our Kindles and iPads. However, if we are to lift our cultural standards, create a mutually tolerant and accepting society that appreciates the gift our multi-cultures and religions bring to the storehouse of our nation, then we must arm our nation and our communities with information and knowledge that allow them to understand the power within themselves and the equally powerful truth that we have been made in the bowels of T&T. The problem of promulgating multiculturalism as a national cultural policy is that it seeks to impose a model of behaviour that we, as a society, have worked through over a century and a half ago and sends us back to scripts we discarded many moons ago.  What Canada and Australia do is inapplicable in that we have already worked out a modus ope-randi for existing in our small country. The trend and experience have been to live and work together in spite of our differences. The multiculturalism as proposed by the present Government takes us back to a point we have passed. It is a policy that emphasises our differences rather than our commonalities. It does not tell us how to consolidate our nationness, concretise our national identity, and make us proud to be Trinidadians and Tobagonians.
Nowhere in their policy—and there is not much policy one can talk about—does it say who provides for the soul of the nation; how we consolidate our cultural and social achievements; and how to construct a more perfect union and a truly integrated T&T. It is for all of these reasons that I reject multiculturalism as the national cultural policy of T&T.