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Of Race, Politics, and Racial Politics

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Tue, Feb 28. 2012

“Once you begin to explain or excuse all events on racial grounds, you begin to indulge in the perilous mythology of race.” – James Earl Jones

Editor,

In a letter much-discussed by the intelligentsia, Maia Eustace sought to begin a conversation about race in SVG. Great. I’m all for it. I agree with her that “we need open, uncomfortable and sustained discussion of race in St Vincent and the Grenadines by Vincentians of all races and opinions, not apologetics.”{{more}}

Instead, my problem with Ms Eustace’s letter is the central, if unspoken, thrust of her argument: That her daddy is fighting an uphill political battle – not because of his relative ineptitude – but because his opponent is white, in a country where “Black self-loathing is a national problem.”

Ms Eustace states in her letter that “If you’re under 32 and Vincentian, you’ve never even seen a Black Vincentian prime minister.” Well, I’m just past 32, but I seem to remember a Prime Minister by the name of Arnhim Eustace, who held the top job as recently as 2001. The fact that Ms Eustace forgot her own father’s ascension to the Prime Ministership speaks volumes about his merits.

SVG is a young country. We have not yet amassed a long enough history of leadership to point to race as a determinative factor in the choice of political leader. Let us look back a bit at who has led our nation: Joshua (Black, but discounted by Ms Eustace as a pre-independence leader), Cato (Black), Mitchell (white), Eustace (Black) and Gonsalves (white). That’s the list. If you’re looking for a statisticallysignificant trend of self-loathing from that list, you’re looking in the wrong place.

What that list tells me is that in our short history, most people who ascend to leadership of their political party get a turn as PM. Since independence, the only leader of the opposition who has not gotten an opportunity to be PM is Vincent Beache. Hang around long enough (and they all hang around too long), and your turn will come, Black or white.

Ms Eustace should explain to me – in racial terms – her father’s domination of his East Kingstown constituency over the last 20 years, beating back the challenges from Black (Hamlet), Browne (as in Luke), and white (Francis) pretenders. Or maybe she can tell me how Black self-loathing led Gonsalves to so many defeats at the hands of Vincent Beache in North Central Windward, that the Comrade finally had to join Beache’s party to win the seat. Yes, we forget that our white Prime Minister NEVER defeated Vincent Beache in the 15 years between 1979 and 1994!

I hope that our conversation about race in SVG will also include an honest assessment of those who claim or imply racial bias where none exists, simply because it is a convenient explanation for other failures. Ms Eustace rhetorically asks and answers another question that points to her father’s political inadequacies when she queries: “What is a politically unintelligent politician? A man out of his depth.”

Your words, Ms Eustace, not mine.

I am old enough to remember that the New Democratic Party has thrice times hired an organization of white, British campaign consultants – the infamous SCL – who have explicitly recommended making race an issue in previous campaigns. And lo, crude racial bombs were launched with reckless abandon from both the NDP platform and from its chosen radio mouthpieces. Now why would these trained consultants think that stirring the racial cauldron would benefit the Black candidate and not the white one? Maybe we’re not as self-loathing as Arnhim Eustace’s ineptitude would have us believe.

The race card is frequently drawn from the deck of flimsy excuses and distractions. But like the boy who cried ‘wolf’, its overuse and misuse detracts from the very legitimate issues on race that merit discussion. Ms Eustace should recognise that.

So let’s talk about race. Let’s talk about the fact that our Kingstown merchant class is overwhelmingly white (or Arab), which may explain why they pathetically import white dolls to stock their store shelves. But let us also talk about the complicating wrinkle that those white merchants overwhelmingly support the political party led by the Black man. Let us discuss the impact of neo-colonialism and learned racial inferiority through the manner in which America exports its own racist constructs via the pervasive influence of cable television. But let us also question the self-loathing that causes intelligent Black leaders to strenuously oppose efforts to dislodge the Queen as our Head of State, or the Privy Council, or, more recently, to side blindly with the white colonial powers of England in the Falklands Island dispute? Is rabid Anglophilia, by Black Vincentian politicians, a sign of self-loathing?

If Ralph Gonsalves called Anesia Baptiste picky-headed (I don’t remember that), it is not too late for him to apologise. That attack is of a different ilk than the “snotty-nose” variety. If, as Ms Eustace alleges, people are walking around SVG in 2012 calling other people monkeys, they should be loudly and publicly named, shamed, and outed as racists.

Let the conversation on race begin in earnest. But let us not try to make race the Trojan Horse through which we engage in revisionist political history, mount partisan attacks, or mask the glaring inadequacies of one glaringly inadequate politician.

Vincy Patriot
vincypatriot@hotmail.com

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