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Amilcar Sanatan

As the movement sparked by the killing of African American George Floyd continues to gather momentum, activists in Trinidad and Tobago say it is an opportunity to address long-standing issues of social and racial inequity affecting Afro-Trinidadians.

“It’s about amplifying those voices, even while we take the opportunity to talk about our prejudices and our own inherently unjust systems that we have here in T&T. Those that we’ve been doing such a great job of trying to avoid unpicking and unpacking since our system was built,” said activist Abeo Jackson.

Activist Amilcar Sanatan said even though T&T has developed a large black middle class and a political leadership class, discriminatory attitudes to non-white people exist.

“Colonial attitudes around religion, colour, class, sexuality and respectability police black people. Natural hairstyles, our bodies, especially of black women, and even our professional achievements are called into question over and over,” the UWI lecturer said.

In many instances, most vulnerable to those inequities are living in marginalised communities, said Jackson.

“People in marginalized communities don’t have access to the same quality of education as others. They have fewer opportunities across the board,” Jackson said.

“When people from these communities go to get a job, they are hesitant to put, for example, Sea Lots or Cocorite or Embacadere on applications for fear of being stereotyped,” she added.

The relationship with the Police Service is another that is problematic, she highlighted.

Sanatan agreed with Jackson’s position.

He said as a result of the country’s high murder rate, people from all walks of life demand their safety at all costs.

This, in turn, he said resulted in the erosion of social rights for some.

“The problem is that the fight against crime kicks down the door in one community and rings the bell on another. To a large extent, the violence is class-based and working-class people have little resources to get justice when the police are excessive,” said Sanatan.

He believes the solution lies in peace and safety, not over-militarisation.

“Rounding up a group of black boys in East Port-of-Spain and publicly shaming them into apologising to the Commissioner of Police on video is racist contempt,” Sanatan contended.

“We are very uncomfortable about making connections between the system we have and the fact that we have problems with classism and we have problems with elitism,” said Jackson.

She believes that it’s time to accept that there are racists in our communities.

The tension coming out of the US is making people who benefit from inherently racist systems uncomfortable, she said.

And only challenging their racism in the public space is insufficient.

“I think we have to get to the point where we realize it’s no longer important to keep justifying our humanity and our pain to people. It’s tiring and it’s a constant re-infliction of trauma,” says Jackson.

The first step ought to be hitting racist business owners where it hurts most – their pockets, she said.

“Stop spending money in business places and entities that choose not to respect or acknowledge your humanity and your safety,” Jackson advocated.

Shivanee Ramlochan, who shared a personal account on Facebook about her own self-described past failings in supporting black rights, says honest introspection by all is required to move forward.

She admitted that when she was young she was directly, or indirectly, encouraged to accept the purity and strength of an unshakeable Indo-Caribbean heritage.

“Now, I understand that this was not an innocent education – that is promoted devaluing and undervaluing of Afro Trinidadian people, particularly in its classification of Afro-Trinidadian men as ‘dangerous, brutish and savage,” she said.

“Many, many Indo-Caribbean women will, I am certain, be able to identify with the experience of being told that the worst thing they could bring to their parents’ home was a‘ big, black man’. It’s important for Indo-Caribbean people to strongly and vocally critique these received values, and to question the extent to which we actively or subconsciously uphold them, even while we claim to be in favour of Black Lives Matter, and racial equality,” Ramlochan added.