T&T became the first country in the world to declare Emancipation Day a national holiday on August 1, 1985. The country has come a long way since the abolishment of slavery, but there have been some upheavals since then such as the 1970 Black Power Movement and the July 27, 1990 coup. At the end of the State of Emergency in 2011, about 7,500 arrests were made, the majority of those arrested were young Black males, and many Black youths continue to believe they are subjected to discrimination, racial profiling, negative stereotyping and marginalisation.
Have circumstances changed for African people since, or is it the continuation of the old world system under a new name?
According to the Executive Chair of the Emancipation Support Committee of T&T (ESCTT) Zakiya Naila Uzoma-Wadada while there has been progress over the years due to the struggles and hard work of our freedom fighters, there is still much more work to be done. The United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent provides an opportunity for governments and civil society to work together to address the ongoing discrimination and institutional racism which continue to permeate our societies, she believes.
Speaking to the Sunday Guardian on Thursday, Uzoma-Wadada said “Our approach to developmental and equity issues are not only in T&T but worldwide, we need a new social and economic order for each nation.
“We cannot afford to be comfortable to say we have ten per cent of the population in poverty and a large percentage underserved.
“There must be balance in how world resources are used, how we are going to use resources to ensure that we don’t constantly speak about underserved communities.
“How can we use resources to serve all of society equitably? That is the focus and mindset that we need.”
She said 90 per cent of the people she saw in the nation’s prison were Africans, when she goes to Port-of-Spain and sees vagrants, nine out of ten will be Africans.
Uzoma-Wadad said the authorities need to start from the schools and communities to ensure no one is left behind.
The ESCTT executive chair disclosed that Africans were not doing very well coming out of a traumatic historical experience, and they need to examine if what they are experiencing is hinged on the past.
She said there was “the psyche of enslavement and colonialism,” which continues to impact the attitudes of the descendants of both the enslavers and the enslaved.
Uzoma-Wadada noted that many may be challenged to overcome the negative impacts of the trauma experienced by enslavement which would have been passed on from generation to generation. Enslavement and a sense of inferiority have become a norm for some after hundreds of years, she said. And this mentality has been handed down from generation to generation.
She queried that after traumatic experiences, efforts are made to counsel people, “but who is counselling the people of African descent?” she asked.
‘African people still have to work hard to prove themselves’
Uzoma-Wadada said African people still have to work hard to prove themselves “and the way in which some of them may try to prove their power may not be in the best interest of themselves and society.”
According to Uzoma-Wadada, the struggle for African people took shape in various forms and manifested themselves differently in different spaces.
She said it was a fundamental fact that there was a world where one group of society assumed a certain level of supremacy and believe others are lesser than them, hence the ESCTT 2021 theme ‘Advancing Pan African Solidarity Towards A Balanced World’.
Uzoma-Wadada explained that once there is white supremacy as a factor, there will always be struggles by the Africans in society.
She revealed that even in T&T, there was institutionalised discriminatory practices, as the education system’s textbooks portrayed the history of African people as not going beyond enslavement. This, she said, would have a deep impact on the mind of a child who does not feel pride in himself if he does not know his rich history.
Even though there was a revolution in society in the 70s, she said, they tried to change some of these negative perceptions some people had of themselves and manifested.
Uzoma-Wadada divulged that the roots of policing came out of people being hired to hunt down enslaved people and bring them back to the plantation during slavery.
She commented that society was still being influenced by the colonial psyche and policing will vary depending on the communities, as someone caught with marijuana in Westmoorings will be treated quite differently than someone from Laventille.
Uzoma-Wadada said that they have been trying to build a relationship with the EOC (Equal Opportunity Commission) to help promote the Decade for People of African descent and to highlight the issues of discrimination.
Referring to the KFC ad last year of putting up a chicken leg to simulate a power sign in recognition of Emancipation Day, she said the designers may have thought it was a creative idea and may not have understood the kind of negative impact it would have.
Uzoma-Wadada recommended that the solution lay in the training of the media and teachers about cultural diversity and the understanding of what symbols mean to different people in society.
According to Uzoma-Wadada, they still have a lot of work to do. While they reached out to various groups about doing cultural sensitivity workshops, they did not get much positive response.
Uzoma-Wadada declared, however, the consciousness and awareness were rising in people about the issue of discrimination, prejudice and the treatment of African people.
The nation’s leaders, she said, must understand that to fix society, it had to be done one community at a time. More resources must be directed to community development, culture and the arts because these factors transform people’s lives and will require them to spend less on national security.