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JTUM president Ancel Roget makes a point during yesterday’s press conference at Paramount Building in San Fernando.

KEVON FELMINE

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The Media Association (MATT) is considering filing a complaint with the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) against Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) president Ancel Roget, after he referred to editors of the three daily newspapers as “house ni**ers”.In a statement hours after Roget attacked the media houses at a press conference yesterday, MATT described his references as an egregious example of infantile leadership.

MATT said Roget’s comment was an attack against a free press that has represented the voice of workers throughout the history of media in T&T.“This is silly season, not open season on journalists,” MATT said.

“Leaders seem incapable of emancipating themselves from narrow ideologies and limited vocabularies. A similar matter involving our member, Kejan Haynes, is currently before the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). MATT is actively exploring the possibility of filing a similar complaint against Mr Roget on behalf of our members.”In 2018, Haynes filed an EOC complaint against Progressive Empowerment Party leader Phillip Alexander. Alexander had described Haynes as a “half-pint house n–ro, bent over backwards to sell your brothers and sisters for a few pieces of silver and a pat on the head from Sabga.” Alexander claimed that he did not know Haynes’ ethnicity when he commented.The term is a derivative of the slavery era which was used to describe a house slave of African descent who had a higher standard of living than his or her peers. It also described a black person who strives to please white people, even if it means disowning his or her own racial identity.During JTUM’s media conference at Paramount Building, San Fernando, yesterday, Roget used the derogatory reference as he attempted to clarify JTUM’s calls for the commencement of outstanding wage negotiations between the various unions and the Government.“I want to make the point for those editors, those house ni**ers whose crying is for the 1 per cent and who for the establishment, advances the establishment’s position, that this morning, I as the president of the Joint Trade Union Movement is not calling for more money,” Roget said.

“I am not being unreasonable. I am taking the most reasonable position, the moral high ground of a position to say ‘listen, you ought to treat with all of those workers with respect’. Any self-respecting editor who is not in the hands or at the behest of their one per cent, modern-day slave masters would agree with the position that himself, at the end of the day, is treated as a worker because that is how they see them.”He added, “Even though you would carry out their dictates as your local, modern-day massas and write against the trade union movement that ‘election time and they are now coming to raise these issues’, I want to remind you house ni**ers in the Guardian and the Express and the Newsday and so on, I want to remind you that we have been raising these issues all of the time. We will continue to raise them in this time, we will continue to raise it after elections. Election or no election, we will continue to raise it. That is the consistency of us.”

He said JTUM wrote to Minister of Finance Colm Imbert on three occasions to discuss outstanding negotiations but there was no response. He said journalists were there when JTUM delivered those letters.“The media was there. You editors, you house ni**ers, your hard workers were out there, so you can spin these how you want, they were out there. We really do not care about any of you all anyway.”He also warned “sycophants” of the People’s National Movement and United National Congress that if they were against the trade union movement when their party was in government, they should not seek to join the bandwagon following Monday’s election.“All of those persons today, who donned themselves in red or yellow jerseys, walking all over the place, we want to remind you that your issue is unresolved as we speak.”

Deplorable conduct

Also contacted on the issue yesterday, T&T Publishers and Broadcasters Association president Kiran Maharaj said she could not comment until reviewing the statements.But veteran journalist Wesley Gibbings said Roget used completely unacceptable language to apply to journalism and the journalistic community. He said it was also a reference that should be removed from people’s vocabulary.“What kind of deplorable conduct is that?” Gibbings asked in a telephone interview.

One newspaper editor said for a leader of the labour movement to take the language of oppressors and use it against workers was not only distasteful but a cruel act of violence.“Mr Roget should be ashamed of himself and should do some introspection before apologising to this country for his disrespect,” the editor said.Another editor said such a reference was unnecessary, especially three days after T&T commemorated the abolition of slavery. The editor said as a leader, Roget ought to have known better, especially as his comment was coming following the backlash UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar received for her “black man/blank man” comment in reference to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.Many citizens also took to social media to knock Roget for the comment as stories were posted online, with some saying it was distasteful and disrespectful.

Also contacted for comment, Director of Regional and Pan-African Affairs at the Emancipation Support Committee, Khafra Kambon, told Guardian Media that wrong or right depends on the context of the statement. However, Kambon said it is not a term that people in public life should use publicly.Kambon, one of the leaders of the 1970s Black Power Movement, said the use of the phrase “house ni**er” as a description is common within pro-African groups and used as an insult. He said while the historical reference is the person who seemingly accepts the status as a lower class being in society and does not act like his or her peers, it is something that some people of African descent would say among themselves.“I don’t think it is a good term for people in public office to use publicly. Maybe in the group of executives or trade unionists, it would be something else,” Kambon said.

“If you look at the history of trade unions, they always found themselves having to be in adversarial positions with companies and people in government. In the history of the trade union movement in this country, language of that kind is pretty standard.“I have heard a lot of it because I have been around the trade union movement for many decades. It does not rattle me. There is something special about the platform for unionists. I do not advocate for it, but I have heard the language of that kind, and in other movements, even people in progressive African movements may throw it out in terms of insult.”