Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has accused Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar of waging another racially-motivated campaign, after the latter appeared to attack his race yet again during a virtual meeting on Thursday night.
“Some people out of concern, and, in fact, the black/blank man on the other side talked about kindergarten. What a great disservice and disrespect to the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”
That was the quote which got Persad-Bissessar in trouble yesterday, as many, including the Prime Minister debated over whether she had once again brought race into the politics. This is because even after listening to audio from the meeting several times, it appeared Persad-Bissessar did indeed say “black” and not “blank” during her speech.
While Persad-Bissessar insisted yesterday that she said “blank man,’’ Rowley said without doubt, it was “black man.”
After filing nomination papers to contest the Diego Martin West constituency yesterday, Rowley, supported by a wave of red, accused Persad-Bissessar of using race in the past, saying he was called an Oreo by her before.
“Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar has been leading a quiet, racial campaign for a very long time and then she came out openly,” Rowley told journalists at the Point Cumana Regional Complex.
“There are very many occasions when you in the media would have seen her accusing me of being in the pockets of the one per cent. That was an attack on the Syrian community and then trying to divide us along racial and ethnic lines.
“And then you would have seen her, when that didn’t work she went one step further, she called me an Orea, you know, I mean that was an insult to a black man. I’ve always maintained I’m a proud black man.
“I carry myself in a way that black boys and black girls can be proud of what I am and what I represent. My children are proud of me, I’m proud of the life I’ve lead. I’ve never run away from the colour of my skin so I don’t know why Mrs Persad-Bissessar feel that by discussing or raising the colour of my skin that that is going to propel her away from defeat.”
The Prime Minister said the comment was particularly alarming in light of the Black Lives Matter protests following the death of African-American George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, United States, on May 25, an event which sparked worldwide protests.
“It is really instructive that a person of East Indian descent, who is black like me, would use the term “black” to disparage me. That is what I find surprising,” Rowley said.
Asked what he thought about the Opposition leader’s insistence that she used blank and not black, he said, “When it reaches the stage that I don’t trust what my ears are telling me – my own ears and my own eyes – then well, I know I should stay out of the conversation.”
On Thursday on his Facebook page, the PM also accused Persad-Bissessar of race-baiting, claiming she was trying to lie her way out of the situation.
He said, “Finally!!! Caught in her frequent disgusting race-baiting she is redacted to repeating inane rubbish to try and lie her way out. Anyone surprised? She didn’t call me an Oreo. What she said was “Ohio”! or “Oh Hello”.”
Around two hours after the Prime Minister spoke to the media after submitting his nomination papers to Elections and Boundaries Commission officials, the Opposition leader had her say.
“No. I said blank! I said blank! I said blanking. I said blank. I said on the 10th of August, blanking out,” she insisted in Siparia, cheered on by scores of supporters donning yellow.
Some of the supporters, shouted blank, as the question was asked by the media.
Persad-Bissessar, however, brushed Rowley’s assertion off.
“This, again, is desperation on the hands of the other side, to insert more race into everything. I am not a racist. I’m a citizen of this country, whether it is red, black and white. All the colours of the rainbow. I said that last night as well,” she said.
With the question asked by media personnel several times, she urged them to refer to her script, which she sent out earlier in the day. Blank was mentioned in the written script 11 times.
Among the times the word was used were:
“Talking about blanks”
“So if he blanking you what will you do come August 10th?! Blank him out of office and let’s get Trinidad and Tobago working again”
“You see the only think ‘blank’ has done in five years is to blame me and the UNC.”
However, Persad-Bissessar also deviated a bit from her written script during her speech.
In a press release yesterday as well, the UNC also knocked Rowley’s attempt to inject racial discord ahead of the election.
“It is pathetic that Keith Rowley is trying to bring race into his campaign in a post on social media.”
She accused the PNM leader of trying to divide the population using the word “black” instead of “blank,” saying it was an attempt to distract from “his failed tenure.” She said this was politics at its lowest and most dangerous, saying the statements risked inciting racial discord.