It would be useful to acknowledge that we all harbour prejudices of one kind or another which merely means that we have preconceived notions of the attributes of individuals, groups, organisations, regions or any other entity. Such preconceptions are based on our limited experience and observation and on the home, school, peer group or community environment.
Generally, we do not examine the bases of our own prejudices (some conscious, others unconscious) to determine their validity. Indeed, it would be impractical to do so in every instance. However, when these prejudices give rise to vehement emotions which culminate in demeaning and offensive characterisation of others, there is need to examine the basis of the intensity of these prejudices as they can generate antagonism between groups and create unwanted tension and antipathy in the society.
It is in this context that we need to have further and more substantial discussion on race, the persistence of negative stereotypes and the grievances which fuel the animosity of one group against another. I therefore endorse the various pleas for candid dialogue and as dispassionate and objective an examination as possible into this volatile aspect of our existence in this land. On many occasions in writing in the Press I had advocated for such an enquiry.
I recall a few years ago receiving a phone call from Reggie Dumas referring to a column I had written about the stereotypes by which Afro-Trinidadians and Indo-Trinidadians identify each other. He said that he had also broached the subject of race prejudice in his writings and empathised with my advocacy for an in-depth examination of the subject.
The question is how should we approach such an investigation. I think that there should be candour and an honest attempt to constructively engage the subject based, in part, on as much credible data that may be available. While there is need to accommodate as many viewpoints as possible, it would be necessary to provide only limited exposure to extremist and non-constructive fulminations on both sides of the ethnic divide.
We ought not to allow the use of such an enquiry to become a platform for propaganda. In procedural terms, there will be need to identify the sources of prejudice and the socialisation role of the home and the community environment in this regard. Investigation should also incorporate the role of the media, the education system, civil society and the State since prejudice does not exist in a social vacuum.
Certainly, the issue cannot be usefully interrogated if it is influenced by a claim of untainted, sanctimonious behaviour by one group and the assignment of all culpability to the other as seems to be the case in the current commentary on the facebook rant of one individual. It would greatly enhance the integrity of the project if the leading collaborators have significant national credibility and are supported by the appropriate research capability.
The publication of the results of such an enquiry is not a panacea for the problem of inter-ethnic relations in this society particularly between Afro and Indo-Trinidadians. However, they would serve to throw necessary light on long-cherished attitudes, beliefs and assumptions and expose the possible innocence, perversity or convoluted thinking on which they are based.
At the end of the day, some views will be altered while others will remain steadfast. However, such an exercise will surely add to our general education and knowledge of ourselves as a society and possibly modulate the perspective of critical elements of the public and of opinion makers. I think that it will also contribute to a partial dissipation of antagonism, animosity and distrust between the two major ethnic groups.