Category Archives: Racism

Time for some cleansing, no matter how unpalatable

An enormous brouhaha has erupted over the use of the word “cleansing”. The problems have evolved not from the use of the word in isolation, but with its usage in conjunction with certain adjectives. The most notable recent usage in the Caribbean region was that reportedto have been uttered by Sir Sridath Ramphal, who used “intimations” of “ethnic cleansing” in commenting on actions associated with the Barbadian government’s change of amnesty policy for Caricom non-nationals. Many people rans straight past “intimations” to the other two words and got understandably angry. They did not see any relationship with the infamous cases of ethnic cleansing, such as in Bosnia or Rwanda. Some even made the charge worse by misquoting, and using “practising” or more active verbs instead of “intimations”. Sir S. was in hot water.

Last week, Barbadian political analyst and pollster, Peter Wickham, added his dollar’s worth (see the Nation, People and Things: Ethnic cleansing nonsense). He said clearly, “I believe Sir Shridath’s comments were entirely out of order and no deliberation on the meaning of “intimation” can rationalise it.” But, he proceeds, “it is also important that these comments be placed in perspective. I appreciate the location of those remarks and am entirely sympathetic to his intentions, although not his methods. He then criticizes the Nation newspaper for some irresponsible journalism and goes back to remind of the unintended results of the changed policy. He closed with, “To him I say, I feel your pain, but let’s not do an injustice to our understanding of the atrocities that have taken place in Bosnia, Serbia and Rwanda by comparing these to garden variety xenophobia in Barbados.”

The Merrian-Webster dictionary has the origin of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in 1991, and defines it as ‘ the expulsion, imprisonment, or killing of an ethnic minority by a dominant majority in order to achieve ethnic homogeneity’. At its most extreme, we have genocide–‘the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group’ according to Webster’s (origin, 1944). But such killing has been rife through the ages and The Bible tells us so.

But, we know that the general activity predates by many centuries the use of this new term. The new term was prompted by war activities in the former Yugoslavia. In the 20th century alone we know of hideous instances of the activity but with different terms. We have Nazi Germany: where areas could be declared ‘judenrein’ (literally “Jew Clean”,  “cleansed of Jews” in the pursuit of Aryan racial purity. We have the former Soviet Union: the Russian term ochistka granits (очистка границ) (“cleansing of borders”) was used in documents of the early 1930s in reference to the resettlement of Poles. We have many other examples around the globe through time–India, Israel, Indonesia–just staying with countries starting with the letter i. I personally lived with the effects of people expelled from Cyprus and Uganda. I wont go back through the centuries, but one only has to think about how some great nations were formed by the mass exodus of certain peoples to see and understand that we are seeing nothing new.

The ‘cleansing’ has its degrees and we can argue long and hard about where on the spectrum Sir Sridath was trying to position what he was observing. He does need to set the record straight. We do not need to go to the most vicious extremes.

But, perhaps mistaking all things to do with cleanliness to be near to godliness, public officials have been wading around without boots that do not leak.

In Trinidad, Caroni East MP, Dr Tim Gopeesingh, used “ethnic cleansing” in Parliament on July 17, but has since tried to explain that he meant ‘silent’ cleansing, in the sense of political discrimination, see Trinidad Guardian report). We now have to move from e-cleansing to ‘political’ cleansing. But, tongues will not be silenced.

In Barbados this week, the opposition politicians have joined in usage of the term ‘cleansing’. Today’s Nation reports that “Dr William Dugiud (sic) claims that UDC workers about to be axed are “highly qualified” and are “capable of doing jobs which some of them have done for nine or ten years”. And he has decried the government’s action as “just political cleansing.” Dr. Duguid (note correction) may find within a few hours that he has done himself no good at all. If the quote is correct, we are heading for a problem just because of syntax. ‘Just’, as an adverb, can mean very recently, only, simply, barely, etc. But ‘just’ as an adjective can mean fair (ie. good, merited, legally correct, etc.) Which ‘just’ did he mean? However you look at it, the good Dr. could be commending the government or condemning the government. I guess he will clarify.

I think smart people should try to say smart things and stay away from terms that are likely to aggravate rather than calm. Poor President Obama learnt that a few weeks ago, with his use of ‘stupid’. As a parent, I forbid the use of such language by my child and chastise my wife too if she uses it; it is not necessary and should be put away. “Loose lips sink ships”, they used to say. Not only ships, I would venture.

Conference on the Caribbean: Into the Briar Patch

During June 19-21, in Washington, DC, Caribbean leaders, academics, activists, entrepreneurs, and others will mingle with members of the US government, representatives of international and regional financial institutions, and others with an interest in the region (see link). There will be two side forums on private sector development and the Diaspora.

The Caribbean region has many issues to face. Whether politicians see the issues in the same way as their populations is not clear, but the democratic process will be a guide as elections come along later this year. To me there are several thorny problems that could derail the region’s vision for itself.

First, is the burr of intraregional trade. It has been clear for some time that each Caribbean nation does not view neutrally the arrival of investors from another country. I will cite just the recent reaction in Barbados to the proposed take over by Trinidad’s Neal and Massy of Barbados Shipping and Trading. Generally, people don’t see these moves as strengthening the region’s ability to compete in a broad international environment, but merely as the loss of an important national player to a foreign entity, and as such a bad thing. The economic and financial explanations of possible merits rarely sink into most people’s minds. It is little different, when we consider the movement of labour between the countries. The movement of skilled or other workers from the larger countries (Guyana, Trinidad, and Jamaica) is often seen negatively in the smaller countries such as Barbados. And these movements quickly get tinged with emotive and racist language, citing themes such as “invasions” and “aggressiveness”.  So, what future for regional intiatives such as CSME? There does not seem a readiness to share a common economic space, especially if it means an influx from poorer, more violent, and apparently less stable countries in the region.

Related to this is the prickly question of regional air travel. The region may not really be able to support its own stock of air operators. We have seen the demise of Caribbean Airlines. The merger of Liat-Caribbean Star is underway. Air Jamaica’s future has been called into question, not least by the recent selling of its Kingston-London route to Virgin Airways. The other problem is the high cost of travel within the region, with its related negative impact on tourism. Liat-Caribbean Star charges too much for travelling short distances within the region: the Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Vincent Vanderpool-Wallance, has recently called these high fares the “silent killer” of regional tourism. The fact that some of the shareholders (Antigua, Barbados, St. Vincent) in the regional airline also own their main airports, puts a contradictory twist to how to price for international travel, given that the airport investment needs to be recouped. St. Lucia’s government has recently announced that it will no longer finance Liat, and has contracted with American Airlines to provide services between St. Lucia and Barbados. A little friction between the governments over these moves will be no surprise!

A complex and growing issue is the relationship with China. This has the double dimension of which “China” countries decide to work with. Some Caribbean countries are for a “one China” policy and are building deeper relations with the People’s Republic (see Barbados’ PM’s recent visit to Beijing, for example). Others do not wish to follow that road and are deeping relations with Taiwan (see St. Lucia, for example). Some (like St. Lucia) seem to switch with a change of government (see article in Broad Street Journal). The People’s Republic of China has an interesting position at present. It is a member of the Caribbean Development Bank (see link), with its own Director and seat on the Board of Governors. It is becoming a major source of financing in the region, especially of prestige construction projects (such as stadiums and highways). The People’s Republic of China is taking a fast-extending role in the development of poorer countries worldwide (especially in Africa, where this help can also mean access to valuable primary commodities), and has the resources to fulfill this role. It has also become an important source of labour to the Caribbean to help with construction projects. But this latter aspect is coming at a price as local opinion quickly turns hostile when it seems that local labour is being pushed to the side (whether due to proper procedure of suspected underhand dealings). Whether local labour has the skills to compete well against Chinese workers, it is often hard to compete with Chinese companies on price: anecdotal stories of Chinese workers getting US10 a day and having to rumage around to find food and live in what are seen as squalid conditions do nothing to enhance the image of the Chinese worker. The presence of Chinese workers and contractors is not a singular problem in the Caribbean, but part of the emerging impact that the People’s Republic is having on economic developments. It is becoming the dominant international force. Mix this with the pre-existing sense of invasion from foreigners that some are feeling and one does not have to look far to see an unhappy road ahead if somehow the apparent large influx of Chinese workers is not controlled, especially in the smaller islands.

The politicians and others will have more than these issues to think and talk about and I will try to see if some of these reflections can be quickly incorporated into this blog.

Why no Caribbean outrage about Imus?

The Caribbean media have been notably silent about the fast-moving outrage that began with distasteful remarks about black women basketball players at Rutgers by white radio personality, Don Imus. (I’m not going to add to the “crime” by repeating the remarks or having another link to the video clip of the offensive broadcast.) True enough, Imus has been fired by CBS, after public outcry, much of it helped by bloggers such at The Browser. Continue reading