“Too black to be Prime Minister”: the shackles of mental slavery By Sir Ronald Sanders
Of all the offensive – and unintelligent – statements made in the politics of the post-independence Caribbean, an assertion, that Dr Keith Rowley, the leader of the Opposition in Trinidad and Tobago, is “too black” to be Prime Minister, has to rate as the worst. Coming, as it does, in ‘Black History Month‘ in Canada and the United States it highlights the continuing insecurities in persons and groups in the Caribbean.
It is a telling indictment of the person through whose mind the thought passed without perishing and from whose mouth the stupidity was uttered. Fitzgerald Hinds, a former Senator of Mr Rowley’s political party, the People’s National Movement (PNM), is the person reported to have made the statement to a party political meeting. He is also reported to have said that “a group of businessmen and former PNM ministers have agreed that Dr Rowley is “too dark in complexion to become prime minister.”
In the Eastern Caribbean, the same nonsense was whispered – not always quietly – in many places including St Lucia, St Vincent and Dominica. The notion that blackness is a taint was used as a political weapon with the underlying inference that being of “too dark complexion” rendered any such person as unelectable even to other black people who constituted the majority in countries such as Jamaica, St Lucia, St Vincent and Dominica.
Of course, none of the leaders of these countries – not Jamaica’s Michael Manley, Trinidad and Tobago’s Eric Williams, Dominica’s Eugenia Charles, and St Lucia’s John Compton – would have counted themselves as anything but black. And the Caribbean and the world would be hard-pressed to find more outstanding champions of black causes world-wide than Michael Manley and Eric Williams.
Also, there is nothing in the Caribbean’s political history that discredits its leaders of “dark complexion”. Barbados’ Erskine Sandiford; The Bahamas’ Lynden Pindling and Hubert Ingraham; St Kitts-Nevis’ Robert Bradshaw, Lee Moore and Kennedy Simmonds are all testament to leaders whose dark complexion mattered not a jot to their representation of their people.
That in 2014, almost two centuries after slavery was abolished in the English-speaking Caribbean with all the shades of colour that made slaves more valuable only according to the whims of slave owners, complexion still preoccupies the minds of persons who hold (or held) offices of state, is a tragic commentary on those persons. It ignores the reality of dark-complexioned people leading in fields such as the judiciary, medicine, education, science and technology, and sport. It is worse that the perceived stigma of “dark complexion” alarms members of the PNM for that political party has always been seen as representing predominantly black people.
Those who peddle the nonsense of complexion should be reminded of the words of Dr Martin Luther King Jr that people “should not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character“. They would also do well to recall Bob Marley‘s admonition: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our mind“. They should also be careful that in expressing their own prejudices, they are not wrongfully assuming that the electorate of Trinidad and Tobago is as bigoted and small-minded as they are.
Dr Rowley is being challenged for the leadership of the PNM in a few months (May 18) by Ms Penelope Beckles-Robinson. There was a time when politicians and others in Trinidad and Tobago would have said that a woman could never become leader of a political party or the country’s Prime Minister. The present UNC leader and Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, has debunked that assertion. The contest between Dr Rowley and Ms Beckles-Robinson should be on their intellectual capacity, competence and qualities to lead their party and possibly become the next Prime Minister.
It is leadership, vision, proficiency and commitment that all political parties everywhere need. That has nothing to do with the shameful and absurd argument about complexion which certainly has no place in today’s Caribbean.