Emergence of Afro-trinis

Emergence of afro-trinis | The Trinidad Guardian Newspaper

How have Afro-Trinis as a group in their social-class sub-divisions fared in the 50 years since political independence? Have they advanced or regressed? That’s the question being asked in relation to the Afro-Trinis and all of the major ethnic groups in this series of reflective articles. To begin with Afro-Trinis, the answer requires an historical perspective.

Afro-Trinis emerged in the post-slavery period as traders, hucksters, freeholders of small portions of lands for provision grounds and for sale in the markets—and this was notwithstanding the determination of the British Government and its crown colony creation in the island to set minimum landholding levels for farming at over 300 acres to preclude the emancipated “Negroes” from becoming small farmers. It was a policy to ensure labour for the continued existence of the plantation and the metropolitan market.  

Segments of the population began acquiring something of an education through the arrangements (inadequate as they were) of the British Government to provide a level of funding for the freed population to begin to acquire the basics of an education and religious tutoring; the churches and missions were pre-eminent in providing schools.

To illustrate the point of the acquisition of an education, John Jacob Thomas, born three years after slavery was ended in 1838, emerged as the first black intellectual, perhaps the finest, of the 19th century and challenged the might of British scholarship and anti-black bias in Froudacity, his response to the bigoted interpretation of the state of the “Negro” by British historian James Anthony Froude.

Later in the 19th and into the 20th century, Emanuel Mzumbo Lazare and Henry Sylvester Williams were shining examples of the ability of the freed African to demonstrate the capacity to advance from the state of degradation, dehumanisation and subjugation. They both acquired legal qualifications, Lazare from the local base and Williams in London having gone there to expand his possibilities.

Both Lazare and Williams involved themselves in politics, Lazare becoming a member of the Port-of-Spain Borough Council and Williams as the main organiser of the first Pan African Congress. The achievements in education illustrated by these two Afro-Trinis turned into a tide in the 20th century. It continued to flow for the first 75 years with intellectuals of the ilk of CLR James, Eric Williams, HOB Wooding, Best, Demas, Ellis Clarke, the McShine brothers and a few generations of blacks acquiring scholarships, going abroad and demonstrating the capacity for intellectual accomplishment equal to any.

In business, the names of achievers such as Cyril Duprey and later on the likes of Bob Yorke and William Munroe achieved a measure of success. At the level of small traders and skilled artisans, the shoemakers, tailors, barbers, shopkeepers and others began the fight for space in the economy; and this notwithstanding what has been reported as a deliberate attempt by the finance houses to marginalise black business operators.

At the working class level, the assault against the colonial establishment was taken up in the 1930s by the then emerging labour movement. It took riots, the loss of life and limb and the confronting of the British military and the colonial constabulary to begin the construction of a society in which people of African heritage and indeed other non-European peoples had an equal place.

At the political level, the struggle of the African went back as far as the turn of the century and gained full momentum in the 1940s leading right up to Independence. Dr Eric Williams and a band of middle-class blacks, along with others including Indo, white and Chinese Trinidadians and Tobagonians, created the People’s National Movement to win political power from the colonial authorities and put in political office a party consisting predominantly of Afro-Trinis.

So here again in the initial organisation of the society out of crown colony government, Afro-Trinis and Tobagonians were out in front. They acquired and exercised political power in the run-up to independence and in the decades that followed.
Soon enough blacks began to fill the civil service and replace the British expatriates at the top of the service. The return from study abroad of doctors, lawyers, engineers and other high-level professionals placed blacks in a position of command in the professions.

At the broad level of culture, blacks not only developed their ancestral heritage, but created what President Richards, a good Creole, said last week was the only true innovation of the society. In the popular arts, including the Carnival creations, Afro-Trinis have been in the forefront of not only developing the cultural forms, but have exported them to distant lands.
Decline of black dominance | The Trinidad Guardian Newspaper

Decline of black dominance
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Tony Fraser

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From a high point of academic achievement, social advance and early attempts to become active participants in an emerging local economy, Afro-Trinis have been seriously outdistanced in all of the above and more during the last 30 years of the 50-year period of political independence.

Early in this series of reflective articles, it was noted that after slavery ended the freed African began gathering an education, developing economic self-sufficiency and decidedly had the first hold on political power through the Afro-based PNM.
The big point this week is the assertion that Blacks/Afro-Trinis (Tobagonians have to be dealt with separately) have had serious reversals in almost all categories of human endeavour; culture, defined in part as the performing and visuals arts, being the notable exception and that focus will also be given in future columns.

The build-up towards “Black Power” in the late 1960s was a recognition that the holy grail of economic independence and ad-vancement, social progress as a group and internal self-belief as reflected in cultural pride did not follow the acquisition of political power. The movement also charged the PNM and Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams, the all-knowing historian, for not deliberately advancing the cause of Blacks.

“We were marching for equality, Black unity, Black dignity…” is a line from Bro Valentino, one of the poets of the 1970 Black Power revolution, articulating the raison d’etre of the movement. The literature of the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) of the period and the platform speakers made the case in the immediate post-independence period, about not only the condition of Blacks and Indians, but noted too the continuing dominance of the colonial institutions and those who held power.

The reality of today is that Afro-Trinis are no longer dominant in the professions, law, medicine, engineering; they make up the lower levels of the education system, the period of distinguished scholarship having been severely curtailed. The hard evidence to substantiate the latter observations can be found in the annual scholarship results at every level of the education system. At the University of the West Indies’ St Augustine campus, the low ratio of Blacks can be easily observed.

The lag in education is a critical factor, as it is success in education which has been one of the major springboards to economic and social advancement for all of the various segments of the population. Whereas there was steady and significant advance of the freed Africans in the post-slavery period and into the first 75 years of the 20th century in agriculture, as traders, small business owners and operators, skilled artisans, emerging business entrepreneurs, that start was not converted into ownership and management of manufacturing plants and big business operations in commerce and trade.

The dominance which Blacks once enjoyed in the civil service is gradually being eroded as other population groups begin to see the possibilities of profitable and distinguished careers in the public service. The fact of having lost total dominance of political power over the last 25 years has also had an impact here; but we will deal fully with causes in subsequent columns.

If the rubric of observation is broadened to include people communities, the urban squalors of Shanty Town—now Beetham Estate—John John, Sea Lots, the behind-the-bridge Plannings, Plannings in Mon Repos, Embacadere and the slums that have emerged from the abandoned train line in Marabella-San Fernando may have undergone some marginal physical change but have declined from being poverty-ridden areas with more than a few ambitious families to what the police have dubbed “crime hot spots.”

It has reached the point where service providers, including electricity and telephone workers, have stated their reluctance to their employers about going there unless accompanied by heavy security. But there remains tens of thousands of working-class Black people who are diligently advancing their lives, having productive families with their offspring incrementally moving forward.

So too are the Black middle classes (upper and lower) continuing to progress in educational achievement, as qualified professionals; generations having migrated for advanced education and returned home with professional skills and experience. They have purchased homes in middle- and upper-class residential areas.

Few, however, have been breaking into big business operations. It’s significant that I mention, though, one Afro-Trini, Raymond Walcott, who is amongst the big traders on High Street, San Fernando. He started as a vendor on the streets and at 43 years old he now owns two buildings. Walcott told me he feels lonely on the street.
Ben Haynes • 20 hours ago

Tony, interesting reading, you did it again. l will however, play the devil's advocate because you skilfully portrayed Afro Trinbagonians as a silent group fighting to hold on to what can be regarded as their birthright yet do not understand the importance of holding on to it. l want to believe that their story continues to be a lesson of passive struggle, as if fighting a losing battle. Power is not yet acheived. It is fair to say that, Afro Trinis have won their independence without firing a shot only to lose it without the struggle that befits a proud people. And despite your scholarly approach in pointing out the gigantic roles Afro Trinis played in the development of pre-independent T&T one can only wonder how, why that drive has diminished (or so complcated), in so short a time. We always thought that education would save the status quo but, the balance of cultural and economic opportunities seem to confuse the dream even to this day. One can argue that Colonialism has given Afro Trinis their unique psyche which gave them that special momentum to face anyone, anywhere in the world. Such mentality gave them that will to be independent, black and proud, and the power to define what really works in their country's development. What is clear is that unique identity distinguishes the Afro Trini from his family of the Afro diaspora making T&T a nation with bold opportunitis where as Dr. Williams proclaimed as "togetherness." Perhaps that is why we Trinbagonians speak with one voice. What do Afro Trinis expect today? With the increasing number of professionals, technocrats, ect., what kind of nation we want for the next 50 years? .

Food for thought • 18 hours ago

Who and exactly what is stopping the Blacks from advancing? Political dominance and dominance in the civil service ruled in T&T as you so rightly said. Allegedly, workers of the housing authority would take the applications with Indian names and put it at the bottom of the pile denying that race of people government housing. Similarly, in job interviews, Indians were told there were no jobs - to come back. This big fall from dominance poses great intrigue for many. It will be interesting to know exactly what impact the blacks from the other Caribbean Islands have had in T&T. Is it negative or positive? It's been a long held belief that the majority of crimes are being committed by non locals. The areas you speak about where service providers are reluctant to work - in the great USA similar areas exist, mainly inhabited by Blacks. Is it a coincidence? Yet as you again so rightly said, so many Blacks are advancing and moving forward. On an International level, it is the Blacks from T&T that put the country on the world stage excelling in sports, music, beauty pageants etc. It is to the best of my knowledge, mainly the Blacks again that are responsible for promoting the Carnival culture in North America and Europe (there may be some involvement by T&Ts Chinese and Indians). And to add to the dilemma, what about all the inter-marriages in T&T? And for the most part, those families grow together, succeed and get along. Quite a messed up bunch we are - if you ask me.