All Ah We Is Not One

Sunday 4 February 2018. Jean Antoine-Dunne
Published by Trinidad and Tobago NEWSDAY

“THE CAPACITY to live with difference” is the “coming question of the 21st century” said the late Jamaican cultural theorist and critic Stuart Hall in 1993. He was speaking then specifically about racism and intolerance of difference in the face of and despite increasing movement of peoples and globalisation.

He was also advocating the need to abolish these fixities and suggesting that discrimination feeds on stereotypes and on received ways of seeing.

His words bear translation to other areas.

As a people we pride ourselves on the myth that “all ah we is one” and Carnival epitomises this idea that as a nation we practise tolerance and respect difference. Carnival is the symbol of the capacity of the Trinidadian person to ignore the hierarchies of historically embedded ideas, especially those that lead to a merging of race and caste and class. It is that space where social differences become miraculously invisible. Everyone can wine and parade their uniqueness. We satirise and ironise and laughter flushes out any discomfort.

But of course the wining that goes on between black, white, Indian and Chinese and all our in-between mixtures, and between people of different economic backgrounds comes to an end on Ash Wednesday. We then return to our compartments. Carnival and its mythology do not lead us to wonder why the hard work and the discipline that go into steelband and costumes do not translate into an energy that would transform the lives of young men and women who come from areas that have become stigmatised.

We do not ask these questions because we live a myth and myths do not bear dissection. Because if myths could be examined in the cold light of day we would discover that as a nation we are actually intolerant of difference and perpetuate divisions.

And I am tired of the justifications and excuses that say that we are the victims of historical trauma. Historical trauma does not explain the fact that we allow disfranchised young people to continue to exist in hopeless situations and do nothing really about it.

Historical trauma does not legitimise the fact that we still have laws that criminalise one section of our society because of sexual preference.

Such laws are being challenged in the courts in 2018 because they are evidence of a society that refuses the right of an individual to be different.

I also cannot believe that it is the trauma born of enslavement that permits this society to render invisible people with disabilities, in particular young children and young adults who may have a disability by virtue of epilepsy, or any other reason.

It is this invisibility and this intolerance of difference that permits the horrific treatment of a young person at the hands of his mother and stepfather in Tabaquite. That this was brought to the attention of authorities and the public by a neighbour is a sign that we as a society are actually beginning the process of change.

The fact that it had previously been brought to the attention of police and then allowed to continue, suggests that Trinidad has a long way to go.

It is this fact that people with disabilities are really not seen to be equal that permits the stepfather to say that the boy is lazy and to imply that he is sexually deviant, which is suggested by the accusation that he held down another child.

These are age-old stereotypes that have been used for hundreds of years to ostracise and institutionalise and abuse children and adults who have disabilities. They are the same type of stereotypes that were used against black men in particular.

I would go further and suggest that our current legislation that criminalises homosexual acts between consenting men creates a similar stereotype against people who are gay.

It does this by forming an association in the public perception that links acts of buggery against children and people with disabilities with private acts between consenting adults.

Stereotypes are born of societal ignorance and the fear of difference. These stereotypes continue to exist in a society that simply does not see, nor want to see, that there are others out there who have a right to live and to enjoy life. So people with intellectual disabilities, in particular, continue to take blows and to be abused and to live with vermin and in filth because we refuse to see outside the stereotypes that are so much part of our societal mind-set. That refusal goes against any idea of a modern and an evolving society.

All Ah We Is Not One by Jean Antoine – Dunne, published by Trinidad and Tobago NEWSDAY