The “Melting Pot”
Ahhh, Trinidad & Tobago.
I know we love to push the message that our beautiful, twin-island republic is all perfectly integrated and harmonious, but such is not the case. It’s not just an election problem. It’s a pervasive, ongoing issue that we ignore when it’s not at its most overt.
We have a racism problem.
Specifically, an issue with anti-Blackness.
Sure, race is a social construct, designated by white supremacy in order to justify a system of hierarchy and oppression based on superficial phenotypical characteristics. But its consequences are dire and ignoring the real world in favour of a “one race, human race” narrative is damaging and distracting.
It’s time to have this conversation.
What is Anti-Blackness?
Anti-Black racism is prejudice, attitudes, beliefs, stereotyping, discrimination, and/or systems of oppression directed at people of African descent and rooted in our unique history and experience of enslavement, brutality, and colonization.
To understand anti-Blackness, you need to understand white supremacy and how it manifests. White colonizers created the belief that whiteness was superior and Blackness was negative, unattractive, inferior and overall not worthy, all in order to justify the inhumane transatlantic slave trade and subsequent treatment of Black people.
Colonialism’s chief export amongst non-Black people has been the lie of Black inferiority.
Colonialism’s chief export amongst non-Black people has been the lie of Black inferiority. A lie that champions gaining white approval above all else, informing the attitudes of generations across the globe. A lie that has shaped the development of cities, distribution of jobs, availability of homes and schools, access to resources and opportunities, and so much more. A lie that has consequences, centuries and decades later.
Proximity to whiteness informs the worth assigned to people in our society, even though it’s not as overt as it once was. That’s why colourism is such a prevalent dilemma. That’s why skin-lightening creams and hair-straighteners are commonly sold on our pharmacy shelves. That’s why as children, we’re told to stay out of the sun to avoid getting “too black”. That’s why racist dating “preferences” and practices are so common among non-Black people. That’s why so many Black people uphold such old-fashioned, colonial attitudes towards their own cultural heritage. That’s why our hair is so overly scrutinized and controlled. That’s why there’s such an overt colour-class system. That’s why people love our culture, yet distance themselves from us as people.
Anti-Blackness is part of our daily lives, even when we don’t see it.
- Anti-Black racism is individual, perpetuated by microaggressive interpersonal interactions and attitudes that subtly or overtly communicate, intentionally or unintentionally, the inferiority of Black people. Whether it be while shopping in stores, being ignored by taxis, being assumed criminals, and/or having our competence questioned.
- Anti-Black racism is institutional, perpetuated by practices and policies in schools, workplaces, and other institutions that demand conformity. Kwame Ture, a Trinidad-born socialist who coined the term, said that institutional racism is less perceptible because of its less overt, far more subtle nature. Institutional racism “originates in the operation of established and respected forces in the society, and thus receives far less public condemnation”. One particularly glaring example is the treatment of Black hair in schools across the nation.
- Anti-Black racism is cultural, perpetuated by dominant stereotypes and ideas about Black people that are deeply embedded in our media and collective knowledge. Remnants of slavery, colonialism, and caste that remain uncontested and unchallenged, a tacit network of beliefs and values that encourage and justify institutional discrimination.
- Anti-Black racism is systemic, perpetuated by the social, economic, and political systems that dominate our lives and reinforce inequality. Capitalism was built on Black suffering. Its continued existence will continue to drive a deeper and deeper divide between the upper class and the masses, who must be subjugated for the system to function. We can’t fight racism without also fighting capitalism.
“You can’t have capitalism without racism.” — Malcolm X
Anti-Blackness is a global phenomenon. Whether stemming from the caste system in India, the Han nationalism in China, the slave trade in the Arab world, or the white colonial class structure, it is essential that we confront it wherever it manifests.
For my black folks, we can maintain anti-Blackness too. It is vital that we learn our history, both pre- and post-colonization. It is essential that we understand how our minds have been shaped by the anti-Black attitudes of institutions and media. It is crucial that we combat the attitudes and ideas that attempt to degrade our worth.
For the non-black people of colour, clinging closely to their proximity to whiteness, it’s time to learn — and unlearn. It’s time to stop pandering to white supremacy. Having some, conditional, privilege for being white-adjacent is a seriously crap placeholder to true equality, solidarity, and respect. It’s time to recognize and rectify your ignorance. It’s time to call out the anti-blackness and colourism in yourself, your family, and your friend groups. It’s time to acknowledge the ways you may be perpetuating harmful, racist structures and ideas.
Ignoring the issue will not make it go away. Anti-blackness persists because it has not been viciously attacked and dismantled. It’s time to fight.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”