By Anthony Deyal
During my early schooldays, cowboy comics were our models for sketches, and we did not need Doc Holliday, Marshall Dillon or Jesse James to draw a gun. What I never understood though was how, despite a slate and plenty chalk, I was never able to draw a blank but my father, trying desperately to find a job, always complained about drawing one. Worse, my parents wanted me to become a doctor, but I failed the exam. I got one of those “fill-in-the-blank” questions that asked, “When a young female faints, you immediately feel her p–s-.” Answering “pulse” was like money in the blank and those who did became very successful doctors.
Then having made drawing blanks the story of my life, I had to learn that there are different types including a “blankety-blank” or phrase which replaces an adjective considered obscene or vulgar such as “What the blankety-blank happened to your blankety-blank promise to come home by me last night?” “Blankety Blank” was also a TV Game Show which after a 37-year run was dumped by the BBC. Now it seems to have resurfaced in Trinidad as a “Silly Season” or election time-slot special.
It started with a bang and a blank. During the filming of the movie “The Crow” in May 1993, actor Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, was killed by a shot from a pistol that was supposedly loaded with blank cartridges. Perhaps, still spooked by what happened to Brandon, and several other deaths by supposed “blanks”, the supporters of Trinidad’s prime minister, Dr Keith Rowley, were aghast when his opponent and leader of the opposition, Kamla Persad-Bissesar, questioning what Dr Rowley had done for the people of the country, referred to him as “blank”.
Worse, as the written copy of her speech makes clear, she continued to poke fun at Dr Rowley by saying that she did not “even have to name the man yet you could fill in the blanks.” Then she asked the online audience, “What has ‘blank’ done for Trinidad and Tobago in the last five years? What has blank done for you? Not a blanking thing.”
The first prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Eric Williams, had a hearing aid which he switched on and off depending on how he felt about the people who were speaking and how much he valued what they were saying. Fortunately, the present prime minister has no such disability but it seems that many of his supporters do. They heard the word “black” and not “blank” and in the heat of an election and the global concern that created the “Black Lives Matter” movement for Freedom, Liberation and Justice voiced their anger, outrage and spleen on social media. Pandemonium reigned and the blankety-blanks blanketed us with posts that rained down like bullets from a Gatling gun.
Within the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago is a place which, because of its multi-racial mix, was lauded by Archbishop Desmond Tutu as a “rainbow nation”, a term he coined and used to describe South Africa after its first democratic election in 1994. Unfortunately, especially when elections are imminent, neither country lives up to the hype, and the racial division widens into a chasm of despair and a slough of despond. The years since 2015 have been the worst in my experience of national politics. What we have as the political temperature rises is more heat than light.
A few months ago, seemingly angry with people of Indian descent, the prime minister referred to them as a “recalcitrant minority.” He totally ignored the most recent census (July 2018) which found that people of Indian descent formed 35.4 percent of the population compared with 34.2 percent of African descent. In other words, he was shooting blanks.
While some of the senior members of Dr Rowley’s government have referred to people of Indian descent as “alligators from the same murky lagoon” and warned voters about the dangers of “the Calcutta ship”, Persad-Bissessar has called Dr Rowley an “Oreo” (black outside but white inside). Dr Rowley accused her of “jammetry” or acting like a lady of the night who is no lady. In this climate and context, both the leaders and their parties seem to be crossing the lines of good sense and taste. Persad-Bissessar and I come from the town of Siparia which was as close as one could get to an integrated community in Trinidad.
I taught her English and was her athletics and netball coach at Secondary School. She also played for the community’s representative team. What I found about this slim and seemingly fragile kid was that she relished the competition and delighted in the rough-and-tumble of the sport. During one game against much bigger girls from a city team, she was pushed, fell on the concrete court, and got a deep cut on her knee. I bandaged the cut and told her she should not continue. She ran back on the court and played through the whole match.
In the case of Dr Rowley, the first time I saw him was at the Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad watching cricket. He used to sit by himself in the front row of one of the stands quietly waving a tiny Trinidad flag. My friends and I used to feel sorry for him. We were quite surprised when we heard him speak fiercely and ferociously on the hustings as his party’s main platform speaker, and in parliament where he became known as the “Rottweiler”.
I am not sure if politics, racial pride and the hunger for power at any cost are the forces that drive the two Trinidad and Tobago party leaders and the majority of their supporters into the extremism of racial division. However, the Guyana situation should make them, and the rest of us, worry about the future, not just of our country, but the entire Caribbean. St Kitts and Nevis government has been served six petitions by the opposition claiming election irregularities including corruption. Saint Lucia is heating up and Jamaica is always heated.
While Trinidad and Tobago is closer to Guyana both geographically and racially than the other countries, there are still deep “tribal” divisions between the supporters of the two major parties in all the countries of the Caribbean. If there is hope for the future it is that if the leaders and their party bigwigs are given a choice between race and riches, I can tell you point-blank what all of them will choose. We have and will always have in the Caribbean the best politicians that money can buy.
*Tony Deyal was last seen replying to the question, “What language do Trinidad politicians speak?” Rottweiler or not, they all talk Rott.