On June 5th 2020 I hosted an impromptu conversation via Jitsi titled "Building A Healthy Black Community In Trinidad and Tobago".
My intention with the call, was to channel some of the outrage behind recent statements about black people into a productive conversation. This post is my notes on what was discussed in that call.
The continued instances of police brutality and acts of racism in the USA has once again triggered protests, some of which has been blighted by unrest and aggressive responses. Black Lives Matter has gone from a movement to an international rallying cry of solidarity for the injustices that have occurred.
Voices from Trinidad (I am not aware of activity in Tobago yet) have shown their support of the movement. Some with peaceful demonstrations others in the worst way possible. As time rolled on, various renowned locals have added their voices, not in a positive way, but rather to denigrate black people.
Calls were made to boycott the businesses of these individuals which lead to a new Facebook group "Black Lives & Black Dollars Matter", the group was created on June 3 2020. At the time of writing it has over 9000 members.
The meeting was attended by a total of 7 participants including myself.
Invititations to join the meeting were shared mostly on my own Facebook wall and in the BLBDM group.
Learn Our History and Make It More Accessible
Perhaps the most dominant topic of the meeting was the fact that many of us are unaware of our history. Both as African decendants and as citizens of Trinbago. One participant lamented the difficulty in accessing such knowledge and put forward the idea of having a source to go to that makes it more accessible for today's generation.
Share What Others Are Doing In Your Network
A participant related that she shares insightful and useful content within her network and we can do the same for the black community. Participants agreed that we can share the efforts of black owned businesses or initiatives on our own social media channels to help them gain more exposure.
Consider The Reality of Blacks Locally
A participant mentioned his own experiences in structuring a software product to be be feasible for the local market. He recommended that as we plan our work and dutities, we give real consideration to the realities the Afro-Trinidadian community faces so that things are more accessible.
To give a real example of this from personal experience, pricing an African centric conference upwards of 1000TT a ticket is likely to prohibt many Afro-Trinidadians from taking part.
Understand The Challenges We Face Before We Attempt To Fix Them
Another important point made was that we should try to understand what the challenges are that we face in T&T before we attempt to solve them. It would not hurt to have them documented either.
Indeed, one of the reasons I set up the call was to get Afro-Trinidadians of different backgrounds together to share their experiences and ideas. The call for boycotts is one that should not be disparaged because they provide an immediate and powerful response to verbal attacks that do psychological damage.
However they cannot, and must not, be the end of our action. We must also be willing to recognize the limitations of such actions.
One participant mentioned there were calls for boycotts before and it seemed that when the smoke cleared, we were back to business as usual. What effect, if any, did those actions have?
I mentioned in the call that different Afro-Trinidadians are at different stages of their journey of awareness and consciousness. As a result, we will not agree on everything, but we must not let that prevent us from agreeing on anything.
Also, much like there has been calls for boycotts before, there have been movements aimed at improving the conditions of Afro-Trinidadians. We must be willing to learn about and understand them and be objective enough to see their successes and failures so that we can build on what they started.
The Road Ahead
For me personally, the battle is economic and I have spent the last 10 years of my life training for it. It is not an easy road and there is no clear cut path for success. Supporting Afro-Trinidadian businesses is an excellent step but we will get nowhere if we are all providing the same products and services or just re-selling the work product of others.
We also cannot expect the only reason people support our endeavours is because we are black. There must be real value offered. Complete economic isolation of other races is also unrealistic, instead we must build our community up properly so that when we do trade with others, we trade on equal footing.
We therefore must be able to have objective discussions so that we can better understand the needs in our community and avoid a race to the bottom. I understand the frustration with just talk, but if we only take action without having a bigger goal, we will only repeat the same mistakes over and over.
A participant mentioned the existence of teams forming from the originating Facebook group to execute projects together, albeit with the usual group dynamics. This is a good sign hopefully their efforts are not wasted.
Next Actions (In My Opinion)
I have seen commentary online about forming a black credit union, shared agriculture, black business directories etc. These ideas were attempted before and fell apart for various reasons.
That's not going to stop anyone from attempting them again, nor should it.
However for me personally, I believe the most immediate challenge is that of limited knowledge of history and a disconnect between Afro-Trindiadians at various levels of society. Simply put we are not concerend with the circumstances and realities of each other.
If we work on these issues first, we may be able to have the social standing to take on more concrete projects. If we don't, those projects can easily be sabotaged through divide and conquer tactics.
Let me extend my thanks to the minds that attended the meeting. I hope we can do it again so that more of us are on the same page.
As a bonus, here is a video one participant would like everyone to see. He poses the question: How can we adopt this in a local context?