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posted 8 Jun 2011, 05:32 by Gerry Kangalee



by Rafiki

With the coming of the People’s Partnership government came a new interest in culture. This interest was given a policy framework under the term Multiculturalism. Unfortunately if you do not understand the ongoing conflict of culture in T&T you will not understand Multiculturalism. It seems to me this is the mistake that is being made. The result is a gross over simplification of culture that endorses the foreign consumer culture that now dominates T&T.

This over simplification starts with the popular tendency to reduce culture to songs, dances, ceremonies and celebrations. While it is true that these things are part of culture, they are not a definition of culture. Songs, dances, ceremonies and celebrations are cultural products they are outward expressions of culture. But you cannot define culture by its outward expressions. It is like defining a person by the color of their skin instead of the content of their character

Culture is properly defined as the total life of a people. It is their language, the food they eat, how they walk and how they interact with each other. It is their religion, their ethnicity, their morality and their consciousness. Ultimately it is the means by which they try to improve or destroy the very lives they live. It is their goodness and their evil, their understanding and their ignorance. It is their sport, their art, their poetry and their passions. Culture is the content of a nation’s collective character. To reduce culture to song and dance is to make a mockery of it and reduce it to it irrelevance.

Every society and every people have a culture. In a society with more than one culture there is a dominant culture that seeks to impose itself on all other cultures and subcultures in that society. All culture rises from the historical experience of a people or a nation and all culture is based in the real economic realities that underlay the history of that society. Of course this is all pretty basic. I only take time to state these things because without these basic understandings no real analysis of culture is possible. If we can not understand culture we certainly can’t understand Multiculturalism.

In Trinidad and Tobago, because culture is primarily expressed along ethnic and/or religious lines, Multiculturalism is defined as the combination of African, Indian, Chinese, Syrian and European ethnicities and/or Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Orisha faiths. It is thought that by giving equitable attention to each of these aspects of culture, one is in fact expressing Multiculturalism. But this Multiculturalism ignores the fact that the real engine of cultural development in Trinidad and Tobago is its economy. While all of these ethnicities and religion are important, they all, collectively and individually find their relevance in relation to the economy and the politics of that economy.

The fact of the matter is that the dominant culture of Trinidad and Tobago is the foreign culture of consumerism. This foreign consumerism defines how we dress, what we eat, what music we listen to, how we interact with one another, what we do to entertain ourselves and what we and our children aspire to attain and achieve. This foreign consumerism is also our morality and people will do anything to get what they want. ‘anything goes’, ‘only the strong survive’, ‘I got mine, you got yours to get’ and ‘might makes right’ are contemporary T&T ethical stands. Anybody who does not endorse these concepts is a fool and a dreamer. These ethics flow directly from a foreign materialistic consumer culture.

The dominant aspect of consumer culture is that it is foreign, just as the goods it wants us to consume are foreign. They come from outside and they actively combat and crush local culture (social, religious and ethnic). They stand opposed to local production, local development and local conceptions of right and wrong.

The growth and development of consumer culture is directly related to the increasing crime and general unlawfulness in T&T. It created a criminal culture that has more influence on the people (especially the youth) than the subcultures of ethnicity and religion. This is not to say that the dominated local cultures are of no value. In fact they are of immense value. But that value is only found in their capacity to build social unity in order to resist and challenge foreign consumer culture.

Cultural resistance is based on allegiance to the economic interest of the majority of the people of T&T. Some Trinbagonians have a vested interest in the continuation of the materialistic consumer culture. The culture of wealthy Christians, Hindus and Muslims, African, Syrians, Indians and Europeans is different from the culture of the working class, middleclass and poor. This does not mean that all wealthy Trinidadian are aligned to international economic interest. But the allegiance of those who are must be understood if there is to be meaningful cultural resistance.

Generally speaking wealthy people do not produce the culture that they consume just as they do not produce the goods that they consume. Production of goods and services is usually, but not always, carried on by the working people,

It is through the sweat and toil of the masses that culture is produced. However, the wealthy sector of the society, are the ones with surplus money (capital). They are the ones who invest in society and in culture. Those who are committed to the development of the people’s culture will invest in those things that promote local development. The others will not.

As I have said culture is based in the economic realities of a society. For example, T&T culture produces oil and gas for export mainly to the U.S.A. This is where most of the money comes from. But most of the things Trinbagonians spend money on are not produced in Trinidad or Tobago. Most of the food, the brand name clothes, the cars, electronics and technology come from outside. People think these things are important, they have value and everybody wants them. It is on this foundation that the consumer culture is built and it is encouraged and promoted by a multi-billion dollar advertising industry that encourages, prompts and prods the population to spend their hard earned dollars on foreign products, It should be noted also that many of these products are inferior versions (knock offs) that are dumped in T&T and could never be sold in the larger markets of developed countries.

People come to consider things that are produced in T&T to be unimportant and without value. Agriculture, Art, Traditional Mas, Rapso, Sports, Religious Traditions, the Ecosystem and Folklore are things that have no value and they are not invested in or developed. The children reject these things because the society places no value on them. What child would aspire to a career in something everybody thinks is worthless. In the end it means that Trinidad and Tobago doesn’t value itself or its culture.

Of course we can’t reject everything that comes from outside of T&T. But T&T can start valuing itself and its people who are its most important cultural and economic resource. To value oneself and ones people is the basis of Multiculturalism. Cultural products from T&T can be used to combat foreign consumerism. If local culture does not resist consumer culture it will be demolished by it. If the diverse local cultures are demolished there can be no Multiculturalism.

A multi cultural society celebrates its diverse cultural expressions and the harmony between people of different races, religions and social groups. A multicultural society keeps its spiritual institutions and traditions strong and viable so that its values are clearly expressed and properly handed down from one generation to the next.

If there is no mother Africa and no mother India only mother Trinidad how can there be a Multiculture. To be multi cultural T&T would have to embrace Africa, India, China, etc. and teach their history and traditions as part of the history and tradition of T&T. In this way T&T would build a national identity that is tied to a real understanding of all the people in it.

A real Multi-cultural society rejects mediocrity and supports meritocracy. It is against corruption because corruption undermines its values, standards and principles. A real Multi-cultural society wants to be the best in everything and it is willing to sacrifice to get there. It takes the best from all the cultures it contains and uses it to raise the standards and expectations of the nation as a whole. To be Multicultural T&T has do all this and more and as a result it will produce thousands Brian Laras, Lloyd Bests, VS Naipauls, Earl Lovelaces, Leroy Clarkes and Rudranath Capildeos. Instead of little boys dying from gunshots on the blood stained streets of POS.

My point in all of this is that the type of culture that T&T adopts depends on what the people will accept. If the people accept the imposition of foreign consumerism, they will continue to support the culture of consumerism and suffer the consequences of that culture. In this case no real Multiculturalism is possible.

If instead people choose to do for themselves, embrace their own diverse history and resist imposition from outside, they will develop a culture of self reliance, self respect and resistance to foreign cultural domination. Such self respect, self reliance and self awareness is the only true way to achieve Multiculturalism. In my opinion, in Trinidad and Tobago cultural resistance is the only real Multiculturalism