By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 21, 2022
There is a wonderful exchange in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland between Alice and the Cheshire Cat that is relevant to Karen Nunez-Tesheira’s quest to become the leader of the People’s National Movement (PNM).
It goes like this:
Alice: “Could you please tell me which direction should I take from here?”
The Cheshire Cat: “It really depends on where you want to go.”
Alice: “I don’t care where.”
The Cheshire Cat: “So it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
Alice: “…as long as I get somewhere.”
The Cheshire Cat: “Oh, you sure can, if only you walk long enough…”
Nunez-Tesheira’s long-running challenge to Keith Rowley’s leadership has me asking, “How do you choose a route to somewhere when you don’t know where you’re going?” How do you get there when you don’t know where it is?
Anyone in T&T who wants to lead the PNM (and/or society) must answer three questions: How do we empower black people in society? How to deal with the resurgence of crimes in the country and the permanent floods that are our daily lot? And how do we approach the underachievement of black children in underachieving schools?
Over the past few months, Professor Roger Hosein of the University of the West Indies has linked spiraling crime to the decline of our society. A few weeks ago he asked, “How can you have an intelligent conversation with anyone when the level of murder is so high?” Who in their right mind will invest here the way they want to invest? Half of the money will go to burglary protection, another part must go to security guards. Every time you hear a noise, you need to get out and check. If you are a researcher, what kind of productive result will you get? If you are a trader and every ten minutes you think someone is going to steal from you, how much economic activity will you achieve? Your talent and ability will be diminished by fear. (Guardian, October 30.)
There’s a lot of truth to Hosein’s observation, though I’m not too sure that crime necessarily diminishes the intellectual output of a serious scholar. Sometimes it increases it.
Hosein also claims that T&T’s economy has been in decline since 2015. He asks, “What has been the impact of seven consecutive years of decline on T&T’s economy? In particular, how has this affected the distribution of income between different occupations and industry groups and between geographic lines? (Guardian, November 17.) I would have preferred Professor Hosein to tell us how such a declining economy affects those black men who live on the precarious margins of society and the commission of crimes.
Equally important: are these young black men committing crimes because of the color of their skin; the social conditions in which they live (poor and underserved communities); Or because of some biological impulse? In this context, Richard Dawkins, the author of The Selfish Gene, argues that we are not talking so much about ‘conscious motives’, but about the ‘basic impulse of biological drives’.
Since Nunez-Tesheira wants to lead our country, I was wondering what she thinks of the questions posed above. Since economics alone cannot explain human behavior, I wondered if she had thought about a more comprehensive solution to these fundamental problems.
A few days ago, I was talking with a doctor. He informed me that the social environment in which young men live can increase their testosterone levels. People with higher testosterone levels tend to be more violent and are more likely to survive in a calamitous environment. Dawkins reminds us that “you can make inferences about a man’s character if you know anything about the conditions under which he survived and thrived” (The Selfish Gene).
The second issue concerns the underachievement of black children in underserved communities. Over the years, commentators such as Theodore Lewis have explained how the steady decline in our human talent in these schools has left a large proportion of young black people uneducated and prone to violence. Almost always, they end up working in fast food joints or as security guards, guarding the very estates that were responsible for their debasement in the first place.
This situation is reminiscent of what is found in many American communities. Despite all attempts to raise the academic level of African-American students and the use of race as one of the criteria for increasing black college enrollment, “American elementary and secondary schools are still highly segregated by the race, and the situation is worse today than 30 years ago” (Financial Times, November 14).
In our case, it may be a combination of race, class, and indifference to the sanctity of these young lives that prevents us from advancing their well-being academically, socially, and culturally. How, indeed, to apprehend the urgency of this problem?
As Nunez-Tesheira asks PNM members to back her candidacy, is she ready to stand up for black betterment? Is she ready to articulate an agenda that speaks to the rampant crime, poor black upbringing, and flooding that has become so prevalent on the island?
Like Alice, I ask Nunez-Tesheira, “Which path should we take from here” and what is the vision of the society you want to create?
Like the Cheshire Cat, I would advise: “Whatever you do, please speak your truth firmly, publicly and privately, and be prepared to speak up for everyone’s interests, no matter what circle you are in. .