United States president Donald Trump is facing a maelstrom of protest, both at home and abroad, over inherently racist comments he reportedly made at an immigration-related meeting with lawmakers at the White House last week.
In the offensive remarks, which Trump has since denied, he allegedly compared Haiti, El Salvador and the countries of Africa – predominantly black nations — with faeces, and asked why America was taking in so many citizens from these countries as immigrants.
He reportedly expressed a preference for more people from Norway, a white Scandinavian country, to come and settle in the US. On social media, some Norwegian citizens scoffed at the invitation, citing their higher standard of living as reason to stay at home.
Whether Trump made the comments or not, the fact is that few people will believe him. His campaign for the White House had such racist overtones, even in his treatment of his predecessor, Barack Obama, who has been most gracious to him all along. There is also Trump’s association with the white supremacist movement.
The comments are a reality check for us in the English-speaking Caribbean. As we share the same pigmentation with Haiti and the countries of Africa, the comments can also be taken as a direct reference to us. What will be the response of Caribbean immigrants in the United States to Trump and politicians like him?
This is definitely not a time to roll over and play dead. Caribbean immigrants, grouped together, have considerable political power and must now determine how they will mobilize and put it to more effective use to assert their dignity as human beings and, more importantly, influence US public policy.
The beautiful thing, though, is that while someone may call another a “shithole” – the word allegedly used by Trump — it does not make that person such. Without a doubt, words can be damaging but, in the final analysis, it boils down to whether the person believes he or she is a “shithole” and demonstrates such in their behaviour.
Some 20 years ago, our late National Hero, the Right Excellent Errol Barrow, took strong objection to what he saw as the indignity suffered by many Barbadians and Caribbean nationals in their quest to get visas to go to the United States.
“What kind of mirror image do you have of yourself?” he asked in that famous speech delivered in Independence Square on May 13, 1986.
“Your mirror image of yourself is that your ambition in life is to try and get away from this country,” Barrow said. “And we would call ourselves an independent nation? When all we want to do is to go and scrub somebody’s floors or drive somebody’s taxi in a country where you are catching your royal when the winter sets in?”
Barrow believed Barbadians could do better. Instead of trying to run away to America, he challenged us to think big, despite the limitations of our small physical space of 166 square miles, and to focus our energies on developing this country in the way Lee Kwan Yew developed Singapore so that Barbadians could pursue and attain self-fulfillment at home.
“Why don’t you sit down there and start trying to put people on the moon too?”
Trump’s shameless racism should be a wake-up call for us in the Caribbean to focus on developing the region instead of seeking to develop America, drawing inspiration from the words of our national hero who genuinely believed in the capacity of the Caribbean to achieve greatness. The question, however, is whether we believe that we are capable of achieving greatness.
Believing makes the world of a difference. Ancient wisdom tell us “We can if we believe we can.” The process has to begin with an improved governance framework that brings out the full potential of Caribbean people and puts it at the service of regional development. We are speaking of a governance that puts the development of people first.
Referring to the Singapore attitude and making a comparison with Barbados and the Caribbean, Barrow observed: “They are not looking to get on any plane to go to San Francisco. Too far away. The government does not encourage them to emigrate unless they are going to develop business for Singapore.
“They have a mirror image of themselves. They have self-respect. They have a desire to move their country forward by their own devices. They are not waiting for anybody to come and give them handouts.” What is stopping us from committing as a people to doing the same for ourselves?