THE WEST INDIAN PEOPLE

As late as 1944, more than 95% of our people – and I mean all our people – more than 95% never went to polls; they were not allowed to go. And what, I ask you, is the most extraordinary achievement in spirit of those twenty years? It is that body of your creative writers who have established for all time your presence in the literature of the modern world. It is within those twenty years, and not before, that the possible significance of what they do first came to your attention. And their books are, in my opinion, only the skeleton of a body which is now rediscovering its flesh. The architecture of our future is not only unfinished; the scaffolding has hardly gone up. But what paradoxes me to be found in our complex? There is a strange symbolic truth in the story of the Trinidadian who, at the very first INDEPENDENCE celebrations, listened to the bands and watched the flags rejoicing, and all the while kept saying to himself: “But what a hell ov’a-thing, Trinidad now get what I always had”.

And if we glance north to the neighbouring parish of Jamaica, we can observe the connection between this man’s recognition of a self-freedom and its manifestations in the realities of politics. Commenting on the identification of parties and trade union Patterson says:

“The Jamaican worker has no conception of a capitalist and bourgeois stratum as his real opponent. Instead, his ‘hostilities are directed against the other half of his own class which supports the opposing political party. There can be no greater travesty than a Labour Day celebration in Jamaica. Battalions of policemen are called out in advance not, as one would expect, to prevent damage to employers’ property, but to prevent one half of the working class tearing the other half to pieces.”

And what are the politics of British Guiana but another spectrum of this reality: the same contradiction inherent in a struggle which forced men, otherwise not without honour, to summon race to their rescue. If the identity of party and union in Jamaica makes for a screen that deliberately obscures the essential conflicts of choice and commitment, it is the fictitious posture of non-identification between Indian peasant and urban Negro which made British Guiana totter bloodily towards the primeval tomb of race. For those Indian hands – whether in British Guiana or Trinidad – have fed all of us. They are, perhaps, our only jewels of a true native thrift and industry. They have taught us by example the value of money; for they respect money as only people with a high sense of communal responsibility can.

And so there can be no section of citizens with any greater claim to the citadels of power in our land. I could not be so foolish to think there are no differences between these two races. They made a different journey to the Caribbean; their heritage was different; their psychological encounter with White authority had different reverberations. But what is the totality of these differences? Do they constitute a rejection of the Caribbean reality or an extension of it? What Indian of your generation pines for the lost, ancestral home of Asia? And what of our colleague Mr. Naipaul? Whatever cross he chooses to bear, is it not clear from the evidence of Biswas, that his crucifixion is essentially of a West Indian making? But how many books have we had which take us on the inside of Indian life in Trinidad or British Guiana? We guess and assume and project; but the real substance of that life we are only now beginning to glimpse. So I would ask again: what do these differences in Indian life denote? Historically logical, they signify for me a most desirable extension of the West Indian reality. And what about the white West Indian?

He is our true minority-man. Instinctively we think of him as the man of privilege. This was, and indeed still remains true. But it is a very dubious privilege; for he knows, no less than those from down below, that the dice are dangerously loaded against the role which history has assigned him. He is like a man at the top of the ladder. He can climb no further, and he dare not descend without the emotional permission of those below. For the imperial authority, which supported his climb to privilege, and was always on hand to protect him against the fury of the poor; this authority has now deserted him. He would be no more at home in England than I would be on the moon. So there he is, poised, with the gestures of a bully and a heart that beats louder than he knows. His social rudeness is a sure symptom of fear, a technique for postponing his inevitable rendezvous with the men from down below.

I spoke of a psychic shame which burns the hearts of men whose lives have been a history of genuflection and an apparent subservience of spirit. This shame secretes dynamite, and it would be unwise to underestimate its explosive capacity. There will come a moment when the white West Indian, our one true minority man, may need all the generosity that the majority can muster. He would be wise to start preparing for that moment. And to start now!

I would like to give an example of how he could initiate a genuine contribution. If it sounds too modest, that is all to the good. I am thinking now of the role of commercial advertising in public communication. Just bear in mind that the final mechanics of salesmanship are usually his responsibility. Radio has been the most powerful single medium of communication among our people. It is part of the furniture of the most agreeable living rooms in the town, any Caribbean town. It links the ends of any island and the mainland to the centres of civilised activity.