Tag Archives: Race

The Murder of the Keil’s: Connecting the dots and Uprooting Xenophobic Attitudes in Tobago



Tobago has unfortunately placed itself in the international spotlight.    The full-page headlines in many German and European newspapers over the past week that read, “HACKED TO DEATH,” is damaging to the island; there are no “ifs ands or buts” about it.  In fact, it is not the first time that foreigners have been the victims of brutal attacks and the internet is filled with information about the troubles that take place in tiny Tobago.   On their search for expectations of paradise and island living, they unfortunately met their deaths like the Keil’s or the Green’s, a UK couple currently suing the government who was assaulted a few years ago.  We strongly condemn these acts of violence.

When critical events of this nature happens on a small island it requires taking stock of where we are as a people, a society and ultimately a country.  These are not random acts of violence and while we don’t know the individual motives of various crimes because most times we cannot find the perpetrators; there comes a point when the society itself is the perpetrator and should bear some responsibility for these acts violence.  Clearly this collective responsibility is not distributed equally because at the end of the day, power is not distributed equally but as Tobagonians we must bear a cost, whether now or in the future.  In getting to the root causes of why there should be collective responsibility, the society becomes the perpetrator because of the perception and or reality of how foreigners are treated and this includes Trinidadians and even native Tobagonians who left and returned to the island.

Before we get into the heart of this commentary, I should make you aware of any bias.   I am Tobagonian by birth, American by nationality and I myself have received the “you not from here,” from some Tobagonians I have encountered during my times in Tobago.   I cannot say that I have been blatantly discriminated against, perhaps denied some opportunities based on my youthful appearance but the qualifications that accompany me which I don’t boast of is enough to be threat just by the fact I might think or ask a question or two.

Nevertheless, this is not about me but I have heard countless stories of Tobagonians who have lived abroad for many years and faced discrimination upon return.  In fact, I know of one nurse, who returned to England because what she experienced at the hospital.    The simple fact was her capacity, training and professionalism placed in a system where she went against the grain.  These stories are based on the experiences of individuals with direct connection to Tobago about that sense of “you not from here,” so I can only imagine what those without connection to Tobago may experience from some.

While I do not believe the majority of Tobagonians are suspicious of those they deem “outsiders” there is enough rhetoric in the society to suggest it is a problem.   I think it is normal for anyone from anywhere to ask themselves in their heads about the “presence of others” whether in their village, community, island, or country.   The majority of citizens would not plot or conspire to rob or murder others, much less talk out “wha dem ah do ya” or share hostile remarks that suggest “others” are not welcomed.     However, people hear remarks like these at times, and when they do hear them it suggests to them something about the society and the fact that they might be unwelcomed by some.   The majority of Tobagonians continue to be hospitable people, but hospitable people can also stay silent at things they should speak up for and this is the silent suffering in Tobago.  It is such a loud silence that we talk about it, we acknowledge it happens, but we never confront it and though as individuals we might be against it, we collective condone it because we do not collectively confront it.

Xenophobia has many synonyms, some of which includes (racism, nationalism, prejudice, racial intolerance and dislike for foreigners).  I am deliberately changing the rest this commentary to a Q&A format because in an effort to fully conceptualize why this is a serious problem that must be dealt with effectively and immediately the reader should do some inquiry (ask questions)

Q: Is Tobago a racist society?

A: Racism exists in all societies.  It is very difficult for a society to call itself racist, but understanding racism requires an understanding of power structures.   Not liking a person because of the color of their skin is prejudice, but it becomes racist when you are in a position to deny that person an opportunity of some sort. While Tobago is not a blatantly racist society like the apartheid state that existed in South Africa in the past or the United States that practiced legalized segregation, there are elements of racism that exists in Tobago like anywhere else.    It should be noted that Tobago is 95% black.    While race might not be a divisive problem within Tobago; it is a society based on class stratification (income inequality).

Q:  What is nationalism and how does it relate the Tobago?

A: Nationalism is an ideology about nationhood.   There are many forms of nationalism.  For example, patriotism includes displays of national colors, the flag, the feeling of pride one has for their country, and the duty one owes to country, like service in the military.    This is an accepted form of nationalism that people from all countries typically have.    This is what you see normally displayed during soccer matches during the World Cup or independence parades.  Nationalism in an extreme form gave rise to World War I, where these feelings erupted all over Europe and ultimately led to two world wars and the shaping of the modern world was we know it.  It is dangerous and deadly in its extreme form, especially when others factors are at work, such as militarism.  Interestedly, synonyms of nationalism includes (independence, autonomy, self-rule and self-government).    These concepts are important to Tobagonians and the turn on the inflamed political passions of people.

Q:  What is an example of “inflamed political passion” in the Tobago case?

A:  Tobago has an interesting political culture and elections typically arouse these inflamed political passions.   On a larger scope, politics in Trinidad and Tobago is masked in utterances of something locally known as “picong”.  When this is aligned with the political history which has a racial undertone given the historic voter bases of the main parties, some individuals cross the line and acts of racism are perpetuated, sometimes masked in utterances of ‘picong”.  A major example of this was the “Calcutta Ship” statement made by Hilton Sandy during the 2013 THA election. Despite the apology that was issued, this one statement has probably done more damage affecting the progress of what could have been accomplished between the THA and Central Government, despite the election results.  There was a communication breakdown between both entities and this hindered some progress.

Q: Why was the ‘Calcutta Ship’ an example of racial intolerance?   What is the real problem?

A: The Calcutta Ship statement whether it was deliberate or not, whether part of a campaign strategy or whether it just popped into the head of the individual who made the statement on a political platform, it played on the fears of many.  Tobagonians understand the concept of land and wealth, but unfortunately more than 85% of Tobagonians do not have deeds and titles to their lands, despite occupying these “family lands” for many years.   Almost every culture experience the conflict over land that takes places in families, tribes and nations over land and Tobago is no different.   The Calcutta Ship was the easiest way to galvanize support of an “us vs them” (the government – the Calcutta people) strategy to win the election, creating an “enemy” who will “take your land”.  Perhaps it was convenient, but we can only hope inflammatory statements of this nature cease to be a part of political discourse.

Q:  How does all this relate to the Kiel’s, the Greens and “a dislike for foreigners”?

A:  Xenophobia’s is the dislike for foreigners and this happens everywhere.  Tobago is not an isolated case neither is it the exception but the Keil’s were killed in Tobago and the Green’s were assaulted in Tobago, not elsewhere.  We are a tourist destination, domestically and internationally and while we cannot stop bad things from happening there is no need to suffer in collective silence; there is a need to speak up.   Hopefully in speaking up justice will prevail for the Keil’s, the Green’s and all those whose lives were tragically cut short by criminals occupying the Tobago space.    Additionally, in speaking up we should speak loud enough so that the world can hear us. This will require speech, language and discourse that shows we are ready to do business with the rest of the world.   Disliking foreigners and public usage of racist language even if masked in utterances of picong are things that do not belong in a society that seeks to develop itself.




When Children Behave like Hyenas in the African Jungle: Implications of race and social class in schooling in NYC and Trinidad and Tobago

My job allows me visits classrooms in throughout New York City, particularly the Bronx.   My job is to simply go in, observe and then have conversations with the teachers after about their practice.  I thoroughly enjoy it because I try my utmost best to support them in the ways they need to be supported and I do it in a way that wasn’t done for me as teacher.   The teachers that I work with are three Hispanic females, two white females, two white males and one Hispanic male.    They teach mostly Hispanic and black students.

Bear with me, because I am making about point.     One of the Hispanic females and one of the white males share a classroom and some students, so I observed them for two consecutive periods, one after the other.    I can vouch for white male being prepared and there was evidence that the he poured his heart and soul into the lesson plan, and even included some Jay-Z lyrics as a hook for the student.   Needless to say, the lesson quickly went to hell in a hand basket and the students were not ready for instruction that day.    By no means it was the behavior in the viral video that we have seen about Mucurapo West Secondary School, but they were being 8th graders, and I myself would have been unable to complete the lesson.

The teacher and I sat for our debrief conversation, and in my own keep it real good old fashion dose of the truth, I told the teacher my take on what happened, told him I have seen worse and that I know what might be going on in his head, but he is unable to verbalize it – the social reality (jail, teenage pregnancy, dropouts for example) of what these students confront and how their behavior only makes the situation worse.  He turned to me and said, “I like you.”   Later on, the Hispanic female that shares the room and teaches the same students joined the conversation and agreed that today was a off day.   Then we broke the ice.   I asked them both to give me their perspectives as a Latina teaching mostly Latino and Black children and his perspective as a white guy teaching Latino and Black children.     The Latina female told me she uses the fact that she can connect with the students on a cultural level and “doesn’t need a translator” to call home to speak to their Spanish speaking parents.    The white male is married to Latina female and clearly stated, “he teaches here because he wants to teach here,” and trust me, I genuinely believed him and he was not one of those “sympathetic, go easy white teachers because I am afraid of being called racist.”   Trust me, NYC students know how to use the race card when necessary, so teachers are who are different from them are sometimes deliberately easy on them, just not be called racist.  I know, I have heard it from kids, Ms. G is nice but and the last thing any 22-year old white girl from the Midwest wants to be called is a ‘white racist bitch.’     Compared to, Ms. Latina is strict, don’t play with her.

Now, for all you T&T folks this story is important to what I must say now about the remarks of Dr. Rowley who likened the behavior the students in the viral video to “Hyenas in the African Jungle.”   No one condones the behavior of these students and in all regards, the suspension was not the answer, which we will deal with in another article, but let’s talk about political correctness and race.

If someone else other than Dr. Keith Rowley uttered those words, “hyenas in the African Jungle” about black children in the same capacity, on a political platform,  and if that person was not black, imagine the public uproar and outcry of racism that would have been lauded at that person.    What if the current Prime Minister said it? Many would have been quickly able it point it out as a rather racist statement.  Dr. Rowley has to be responsible before he speaks and should have never uttered that remark on the political platform against these children.

Just as much as we don’t like to talk about race and racism in the public schools of New York City because it is uncomfortable and many people choose to take the “color-blind” approach making statements such as, “they are just kids, I don’t see color.”  The do this to avoid confronting the social realities because of their own ignorance and level of comfort.   Black and Latino teachers confront these realities daily and many often teach in a manner that these children are their own children.  In many cases they know that the children of their white colleagues would never experience such a classroom because they will deliberately make the choice of sending their children to another school or certain (specialized high schools) because they live elsewhere or don’t even think about it because it is a matter of privilege.

Dr. Rowley’s statement then is one is about social class because he himself is black.   Would individuals of a “ruling/higher social class” send their children to Mucurapo West Secondary School.  The answer is no, it wont happen.   He had no right to like the behavior of these children to “hyenas in the African Jungle.”   It is simply a classist statement.

In another article we would explore the issue of why suspension of these students was not the correct disciplinary action.  The students only displayed behavior that is evident in the large society.    Think about it and in light of recent history, if you can attempt to overthrow the government of Trinidad and Tobago and there are no consequences, these kids are just the product of lawless society where you can even commit high treason and get away with it.    We just happen to live in a world where this schoolyard altercation was on mobile device,  posted on the internet and went viral.   Now, we with our collective hypocrisy we want to condemn and punish what we have always condoned.