Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : October 4th 2015 Contents A8
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt October 4, 2015
RHONDA KRYSTAL RAMBALLY
Anthropologist Dr Dylan Kerrigan says
racist posts on social networking site Face-
book are a cultural manifestation of the
political climate and is suggestive of how
T&T s society might become.
He described this cultural manifestation
as "dangerous" and attributed this to failing
social and educational institutions, the
media, disconnected and irresponsible
politicians and a lack of general critical
thinking among the population.
He said the grassroots, who were political
operatives and less educated, were being
fed messages by the higher-ups who wanted
social destabilisation to bring together their
He found that the middle class was not
engaged in racist talk.
Social media, he said, could be an avenue
"While you can use it in certain ways to
get reactions, what Facebook does is it
removes context and back story. So what
you see is the trending thing. You see name
and picture but we don t really know the
back story to the person and you don t get
the larger context of Trinidad and Tobago s
He was interviewed last Monday about
the surge of vitriolic comments and at times
racist posts circulating on Facebook before
and after the general election.
According to him, it s a minority of the
population involved in "fanning the flames"
of race and racism.
He said, "The problem with Facebook is
it s not set up for people to have discussions.
Instead, it s set up for users to fire in with
"Facebook is a technology...a bunch of
servers somewhere. How societies use Face-
book is culturally relative. So Facebook
postings are always shaped by the wider
culture of a society. Before the recent explo-
sion of racist postings, Facebook locally
was understood as Macoobook
He said while T&T was not about to
explode into ethnic violence, there were
political cycles where tensions surface and
seem "really bad" but that tended to dis-
"That s really the history of our nation
for the last 53 years," he said.
He said T&T s ability to live and co-exist
in a multi-cultural setting was one of its
many strengths as a nation and was some-
thing we should teach to other societies.
Kerrigan is a lecturer in anthropology
and political sociology, attached to The
University of the West Indies, St Augustine
Among some of his areas of focus are
social change, power relations, race and
class, class and culture, inequality, multi-
culturalism, and culture and politics.
Small group 'fanning the flames'
of race in T&T---UWI lecturer
...racist Facebook posts 'a sign of the times'
Anthropologist and UWI lecturer, Dr Dylan Kerrigan during an interview last Thursday at his office, St Augustine campus. PHOTO: RHONDA RAMBALLY
If the ground doesn't shift, and no effort is
made to improve the situation among top-
down institutions in the country, Kerrigan said
he would be concerned the problem could
"That is a massive responsibility politicians
need to take on," he said.
He said politicians were disconnected from
the masses and were inside echo chambers
surrounded by advisers.
He said the population also needed to
become more critical of things affecting them.
Kerrigan questioned, "Can we say in the era
of Facebook people are less critically engaged?"
Before the Facebook generation, the world
"There was more depth to thinking. Think of
the Caribbean in the 1970s. Now there's
shallowness" he said.
He said many Facebook users regurgitate
what they hear in conversations and younger
users are not thinking for themselves.
Kerrigan said, "What is needed is classroom
space where young people can talk about these
"Facebook is not a safe place to discuss race."
FACEBOOK NOT SAFE
TO DISCUSS RACE
Racism is a learned behaviour. It's
learned through groups, family and
social institutions, said Kerrigan.
He said, "Racism is a very
emotional thing and can stop
people from thinking rationally. It is
built on stereotypes which produce
He said racism was a
complicated matter in T&T.
"We can't say what is going on
really fits the academic definition of
racism because we have had Indian
and both groups have had access
to cash and power. So we have a
very specific type of race politics
that does not fit the academic
definition of racism as exclusion
"We call it racism because that's
the word for us but really, it's a sort
of racial back and forth built off
stereotypes and anecdotes from
Explaining the complexity of race
talk locally, he said some people
can choose to be mean and
horrible against others, while there
are also times and spaces where
some people have the social and
cultural capital to make racist jokes
and use racist language based on
their affiliation and long-term
history with people.
For example, he said, "With
sports groups, family and friends,
or a close lime, you can say things
but if you took those same words
into another space with other
people they become racist."
Kerrigan said locally there are
spaces where ethnic humour and
picong can be quite playful but
then there's spaces where it can
be "straight up negative."
Racism is inward looking, where
people tend to say things like "I am
part of this group and you're not."
"You're on the other side."
On the other hand, there's a
positive, outward looking multi-
culturalism, where all people are
different. "That's what everyone
has in common. We are all
different from each other."
"Difference is the common
factor of humanity we all share,"
"Politically we've tried recently
to play the politics of multi-
culturalism, and of course it's in
our national anthem and coat of
arms too, but obviously in day-to-
day life it does not always work.
"One political problem is that
our political system is designed to
pick a winner based on a first-
past-the-post system which
essentially shares political power
between two large ethnic groups,
so our politics is always going to
be about race," Kerrigan said.
He said it is in the interest of
political groups to mobilise and
develop "a type of race talk" and
racism because that's how "we
decide who gets what, where and
when in the country, depending on
who is in power, they'll dish that
While it seems disheartening
and people worry about ethnic
violence and explosion, it's all
about the game of power, money
and politics, he added.
"If the political system rewards
racial groups, of course those
political groups will make sure,
perhaps indirectly and through
their grassroots people, that race
is at the fore and centre. That our
country has seen a spike in racism
on Facebook post the general
election should be an obvious sign
"It emerged at a time when
these elements of our society, our
race and our culture are central to
how power functions."
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