In June 2001, the Japanese Association for Black Studies invited me to give a talk entitled “Caribbean Identity and Literature,” at Nara Women’s College, Nara, Japan (see, June 24, 2001).

Before delivering my speech, my host asked me to meet the president of his college, which I accepted. I had stopped wearing ties because I considered it an unnecessary entrapment (literally) of colonialism. However, my host politely reminded me that I had to wear a tie if I was going to see his president.

What should I do in the circumstances? I was invited to his college; they had invited me to speak to them because they respected my scholarship and, in turn, asked me to respect his college’s and his country’s understanding of what was appropriate and respectful. I surrendered. She gave me a tie, I put it on and met her president.

I remembered this incident when I read Farley Augustine’s announcement that he was reversing the current dress code requirements in THA offices for members of the public. He noted, “While employees are always required to wear professional attire, no member of the public should be turned away based on what they are wearing.” Augustine was doing this in the interest of “shaking off the remnants of colonialism that we have clung to for life… No one can convince us that we have to turn people away because they are wearing slippers.” (Express, January 10.)

He also said he would implement the Show Me A Road Tobago (SMART) program, which will enable his administration to deal with potholes across the island. He said: “Using an online platform, you will be able to report these potholes yourself in your street and your community, and we will be able to geolocate these potholes. We will be using a mix of Division resources with community labor to start patching up these holes that WASA has left everywhere.

I found two encouraging aspects of these announcements: first, it took the words of a baby (Augustine) to tell us that despite 60 years of independence, we still have not overcome some fundamental psychological obstacles that have paralyzed – was worth and stifled our initiative; and second, we cannot forget that by engaging and respecting the energies and intelligence of our citizens, we begin to transform their lives.

Augustine’s approach can be contrasted with Minister Allyson West’s attitude on the same issue. She said members of the public in Trinidad who go to government offices in slippers, sleeveless or short pants “will have to wait a little longer to gain access to public office.” His reasoning: “There are simply too many more important areas of interest for us to turn our attention to dress codes at this time. Any adjustment to this that may occur in the future will be a whole-of-government approach.” (Guardian, January 11).

This contrast in behavior suggests a different mindset: a condescending, bureaucratic approach to serving fellow citizens (us versus dem) versus a spontaneous understanding that we are them (the people), and there is nothing more. important than focusing on their needs, no matter how they are dressed or their rank in life.

Heidi Balkaran, an ordinary, ordinary person, noted: “We need to modernize, because I don’t see anything wrong if you come in slippers or without arms, I really don’t see any problem… these are clothes we have at.” (Guardian, January 11.)

It should therefore be noted that Minister Fitzgerald Hinds has apologized to residents of Beetham Gardens for failing to fix an open sewer line which had been down for around six months. It took the protest activities of residents of this community to move the minister. At least he didn’t sue them because he disagreed with their actions.

Ishmael, a resident of the community, explained: “For months, the infrastructure of the community has been broken down. The area smelled of feces. Day and night we live in this toxicity. It’s unbearable… Women, children and old people live here. Just because we are poorer than you, or live in a community that you may not think the best of, do you think we can be treated anyway? (Express, January 11.)

An editorial in the Express summed up the situation astutely: “Does anyone think that a similar problem has developed in an area where government ministers and WASA cadres live, the problem remained unresolved for five months? Particularly in the era of Covid-19?

Frederick Douglass, speaking of the new relationship between the American government and black people after the Civil War, observed: “Events mightier than men, eternal Providence…have placed us in new relations with government and the government with us. What this government is for us today, and what it will be tomorrow, is evidenced by very few facts.

This is why I have argued that a victory for the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) speaks to something deeper than an electoral triumph over the PNM.

He suggested that the government and the governed need to forge a new relationship if we are to get out of the blatant disrespect that the government shows to the governed. Although we sometimes have to make concessions to respect conventions (as I had to do in Japan), we cannot lose sight of the basic respect we owe each other and why service is not a favor we give back to those we have chosen to serve us.

It remains an imperishable truth: taxation without the provision of services is tyranny. This is perhaps the lesson our daughters and the “unwashed” of Beetham Gardens try to remind us.

—Professor Cudjoe’s email address is [email protected] It can be reached


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