As a young lad, growing up, I was bombarded by the concept that Trinidad was a multi-ethnic and multi-racial society, where “every creed and race find and equal place”; and for a long time I believed it.
But I as got older, I realised that this was mostly relevant to Social Studies in primary school. Trinidad and Tobago remains a highly segregated society, where the creeds and races seldom mix, and remain highly sceptical of each other. The evidence for this is simple. If you look at the demographic layout of most neighbourhoods in Trinidad, for instance, you will realise that in any one given area, street, or track, there is predominantly one type of ethnic group. In other words, more likely that not, your neighbour looks like you.
If you look at the demographic layout of most neighbourhoods in Trinidad, for instance, you will realise that in any one given area, street, or track, there is predominantly one type of ethnic group.
I grew up in the bush, to put it plainly. And in that village of – let’s say 250 persons – only about 40 persons were not of East Indian descent. Naturally, I grew up with my fair share of roti, which to this day remains one of my favourite foods. But, unlike a lot of other villages in the area, and in Trinidad, the 40 of us that were left were a very diverse group that included persons of Spanish, European and African descent (i.e. some whitey, a few Spanish and some darkies, myself included). Plus there was the usual dougla population, which you always get when Indo and Afro Trinis live close to each other.
Now I will tell you that there was quite a bit of racism in that little village. At some point, an argument between neighbours of different ethnic backgrounds descended into a ‘nigga and coolie’ shouting match.
All of this became more pronounced when I left the relevant comfort of my little, sleepy village, and went to school in the heart of the city, where I realised, much to my dismay, how important colour (and where you live) are in the social standing of most prestige schools. I remember being traumatized for much of my secondary school years, because, by default, I could not be a ‘cool kid’. I was dark, and living in the bush, so I spent most of my time hanging out with the cool kids, just to get some of their shine.
But that is a story for another time. This story is about the highly segregated nature of our neighbourhoods, and how a little ‘black boy from South’ ended up living out of his ‘colour zone’ in Town.
I’m guessing that many years ago, the powers that be took a map of Trinidad, and basically outlined who was supposed to live where, because especially in Port of Spain and environs. and the East/West Corridor, there are entire neighbourhoods that consist of one ethnic group – at least 95-98%. And when someone outside of this group moves in (or attempts to), there is a high degree of apprehension.
I’m not saying that it is not possible to live anywhere in the country (once you have the financial resources), but you do run into some ‘obstacles’, depending on your background and the colour of your skin.
I won’t get into the story of how my family and I ended up living in a bourgeoisie neighbourhood in St. Anns, but it has brought very interesting responses from people of different ethnic backgrounds when I tell them where I live.
When I speak to the people who look like me (i.e. dark and/or from South/East), I almost feel the urge to apologise for it and explain that I’m not rich (or renting). It’s almost like I’m not supposed to be here, and if I am, I must have a lot of money or be well connected – neither of which is the case. It is not said, but I feel something that is close to jealously on their part, which is unfortunate, because, if they knew the story of my life, they will realise that everything I have has come through prayer and hard work…and it continues to be a struggle.
I once went to the barber shop on the ‘main road’, and after a few months of going, the issue of where I live came up. When I reluctantly mentioned the area, I don’t have to tell you that from that day on, the barber looked at me a bit differently, as he was from the more depressed section of the same community. I actually felt guilty for a second, because of my area code. But just for a second. I have actually decided to maintain my ‘lil ole car’, just so I can blend in when I need to.
Then there is the flip side. When people who grew up in the neighbourhood (and their homes were passed down from one generation to the next) see me and my family, it is almost like they wonder out loud, “How did that one get in here?” They are not rude or anything, just a bit sceptical. I can never tell people where I live without getting some sort of reaction.
When I lived in South, St. Augustine, or Arima, this was never an issue. Now it is. Why? Because we are still a very segregated society, and until that is addressed in some meaningful way, many of the issues that we have in our society – related to inequality and crime – will persist.
Port of Spain remains a very interesting place to live. There are so many unwritten rules and guidelines. I chose to ignore them all, and stick in my corner. Even though I basically live ten minutes away, you will not see me ‘liming on de avenue’, or in 51, or wherever else the hip, young ones hang out. I simply do not have the energy (or the resources) to keep up the appearances. It looks exhausting. And I know many people from the Far East, and South who make the trek every weekend (and during the week)…good luck with that.
In the meantime, I’m stuck in the middle – a poor black boy in a rich neighbourhood, with everyone judging me. I couldn’t care less. I could always jump in my old car and head back down South.