How Whites collude with Blacks to exclude Indians: The films on CLR James

The memorial lecture on CLR James on June 17, 2017 in London was one of many recent tributes to the legacy of this world-renowned Trinidadian cultural historian, cricket writer and political activist. The lecture was organised in partnership with Hackney Unites, a local UK coalition for social justice.

Although James (1901 -1989) was a champion of Pan-Africanism, and was named Chair of the International African Friends of Ethiopia (IAFE), he was not averse to keeping Indians as his friends and colleagues in multi-ethnic Trinidad.

There are at least two films on James: Every Cook Can Govern: CLR James and the Canon (2013) and Every Cook Can Govern: The Life, Impact and Works of C.L.R. James (2016). The first film is based on a panel presentation in London entitled “Documenting the life, impact & works of CLR James.”

The second film is a full-length documentary which reveals never-before-seen footage of C.L.R. James himself. It is filmed in England and Trinidad. Both films highlight speakers who knew James and/or his works intimately.

See trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oe2AD_HCGWM

See full film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLC-FwBWlys

Informants/interviewees in the two films include Ceri Dingle (Co-director with Rob Harris), Claire Fox, Kenan Malik, Kent Worcester, Christian Hogsbjerg, Alan Hudson, Robert A. Hill, Selwyn R. Cudjoe, James Heartfield, Rachel Douglas, Scott McLemee, Paul Buhle, Roy McCree, Andrew Smith, Selma James and Darcus Howe.

There are sixteen (16) luminaries, but not a single Indian from the Caribbean was featured in these two films who knew James personally and/or through his work.

Any or some of the following living seven (7) Indo-Trinidadians and two (2) Indo-Guyanese could have been included as an interviewee or presenter in any or both of the two films, Every Cook Can Govern.

  • V.S. Naipaul, Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature, who wrote about James in The Middle Passage (2011 edition), The Way in The World and The Overcrowded Barracoon. James himself refers extensively to the correspondences between himself and Naipaul in James’ lesser-known book, Cricket(1986). Naipaul resides in England.
  • Emeritus Professor Clem Seecharan at London Metropolitan University, who wrote a chapter entitled, “Empire and Family in the Shaping of a West Indian Intellectual: The Young CLR James, a Preliminary Assessment.” The chapter is in his book, Finding Myself: Essays on Race, Politics and Culture (2015). Seecharan appears fleetingly in one of the films but is not captured speaking.
  • Professor Frank M. Birbalsingh who wrote and published “The Literary Achievement of C.L.R. James” in The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Vol. 19, no.1 (1984).
  • Professor Kenneth Ramchand who interviewed James at the OWTU Guest House in San Fernando in Trinidad & Tobago on September 5, 1980. The interview is archived on film in Banyan Productions. Ramchand also wrote the introduction to James’ only novel, Minty Alley.
  • Basdeo Panday, former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, who worked with CLR James to establish the Workers and Farmers Party (WFP). The Marxist political party contested the 1966 General Elections and failed to secure a seat. Panday lives in Trinidad but visits London regularly to spend time with his children.
  • Trevor Sudama who worked with James in the WFP which was organised by former Democratic Labour Party (DLP) leader, Stephen Maharaj.
  • Dr. Bishnu Ragoonath who compiled and edited a volume of essays entitled, Tribute to a Scholar: Appreciating C.L.R. James, published in 1990 in Kingston, Jamaica.
  • Raffique Shah who spoke to James (“Nello”) while the latter was lying in bed during his winter years at OWTU’s Hobson House in San Fernando. The conversations were published in the Express on September 29, 2012.
  • John Gaffar LaGuerre who wrote an essay entitled “The Evolution of the Political Thought of C.L.R. James” and published by the University of the West Indies (UWI) in 1972.

Not one of the nine (9) Indo-Caribbean persons above were included among the sixteen (16) speakers or interviewees in the two films.

The documentary film version of Every Cook can Govern was screened on March 21, 2017 in Trinidad at the Bocas Literary Festival, and would be screened again by The Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival (TTFF) in September, 2017.

Whites have colluded with Blacks/Africans in Trinidad and elsewhere to exclude or marginalize Indians in advertisements in the print and electronic media, the CXC CSEC and CAPE syllabi, the Bocas Literary Festival, and in many other areas that should be investigated empirically and statistically.

In her research paper entitled “The Representation of Indians in the Education System of Trinidad and Tobago, 1845-1980,” historian Dr Sherry-Ann Singh commented on the representation of Indians in textbooks for primary school children.

She wrote that these textbooks, written by Whites, included “many African Anansi folk tales, illustrations and pictures of African orientation, references to local creole food and practices. Neither Indian names nor characters were employed in any of the general illustrations. The very sparse inclusions of Indians both stereotyped and clearly situated Indians as the proverbial “other” in the society …”

These examples of Black-White collusion against Indians can be explained by Orientalism and Post-colonial theories.

Sharing similar Western and Christian cultural traits, Blacks have found common ground with Whites and off-Whites – the French Creoles and Syrians in Trinidad, and the Portuguese in Guyana. Both groups see (East) Indians/Orientals as the “Other” because they belong to a Hindu and Muslim Indian cultural tradition, indicated at least by their last name. Despite class and religious differences among Indians, Orientalism explains why the Black-White alliance views Indians as a “homogeneous cultural entity.”

According to Orientalism and Post-colonialism theories, first conceptualized by Edward Said and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak respectfully, the Western world has developed a thought system that treats non-Christian culture as backward, exotic, uncivilized and inferior.

In some societies, minority White elites have used Blacks against Indians to retain economic dominance through the political strategy of divide and rule. The powerful White elites in Trinidad fear the threat of Indians to their control and supremacy in business, international trade, the professions and education.

Blacks are more likely to embrace Whites than Indians which can be explained by Frantz Fanon in his seminal book, White Skin Black Masks (1952). Having lost most of their culture and religion through slavery, Blacks have tried to appropriate, imitate and adapt the culture, religion and attitude of their former colonizers.

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About the Author

Dr. Kumar Mahabir
Dr. Kumar Mahabir, Assistant Professor University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) Chairman, Indo-Caribbean Cultural Centre Co. Ltd. (ICC) Mobile (868) 756-4961 E-mail: [email protected]