The response of Caribbean nationals to the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Irma and Maria has, for the most part, brought out the best in us as a people. But, it also has revealed lingering traces of the region’s insularity.
The insularity, thus far, has been most ugly in Trinidad and Tobago.
Like some other regional leaders, Trinidad Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley decided to take in some of the displaced Dominicans and called on the nation’s citizens to house them for 6 months, as Dominica seeks to rebuild.
Clergyman Reverend Carl Williams has described the negative response to the prime minister’s call as xenophobic.
“We should not practise xenophobia, but we should practise the caring of strangers,” Williams, Interim Rector of the Cathedral Church of Holy Trinity, told the Trinidad Guardian. “This is my personal position. I have also told the congregation that I do not see a reason why they cannot open their homes to Dominicans or people from Barbuda who have been affected.”
Camille Robinson-Regis, the government’s planning minister, appealed to Trinidadians to rise above the ‘pettiness’ of race and religion and open their arms to their regional brothers and sisters.
“We are offering Dominicans an opportunity to enter into the vineyard of T&T to find work, to return to school, to be productive again,’’ Robinson-Regis said.
However, as we said at the top, the negative response by some in Trinidad to the current humanitarian crisis in Dominica and other hurricane-stricken territories is rather the exception, rather than the rule. Thousands of Caribbean nationals, at home and abroad, immediately sprang into action to render assistance. Governments mobilised resources in support of the cause, and officials of the Caribbean Community, including Secretary General Irwin LaRocque and CARICOM Chairman Dr Keith Mitchell of Grenada, and representatives of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), have spared no effort in rendering aid to the islands.
Many were wondering where were the Caribbean’s international musical and sporting superstars, whom we cheer at every available moment and beat our chest proudly for, claiming they are, ‘one ah we.’
Well, the prime minister of Barbados has cleared the air somewhat on whether our celebrities, like Rihanna and Usain Bolt, have reached out to help. Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has suggested that some of our superstars are silent donors. “They’re not just individuals out there on frolics of their own,’’ Stuart says. “They’re managed; they, ultimately, still have to be answerable to their managers. I think that in the fullness of time when a little more of the dust settles, we’re all going to be very pleased with what they did, even though we weren’t hearing from them what they were doing to contribute to the relief effort.’’ This is commendable.
High profile and wealthy entertainers and sportsmen and women have the ability not only to give to the less fortunate, but also to influence positive change in society. Sure, they may face blowback when they speak up and involve themselves on social issues. The best example of this today is in the National Football League (NFL) in the United States.
NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, in protest against police brutality in America, dropped to one knee during the pre-game playing of the national anthem last season. Now, Kaepernick is out of an NFL job. He and others, who have since joined the kneeling protest action, are being criticised by many, even by US President Donald Trump. President Trump claims they are being unpatriotic and disrespectful to the American anthem and flag.
Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno is among those who disagree with Trump and critics of the NFL players. She says what Kaepernick started, by kneeling at the pre-game show, “was a brave and virtuous gesture, aligning himself with — bringing attention to — the social injustices and systematic oppression suffered by Black Americans.”
Back here in Grenada and the Caribbean, and in the Diaspora as well, the goodwill gesture to our hurricane-affected neighbours continues, with round-the-clock activities raising money and material assistance for the islands.
We urge one and all to continue giving. The rebuilding and recovery will be long, hard and costly.