Employing professionals e.g. sociologists, historians, psychologists to formulate, monitor and evaluate the programme is key—to depend on pro bono contributions is to jeopardise the sustainability of the programme.
The process will undoubtedly be long, probably expensive, certainly difficult and at times painful. Individually and collectively we will have to confront conscious and unconscious bias, in ourselves and others even at the expense of some relationships. Understanding and reversing the effects of accumulated prejudices, misconceptions and disenfranchisement will take many years, perhaps spanning several decades before we achieve the desired outcome. None of the above negates our individual responsibility to do what we can to tackle all forms of discrimination, even as we await the roll out of the overarching plan. In whatever our sphere of influence, we must find ways to make a positive difference. Call out racism, investigate the source and accuracy of information before disseminating, share your views responsibly, comment civilly and do not allow disagreement to descend into personal abuse, needless invective and malicious labelling. It is important that we also heighten our awareness of the myriad ways in which we unintentionally exclude “others” as we go about our routines, tone deaf to the social alienation that we cause. A prime example is when we insist on using Christian prayers at secular events and assemblies, where there are invariably people of other faiths. I do not think that having individual prayers said by representatives of multiple religions is the solution. I recommend that, where appropriate, non-denominational invocations acceptable to all religions are used. We must always opt for inclusivity and be alert to the possibility of giving inadvertent offence in our day-to-day affairs. In February/March this year the Office of the President, working with the Ministry of Education, designed its promised youth programme Inform, Educate, Engage. The programme targets school-leavers with the intention of igniting national pride in this critical cohort. I intended to visit schools across Trinidad and Tobago and engage in discussions on a range of matters pertinent to their sense of nationhood. COVID-19 scuttled the original plan and the programme now has to be converted, at least for the immediate future, into a virtual one. The delay is perhaps fortuitous since the issue of racial tolerance will now be incorporated specifically. As disturbing as it was to witness the regrettable outpouring of hatred and intransigence over the last six weeks, it has afforded us the opportunity to bring intolerance out of the shadows and deal with it decisively.
Without blaming and shaming, let us at every level—personal, institutional, political, governmental, social—commit to consciously, resolutely and patriotically ridding our society of this divisive affliction. May God Bless Our Nation.