Ethnic heads on name-calling tiff: Leaders must do better

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Head of the Emancipation Support Committee Zakiya Uzoma-Wadada.

LEADERS should do better at fostering unity, president of the National Council of Indian Culture (NCIC) Dr Deokinanan Sharma and head of the Emancipation Support Committee Zakiya Uzoma-Wadada have said about the ongoing dispute over name-calling.

Newsday spoke with both leaders on the tiff between the PNM and UNC stemming from the literal name-calling on political platforms.

The genesis of the squabble was a PNM meeting in Arima on May 24, when the party’s lady vice chairman Camille Robinson-Regis used the Opposition Leader’s full name, Kamla Susheila Persad-Bissessar, several times during her speech.

Nine days later, on June 2, Persad-Bissessar responded, telling Robinson-Regis she had the name of a slave master, while the Opposition Leader said she herself at least had “a name from my ancestors.”

The comment was condemned by the PNM and its supporters as racist, while the UNC defended the comment, saying it was a bitter truth, and questioned why there was no uproar when Robinson-Regis mocked Persad-Bissessar’s name.

Asked to comment specifically on Robinson-Regis’ name-calling, which garnered laughter when it was said, Sharma said Robinson-Regis was provoking Persad-Bissessar, but was not being racist.

Persad-Bissessar, he said, “should not have gotten off her rockers for any kind of name-calling or whatever. Similarly on the other side.”

He added that Robinson-Regis was being provocative in repeating the Opposition Leader’s name, but did not see it as racial.

“I think as leaders we have to control ourselves.”

Uzoma-Wadada said when Robinson-Regis repeated Persad-Bissessar’s full name, there was laughter from those listening, which showed the name was being ridiculed. She added that while the UNC would call the Prime Minister by his full name, Keith Christopher Rowley, no laughter follows and the two instances are different.

Sharma said it was that giggle that may have triggered Persad-Bissessar to respond as she did.

“This is part of the cultural challenges that have resulted from colonialism,” Uzoma-Wadada said about mocking one another’s names, as she called for leaders to be better in their discourse.

“Politicians have to be conscious of that and realise that provoking that kind of exchange between themselves does not do not anything but exacerbate the existing tensions, real or imagined, that exist between the two largest ethnic groups in society.

“Conversation between Mrs Robinson-Regis and Kamla Persad-Bissessar is not just between the two of them. In this country it becomes between two ethnic groups in a society and therefore whatever is said impacts the whole group, and a lot of times people respond from a spirit of emotion.”