14 Apr 2008

Race, or responsibility?

Reading what Wendell Kangaloo said about race relations reminded me of a friend. Kangaloo, after watching an American program called Meeting David Wilson-A Conversation on MSNBC says:

"We in Trinidad and Tobago would do well to start a conversation about race. Most people do not think we have a race problem in Trinidad and Tobago. That is because we define race relations as how the races interact."

He said statistics from the programme - among them the fact it is easier for a white person with a criminal record to obtain employment in some parts of the US than for a black person with a college degree and out of every three black male children, one will do jail time in his life-may help throw a different light on the issue.

"Hopefully, these statistics will help us realise that there is more to race relations... Hopefully they will help us think about our self esteem and how that affects our motivation and work ethic," Kangaloo said.

Like my friend, an educated 'black' man who is a senior manager in a large company, I fail to see how this is about race. I'll explain, from my friend's point of view.

My friend, as a department manager for over 12 years, refuses to hire 'black' people, especially men. I asked him once if he did not think he was being negative about people, whether he ought not to help out his fellow 'black' brethren. His answer was an emphatic no.

His experience he says, is that black people have poor work ethos, and are a 'lazy, surly bunch' (his words) which he can do without if he has to produce. Surely it can't be so bad, I opined.

"Worse", his answer came back. "I'd rather hire a lazy white person, knowing I'd still be able to get work out of him, that a black person who will look for dodgy excuses not to work, to shift blame, to refuse responsibility for personal actions...". He cited a long list that had me wondering.... surely it's not as bad as this?

Perhaps not, but from his point of view, he is answerable for millions of pounds worth of productivity, and definitely will not jeopardise his own or his family's future by having to answer for non-performers. Fair enough. Especially since the laws made it a task to get rid of them.

But what he described wasn't a race problem. It was an attitude problem. It was an attitude adopted by certain people, and unlike my friend, I have met that attitude in Indians, Somali, Sikh, Jamaicans, and various other people. Perhaps it is present in larger numbers of people of a particular race, but it certainly not limited to that race.

So until we begin to talk about attitudes and personal responsibility, we will be stuck where we are, and never move forward.