‘Time to look at race’
By Newsday Staff Monday, March 4 2013
Hailing his Carib ancestry, Chief Justice Ivor Archie believes it is time for the issue of race to be addressed in terms of the Constitution’s provisions.
Archie also noted that prejudice remains a problem in society and suggested that the Constitution should address this issue.
“We must decide whether we are a nation of many peoples coexisting, or whether we are one people with a diversity of historical and cultural lineages,” he said in an address on Saturday at the launch of constitutional reform consultations at the University of the West Indies’ Sports and Physical Education Centre, St Augustine
“Our Constitution does not recognise any rights based on ethnicity, or for that matter gender, age, religion, orientation or origin,” he said. “It only recognises rights based on a shared humanity. The answer to the ‘who are we’ question has enormous impact on the way we approach governance which, after all, is what a constitution is about.”
The Chief Justice noted the centrality of race and alluded to recently released census figures which put the mixed race proportion of the population at 22.8 percent.
“In recent times I have had a difficulty in checking any box on any form that asks me to indicate my racial group. My difficulty is both practical and philosophical. That the response is self-identified speaks volumes,” he said. “You see, according to the best information I possess, I have a great grandparent who belonged to the indigenous people which, by the way those things are reckoned makes me one- sixteenth Carib. So my question is, what percentage must one attain to be mixed? And if my grandmother was half Carib, can mixed people ever have pure descendants? I draw on this personal example because before we can write a Constitution for Trinidad and Tobago, we must be able to define or at least describe us.”
He noted prejudice was something faced by all administrations.
“ Prejudice is not the exclusive province of any particular group; it is a human condition!” he said. “That is the dilemma that every government politician faces, to govern fairly in the face of unreasonable expectations from some quarters, and I know that it is not easy to deal with it, but we must!” The Chief Justice continued, “We cannot be content with having our lives run on the basis of a misguided paradigm. We must move forward with a governance structure that is not based on appeasement, but rather, on an acceptance of and respect for the worth and diversity that exists within all of us.”
Archie praised the move to hold consultations on constitutional reform, calling for a people- centred approach to the issue and urging the population to “seize the opportunity”.
“Because it must be based on a broad consensus, the shaping of a constitution cannot be left to the so-called experts,” the Chief Justice said. “Effective constitutional reform can only begin from an interrogation of the desires and will of the people, in people. In other words, it is generated from the bottom up and not imposed from the top-down. There is, I will expect, and I submit there has to be an opportunity for every citizen to participate in the process. We must seize the opportunity to make a difference.”
Archie said now is the chance to get the Constitution right.
“Before we draft a new Constitution we need to figure out where and why we have strayed from the current one which does have very laudable expressions of intent and why,” he said. “ One would have to assume that the reason we are contemplating a new constitutional arrangement is because there are several aspects of the existing constitutional arrangements that are perceived to be not working satisfactorily. This presents us with an extraordinary opportunity to finally get it right!”
He continued, “A new Constitution must represent something far more fundamental than an amendment or revision of the existing constitutional arrangements. It should be a complete rewrite, from the ground up, of the social contract that is to govern the way in which we and our institutions function and interrelate.” He suggested that the national watchwords be revised.
“Maybe we should even revisit our watchwords,” the Chief Justice said. “Are we to be content with mere tolerance? After all we can bring ourselves to tolerate that which we dislike. Maybe we need language that more clearly expresses the idea of embracing each other, if that is what we really mean or wish to strive for.”