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Tony Deyal: See you later, alligator

Published:Saturday | June 27, 2015 | 6:00 AMTony Deyal, Contributor

President Barack Obama used the N-word during an interview released Monday to make a point that there's still plenty of room for America to combat racism.

The CNN story continued, "Racism, we are not cured of it. And it's not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public," Obama said in an interview for the podcast WTF with Marc Maron. "That's not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It's not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don't, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior."

CNN's take on it was: "The jarring comment comes as the nation is engaged in a debate over the role of race after a white supremacist killed nine African-Americans last week in a historically black church in Charleston. It also reflects a growing willingness for Obama to discuss race during the final years of his presidency."

The late night comedians put their own special spin on it. Conan O'Brien quipped, "On a podcast the other day, President Obama used the N-word. In a related story, his new rap album drops on Wednesday."

Seth Meyers took a dig at Obama's media enemies who tread very gingerly around it. "President Obama this weekend used the N-word when speaking about race relations in America. Which explains why everyone at Fox News today kept shouting, 'And I quote ... ."

 

Alligators in the lagoon

In Trinidad, on September 25, 2013, the Trinidad Express reported on a contribution made by Opposition Senator Fitzgerald Hinds in a debate. "Borrowing a colloquialism from the late prime minister, Dr Eric Williams, Hinds said: 'They are all alligators from the same murky pond.'"

At a recent political meeting, Senator Hinds, referring to the main opposition party, the United National Congress (UNC), led by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, changed this to "all dem alligators from the same murky lagoon".

It is not the first time that a politician has referred to alligators - in fact, President Obama is being chided for a jab he took at Republicans on the subject of the safety of the Mexican border. A Daily Mail report quoted the president as saying, "We have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement ... . But even though we've answered these concerns, I've got to say I suspect there are still going to be some who are trying to move the goalposts on us one more time. Maybe they'll need a moat. Maybe they want alligators in the moat. They'll never be satisfied."

The backlash was immediate. "Residents of an Arizona town who fled their homes because of a massive fire say they are outraged at Obama's claims to have secured the Mexican border ... . The residents, many of whom have been staying in refugee centres, said they were sickened at Obama's jokes about Republicans wanting alligators and moats on the border in an immigration speech in Texas."

The 'alligator' references by Hinds are also being interpreted in a political context, but in Trinidad, that also means race. It is not helped by the fact that Dr Eric Williams, who is said to have been the source of the 'alligator' line that Hinds used in the Senate, was the first leader and one of the founders of the People's National Movement (PNM), the party to which Hinds belongs and the one most closely associated with people of African descent in Trinidad and Tobago. The UNC is linked to people of East Indian descent.

 

The Calcutta ship

With an election due on September 7, just a little more than two months away, the 'A-word' has not gone down well, especially as it follows another reference, also interpreted as racist, by the deputy chief secretary of Tobago, Hilton Sandy, during a recent election campaign in that island.

According to an Express editorial, "Speaking on the platform at a public political meeting, Mr Sandy said, 'There is a ship at Calcutta waiting to sail to Tobago. That ship is waiting to sail to Tobago; they are waiting to get the results of this election, if you bring the wrong results, Calcutta ship is coming down for you!'"

The editorial pointed out, "Indeed, by including in his apology the cliched claim of 'I have a lot of Indian friends', he has only reinforced the inference. People who have lots of friends from outside their ethnic group do not usually need to trumpet the fact."

I have a lot of friends and family who grew up in the lagoon or what we called the 'LAH-goon'. In places like the Caroni, Oropouche and other swamps, people of East Indian descent were the sole occupants, and lived by planting rice and mixed farming. Many professionals emerged from the murk and made their mark in Trinidad and the bigger global pond. Mr Hinds is adamant that his intention was not racial, but in a heated election where race is the major determinant, the interpretation is unavoidable. Interestingly, as many people have said, "Only Indians are racist." Several pointed out that, if anyone of East Indian descent makes any statement that seems racist, the PNM and the media pounce on that person like ... alligators?

One of my friends called and asked me, "What do you call a law firm with the most vicious lawyers?" Liti-gators. "What do you call an alligator that makes others fight?" Insti-gator. And why shouldn't you taunt an alligator? Because it might come back to bite you in the end.

- Tony Deyal was last seen saying to Hinds that, when he gets tired from his tirades, he should try some Gatorade.