Wed | Dec 2, 2020

Tony Deyal | Full Marx to 'You People'

Published:Friday | July 28, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Groucho Marx, the humorist, once declined membership in a club by responding, "Please accept my resignation. I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member." I tend to be the same, so that when for the first time in my life one of my Facebook "friends" referred to me as "YOU PEOPLE", I was concerned and wanted to make sure that I understood clearly what was being said and implied.

Since the "You People" seemed to have been used in the context of race and not to some of the things to which I am inclined, like dining, wining, reclining or declining, I looked up the application of the phrase or accusation in the many different dictionaries and "help" sites that are on the Internet.

What I found is that "You People" refers to any outsiders of a clique. Wiktionary says that "You People" is a particular embodiment of the problem that is a well-documented set phrase. It is often used in questionnaires used to identify possible racist attitudes.

The social news and discussion website, REDDIT, which reassured me with its tagline, "No Stupid Questions", had a few posts responding to the issue, "Why is the phrase 'You People' seen as so offensive?" One reader said, "People don't like to be generalised. It's as simple as that." Another responded, "It is commonly viewed as a generalisation.

Let's say Mr. Green is a neighbour to Mr. Blue. Mr. Green always plays his music too loudly. Mr. Blue confronts Mr. Green and says 'You people are so noisy!' Mr. Green is upset because he doesn't think it's fair for an individual's actions to represent an entire population of [green] people.

In this sense, I am Mr. Green because the person who called me "You People" spoke about people of mixed race and that put me in a group that excluded her race and those that are mixed.

For my readers in Barbados, Jamaica and elsewhere, race and politics are rapidly becoming inextricable in Trinidad and Tobago and increasingly a label slapped on individuals because of race and with no other reason or research for doing so.




Another REDDIT reader helped to clarify the "You People" tag by first confirming, "It's divisive. It separates people into groups. It's no longer just people in general or 'us' as a whole. Now it's us and 'you people' over there that aren't like us for some probably arbitrary reason."

The idea is that humans are tribal. We are social beings who live and function in groups like family or friends.

At each of these levels we're creating an "us" vs "not us" mentality. That's just the way humans work psychologically. As the writer said, "This was useful early on in human history when your group were the people who kept you safe and allowed you to survive. Anyone outside of that group was a potential threat to your survival. They may be friendly or they may not, and it was better to put them into the mental category of 'not us' and treat them with suspicion until you knew better. The 'you people' is the modern form of doing this...The problem is that it leads to things like racism and xenophobia..."

In thinking about it from this perspective, I realised that the mix of race and politics is toxic.

As Groucho said, "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies."

I figured out that the person who dumped me into the "You People" bin was acting consistently with Groucho's definition, what I would call "neo-Marxist" behaviour. But then Groucho also said, "Politics does not make strange bedfellows, marriage does."

I thought about it. Like many of you, I am not married to any ideologies, political parties or racist groups. My East Indian descent is a fact of history but does not define who I am and what I think about anything. I used to hold workshops in all 13 English-speaking Caribbean countries and most times participants would refer to me as their "Trini friend" but never "You People".




Most of us, as people, try to be as rational as possible. In my case, I consider myself a Futurist. I tend to look as far ahead as possible to see what is coming down the track at us. I also try to see what I can do to make the world a better place by thinking globally and acting locally.

This is not a unique or racist position. However, those of us, "we people" who do this, are different from Groucho who asked the ironic questions, "Why should I care about posterity? What's posterity ever done for me?" I don't think he meant it but he just could not resist the quip.

I suppose if the "You People" referred to the global fellowship of people who read, I would be really happy and even ignore the fine print in the membership form.

If "You People" comprised only coffee drinkers, I would stay up all night in the long line of wannabe members.

I would not mind being a "you person" in those who love cricket or want to see changes in the way Cricket West Indies as a private company manages a public good.

I was "You Boys" when our school principal, Brother Jerome Kelly, saw a group of us buying food from a vendor outside the gates and called us together for a beating. Although seething, I minded the beating but not the greeting.

A few friends told me to "unfriend" the person, but I prefer to have people like that on my page as an example to me if not to others of what politics can do and is doing to a country that Archbishop Tutu called a "rainbow country" and we sell to the world as one in which every creed and race finds an equal place.

Sometimes we humourists and comedians have to get serious, ignore the little slights, and look at the big picture.

Even the irrepressible Groucho did it. In one of those moments he said, "I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn't arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I'm going to be happy in it."

- Tony Deyal was last seen quoting Groucho Marx, "The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made."