There seems to be quite a bit fo discussion originating from the back and forth email correspondence between Ms. Claire Smith and the new Minister without portfolio Walter Roban. I was originally just going to ignore the whole issue as I didn’t think it was that big a deal, but it seems to have become a bigger issue than I had thought.
To begin with, I want to make it clear that I do think Minister Roban’s email reply to Ms. Smith was quite an overreaction to what Ms. Smith had written. In many ways I think he would have been a lot better just ignoring the email or responding to it in a different way, perhaps something along the lines of ‘I respectfully disagree with your position’ – maybe add a little bit about why he disagrees with it and his perception of the demonstration in question and how he feels a large part of it was borne from White anger/marginalisation and all that. Its likely that this too would have caused some upset and all, but it would have done so in a way more conducive to discourse and mutual understanding.
What I personally think happened is that Minister Roban responded to the email in the immediate aftermath of the demonstration. Demonstrations, regardless of which side you are on, can be highly emotional – liberating for the demonstrators and traumatic for those facing the demonstrations. The fact that there were certinaly racial undercurrents in that demonstration is obvious to me. While I support the reasons for the demonstration, and dispute the attempts to portray the demos as completely race motivated and the like, I do think it is disingenious to say that there were no racial elements involved. With our history of racism and its continued legacy of inequality, reinforced by US media images, and a clear racial-political division, this is hardly surprising.
Trying to ignore the argument that found a physical manfiestation in that demo and isntead deflect it with race as a spin tactic however, is not helpful. It is helpful to articulate the racial undercurrents and analyse why they exist and how they were manifested, thats fine, but it should not be used to misrepresent and deflect the arguments about procedural issues that were the spark for the demos.
But I digress. I think that in the immediate aftermath of the demos – and it is clear from a post of Minister Roban’s on the plp.bm how he percieved it (rightly or wrongly) – Minister Roban responded to that email in a way he probably wouldn’t have after some more reflection. His sentiments may have been the same (that he saw some racial motivation in Ms. Smith’s argument), but he no doubt would have articulated it in a way more conducive to mutual understanding and not in a way that would incite further miscomprehension and mistrust.
Now, Mr. Roban’s comments, in his email, have started quite a bit of a backlash, especially in light of the rather emotionally charged aftermath of the demos in question – in particular as a result of the PLP spin and deflection of the demos as race motivated (and in so doing avoiding the more substantial argument that motivated most of the demonstrators). In some ways though I think that a lot of the backlash comes from the comments in question serving to reinforce the preconcieved perceptions that many who oppose the PLP have about the PLP. In short, many people (and this is mostly within the White population) DO see the PLP as practising a form of reverse racism. Comments like the recent ones by Mr. Roban just serve to reinforce these perceptions amongst many such people who are already pyschologically primed (for various reasons) to find the PLP as divisive and racist and all that.
I think that is a mistake. Certainly the PLP does play the race card, and does benefit at times in so doing. The UBP however is also not guilty of manipulating race for its own ends (the most striking is their Party membership and support being overwhelmingly White and in direct contradiction to the racial composition of their parliamentary candidates. And I certainly think the PLP has deliberately misrepresented the motives of the demonstrations by overemphasising (to the point of excluding anything else) the racial elements.
Mr. Roban was wrong in responding to Ms. Smith’s email in the heat of the moment and not taking into account how his reply would be recieved and used to reinforce anti-PLP sentiment. He knows better to be frank, and could have easily responded in a way much more conducive to discussion without abandoning his position. He (and others) could argue that no matter what had been said it would have reinforced such perceptions; this is perhaps true, but it would not have had as big a reinforcing effect.