Is ah mental block
Dat hard to unlock
It hard like ah rock
an wid it yuh doh wuk
yuh go live wid illusion
Tryin to be another man
And if a man want to set
false standards for you
To he, wha yuh say?
—Blow Way, Lancelot Layne
Here’s the thing. I can’t say I’m a fan of the fellar. I can even safely say that I find his writing overbearing, condescending and other words ending in ing that I can’t be bothered to list right now.
Hell, I have a sneaking suspicion that if I were in the same position he would write a sarky column listing in brilliant detail why it was a good thing that a feminist, Africanist socialist—three strikes and you’re dotish—no longer had column space in a national newspaper. But the truth is I get no joy from the news that Newsday hasn’t run Kevin Baldeosingh’s column for the past three weeks, leading to speculation that he has been fired. You attack one, you attack all. And when the neighbour house on fire, Jah know you better start wetting your own. Or so it is in my book. Perhaps I am being presumptuous to imagine that this lumpy bumpy awkward thing called the media, when you get past the big business media house petty competition nonsense, well we have each other’s backs.
Perhaps I am wrong to think that I should be blasted vex at Newsday’s limp-wristedness. Vex at how they are taking the side of the wrong people. Not vexed as much as shocked at how it’s so easy for people to defend the indefensible. But perhaps it is wrong of me to think that the Newsday people are any different from all the other scared conservative people walking around Trinidad afraid to say boo to anybody. Who would rather hold their corner and hold a safe line instead of rocking the boat. At how integrity means nothing and those who stand up in defence of the truth are the ones who does get their throats buss. Time and again. I, quite frankly, am growing bored of it. My right to speak is something that I am prepared to defend with my life. And a threat to anyone else is an indirect threat to me. But this is unfamiliar territory in this country. This is why anti-smelter protesters can be labelled as outsiders if they don’t come from the communities that are being directly affected.
There is no solidarity among any other group in this country. Perhaps I have no right to use my own column space to speak out on behalf of another columnist. We are worlds apart ideologically but I imagine that we share one commonality. And it is that we who have opinions and are arrogant enough to believe that other people want to hear them, have a right to say what we have to say, in whatever way is pleasing to us. Well as long as it doesn’t involve borrowing from other writers. Part of the warm fuzzy feeling one gets from being a writer comes from the assurance, real or imagined, that someone out there is reading what you have to say and if not identifying with it, at least feeling something. Or so you hope. It is difficult to gauge what makes an impact and what doesn’t. It is difficult to know what has an impact and what doesn’t in this nation of armchair revolutionaries where everyone can speak eloquently about what the problem is but nobody actually wants to get up and do anything about it.
It’s not just about free speech. It is about undermining investigative journalism. Intimidating other journalists who might want to put God out of their thoughts and try to expose some injustice. It is a warning to others to not step out of line. Who wins, then? Who wins when voices are silenced? Who wins when a priest can get away with lifting some copy from another writer but teenagers are on trial for buying copies of exams? Who wins when a journalist gets fired from a newspaper for daring to challenge a holy man even as children’s jhandis are under threat at Barrackpore West? We have lost track of reality. We have lost a vital voice in our national conversation. We have lost our sense of perspective. Nobody wins. We are all losers in a race we are not yet equipped to run.