OPPOSITION MP for Naparima Rodney Charles and the UNC Women’s Arm have defended Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar who has come under fire for referring to Camille Robinson-Regis’ name as that of a slave master, during a UNC forum last Thursday.
The statement has been heavily criticised by the PNM and some members of the public who deem it as racist. Economist Marla Dukharan, in condemning Persad-Bissessar, created an online petition on Friday to have her removed as Opposition Leader. It has garnered 1,168 signatures up to Sunday afternoon.
However, Charles, during a press conference on Sunday, said as someone whose names doesn’t derive from his African heritage, he found no issue with Persad-Bissessar’s comment.
He feels the statement was taken out of context and is now being used to distract the public from pertinent lingering issues.
He disagreed that her comment was racist and said Persad-Bissessar has nothing to apologise for.
The name-calling spat started after Robinson-Regis, while addressing at a PNM rally in Arima on May 24, called out Persad-Bissessar’s full name, including her middle name, Susheila.
Persad-Bissessar retorted telling Robinson-Regis to “Stop calling my name.”
She went on to say, “What you so vex about my name for? This lady went on a platform last week and three or four times ‘Kamla Susheila Persad-Bissessar.’ Isn’t that a beautiful name?
“What problem you have with my name? Camille, at least I have a name from my ancestors, where you got yours from? Your name is that of a slave master.”
The video clip of Persad-Bissessar quickly circulated on social media with many people expressing shock by what was said.
IT’S A DISTRACTION
Charles used the first five minutes of UNC’s weekly press conference to “clear the air” on the backlash the party has been getting for the comment.
He accused the PNM of grasping at straws to divert the public from other important matters. “The context and motive is to distract from the nonsense and idiocy that is taking place. You have accusations of a fundamental paedophile ring – what is a name compared to that?
“They’re good at distractions and we as a population have to see what is our concern…and I want Trinidad and Tobago to be the best country in the Western Hemisphere.
“The issues now in the public domain that the PNM is trying to distract from are things as the paedophile ring allegations, the OAS fiasco, the AG matter, the myriad of issues bedevilling our once-prosperous TT.”
By the PNM’s response to Persad-Bissessar’s comments, Charles said it appears that the PNM has also purposefully chosen to ignore issues of unemployment and underemployment, social disintegration, poverty, retrenchment, social inequality and escalating crime.
Charles said from a young age he understood and accepted that his name reflected the realities of slavery. “Given my American heritage on my father’s side and Barbados, and Antigua from my mother’s genealogy, for me, I am comfortable in my skin.”
UNC WOMEN: CAMILLE
MUST APOLOGISE TO KAMLA
A release by the UNC Women’s Arm, issued during the party’s press conference on Sunday, also described the discord as a “desperate, weak and feeble” distraction. They called on Robinson-Regis to apologise to their leader.
The group denied there were racial implications behind the comment and accused the PNM Women’s League of double standards and hypocrisy.
“The only time they speak out on anything is not when it is in the interest of the country but the interest of their inner circle… It is as if the PNM’s Women League’s main purpose is to attack other women.”
They said the use of Persad-Bissessar’s middle name was intended to race-bait, to ridicule and provide humour “for those who find ancestral names as Susheila to be comical,” which the Opposition Leader rightfully called out Robinson-Regis on.
“She referred to Camille Robinson-Regis’s name as having been passed on to others by colonial masters, and that they still carry on those traditions up to today, even to the extent of ridiculing ancestral names. That is not racist, it is factual.”
Robinson-Regis and Dukharan could not be reached for comment.