The price of intolerance

Above: Friends on a beach. Don’t mind me, I’m just here, sipping tea. Illustration by Jitka Vesela/DepositPhotos.

BitDepth#1011 for October 20, 2015

It must have happened 43 years ago, on a chilly morning deep in the Maraval Valley. The sun was still to cut the morning mist on the sporting fields and everything was cool and a bit blue when the car pulled up.

I remember seeing him get out, the new boy. I’d been drawn by the growing crowd gathering along the corridors of the school, everyone looking over the banister toward that road.

He got out. He must have been 13, around my age, but with an aquiline, almost Greek beauty to his features. His hair was fashionably long and bouncy and he had a sway to his hips that had caused comment in that first week of school.

As he took his first steps along the desire path that led to the steep front steps leading to the school, the sussurus began.

It was like wind blowing through thorny growths along the banisters of the school, three stories worth of them. In America it’s called a cat-call. Here it’s just a “soot,” an ugly and possessive gusting of breath off the roof of the mouth past the front teeth.

I don’t remember participating, though as a young fool I probably did, but I know I did nothing to stop or object to it even though I knew there was something profoundly wrong about it.

The boy stopped. Turned on the balls of his feet and walked back to the car, which drove away. I remember his mother looking out of the side of the vehicle as it passed. I could not see her expression clearly. I never saw him again.

It’s something that’s haunted me all my life since then. That moment of overwhelming, unthinking disapproval backed by the weight of numbers.

And that’s what bullying is. A few people who act in cruelty who are either supported or not stopped by the many who should know better.

I thought of that moment all week after the PNM took a shocking turn behind Barry Padarath, the MP for Princes Town, as he made his maiden speech in the lower house.

Darryl Smith has since apologised for his comments after Padarath spoke, though he took at least five days to do so.

Colm Imbert has steadfastly stuck to a wet toilet paper story about his account being hacked, blaming his hacker for the snide and homophobic comments that appeared as status responses under his name on Facebook.

While the Minister of Finance is entitled to claim that defence, I am also free to absolutely not believe it, not for a minute.

There are things that hackers do when they have access to your online accounts and engaging in comments that belong in a rumshop fuelled by puncheon tend not to be among them.

Colm Imbert also wants the rules of emailgate to suddenly not be applied to him.

The emails read into Hansard by Dr Keith Rowley were, at best, facsimiles of documents, but hell, they sounded just like the kind of thing the public was inclined to suspect the PP government of doing, so they must be true, ent?

Yet an experienced parliamentarian wants the public to believe that comments that sounded like the sort of thing he might say and appeared under his name and going unchallenged for hours until the public outcry began, were the work of someone else.

Okay, let’s give him that then. But what happened next?

The first thing someone who has been hacked does is to change their password (if they aren’t locked out of their own account), evaluate the damage and take corrective action.

When it comes to Barry Padarath, Colm Imbert has done nothing of the sort, which implies that despite his Shaggy defense of “It wasn’t me,” his own perspective is not dramatically removed from that of his otherwise quite restrained hacker.

This does not constitute a defense of Padarath, who is going to face his own professional challenges in Parliament quite removed from any perception of his lifestyle that his observers care to indulge in.

It is, however, a disappointed condemnation of Dr Rowley’s Cabinet, who seem to be still drunk on a cocktail of triumphalism and condemnation that’s already worn out its welcome.

Sneering at Barry Padarath is only one symptom of behaviour that’s raddled his team from young to old that the Prime Minister needs to step on firmly.

This isn’t 1972 anymore and even then, schoolboys should have known better. In 2015, I didn’t expect to hear that sound again from the centre of my nation’s governance. Nobody did.

But these things turn around and bite you. What don’t meet you, elders would say, don’t pass you.

Between 1979 and 1992 I spent a long time photographing the local theatre. It was bad for me and it was good for me and one day, for reasons that have nothing to do with gay lifestyles, I stopped.

For two decades afterward, and unto today in the minds of some folks, I was branded a “homo” for that decade-long professional choice.

Every time someone would cite an incident or comment, I’d just shrug. I could do nothing about it, certainly nothing more than that boy did on that morning on his way to school, but to turn away and find better company.