Championing a bank, and feminism

Our banks, their inefficient practices, illogical rules, and the zealots they hire to guard our money from us, are special creatures, likely key contributors to our fourth-to-last ranking on the 2015 Global Competitiveness Index scale for customer orientation.

I have so many stories to tell about these essential service-providers which, like so many of our institutions, have an ethos unmistakeably rooted in the colonial culture of gatekeeping and social compliance.

What troubles me this week is the draconian fashion in which banks are imposing money-laundering provisions on non-profit companies that are or seek to become customers. In some cases, every director of an NGO seeking to open or maintain an account (crucial for accessing donations and grants for our work) is being asked to submit paperwork parallel to an Integrity Commission filing. One of those I work with has had volunteer directors resign. I don’t know if “big” customers are being squeezed similarly, but I haven’t heard complaints.

Enforcement, consistent with the ethos I cited, seems far in excess of what is needed to meet regulatory requirements. Foreign provenance of the rules might explain overeagerness to enforce them against small customers.

Terrorism! is one explanation. Radical Islamists use NGOs as fronts to fund international jihad. Okay: Which local ones? And why would that affect my group, trying to legitimise some unIslamic sexualities, or our Christian, Hindu and atheist directors?

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I serve in the leadership of a new alliance of civil society organisations, and am eager to find the bank willing to champion NGO customers, which we can in turn champion to our sector.

I’ve learned not to argue with my fellow columnist Kevin Baldeosingh—a professional writer, author of three novels, and co-author of a history textbook, as an unnamed group of women lampoon him by repeating nine times in a vigorous 4,000-word response to what seems an unrelenting sequence of broadsides by him against what he calls feminism.

What I do want to do is say how important and generative feminism is to me as a man, as a set of values, and the basis of kinship with a group of Caribbean women and men who want to change the societies we have inherited into ones that serve young men better. Traditional masculinities have failed to. My experience of Caribbean feminism, quite different from his, is of a thoughtful community committed to social justice as a principle, which stems from seeking it around gender. I have always welcomed Kevin’s parodies of homophobia by public officials. But in terms of who I look to to build a world with, or trust as champions for the future one I want created, it is the women he finds himself committed to parodying. Who now are satirising back.

Their response raises what is the duty of columnists like us and newspapers like ours on issues like feminism, Islam or race. What can and should our words and pages provoke? When is the discussion necessarily messy? Can the provocations Kevin and BC Pires engage in as stock-in-trade apply equally to race, or only gender and religion?

Indians Own the Country did not appear in print. The print version of the current column ended with a 280-word section drawn from it, and its title with “Difficult Race Talk”. A coda to My Brief with Wayne Sturge appealed, as “[o]ne of a handful of Afro-Trinbagonian Guardian columnists”, to fellow columnists to “join me in overcoming the safety and conservatism that usually straitjackets such discourse” in igniting in the coming weeks an overdue and “transgressive post-election conversation about race, nation, denial and ownership”—which Indians Own had intended to provoke. This column in print opened with the complaint that I had “boxed myself into talking about race this Sunday” when “I really want to write about banking and feminism”, and noted that I had shared with Baldeosingh my observations about the eagerness of people in my circles to migrate, and had asked “whether in his eagerness for data he’s encountered any that show any racial trends”.

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