Multiculturalism is the answer, accommodation with assimilation
Stabroek News
September 8, 2001

Dear Editor,

I have the impression that most Indians feel that there's something faintly unsavoury or vaguely unsettling about discussions of ethnicity and race. Our 'delicate cultural sensibilities,' probably gleaned from our universalistic

cultural heritage, seem to be severely tested when such matters come to the fore.

But maybe this "malady" afflicts most people. In any case, the old debate and questions about whether the Indians of Guyana and other parts of the Caribbean are truly "West Indians," if we should assimilate into the dominant Creole culture, etc., are surfacing again, particularly in Guyana, and by and large Indians are running for cover. It should be underscored that passivity in this area would lead to our being totally assimilated, as has happened in Jamaica. Only Mr. Ravi Dev and Ms. Ryhaan Shah, and to a lesser extent a couple of others, have led the charge in seeking to defend the Indian's right to be "Indians" and by extension, pushing the democratic multicultural idea for Guyana and the West Indies.

But then, I am presuming a lot. Maybe the majority of Guyanese Indian intellectuals actually do believe that we should assimilate into a seamless and unified mass, dispensing with our inhibitive "cultural relics" to quote Mr de Caires, the publisher of Stabroek News, Guyana's premier newspaper. And that would be a real tragedy, for in this modern enlightened world where group rights and individual rights have become accepted norms, democratic governance now entails, among other things, "a politics of recognition of differences" alongside "a politics of equal dignity".

It has been recognized that Recognition is a basic need for a group as well as the individual. As Johann Herder, the German philosopher, has pointed out, each of us has an original way of being human, of actualizing ourselves. Similarly, an ethnocultural group should be true to itself, and not be compelled to imitate another group, (usually the dominant group) for only through its own culture can a group actualize itself. As Franz Fanon has taught, colonized people like ourselves should first purge ourselves of the image that the colonizers have imposed on us (a false self image) in order to set ourselves free to pursue our true self-image based on our own culture. The notion of individuals apart from groups - the atomized individual - is a "product of western thought, not the human experience".

Furthermore, in the processes of globalization, where there are increasing links between different local and regional developments worldwide, the validity and importance of "ethnicity as self?organization," in which ethnicity and ethnic identity is a resource for achieving at least some feeling of subjective security in our self?made, sub-national 'imaginary community,' should be recognized.

Thus, I strongly urge that the state policy of Guyana be "accommodation without assimilation," or Multiculturalism, which simultaneously allows the preservation of group characteristics while allowing the individual to compare, contrast and make choices among the cultural inventory of the society as a whole. We can only become richer this way.

How is multiculturalism beneficial to Guyana? Firstly, this is a progressive-conservative option, because it serves to improve the social, economic, and political condition of minorities and the preservation of their cultures with their values, their communal structure,

and their traditions (in Guyana, many feel that Indians, although the numerically majority, are a "cultural minority" with the Creole culture being dominant).

Secondly, accommodation without assimilation requires each constituent culture of the state to affirm their cultural identity, while at the same time recognizing the need to develop requisite skills that would enable them to peacefully and efficiently interact and cooperate with the majority. That is, the minority culture would be flexible enough to accommodate themselves to the mainstream, dominant culture, while maintaining the integrity of their own culture.

And third, it requires of the state to accommodate itself to the needs of the "minority" by facilitating the minority's efforts to preserve their identity and culture.

All I ask for, is for the people who are instinctually dismissive of the multicultural option (usually coming from the ranks of the dominant culture who believe in the "One Nation" theory) pause a little to honestly consider the concept so that we plan a more enlightened democracy for Guyana.'

Yours faithfully,

Dev Prakash