Ethnic class cleavage and closure

By Prem Misir
Guyana Chronicle
August 26, 2001

THE political systems and social relations in multiethnic societies of the Caribbean are the product of constant power play between major ethnic groups, Africans and East Indians, and in some cases, Creoles, as in Suriname, throughout the colonial and post-Independence periods.

Colonialists exerted control through structuring the society along ethnic lines, that is, demarcating and emphasising differences between East Indians and Africans.

Departure of these colonialists, however, created a power vacuum which had to be filled by local citizens who were mainly East Indians and Africans. But competition and struggle to occupy this vacuum were governed by divisive ethnic structures imposed upon ex-slaves and ex-indentured servants in the colonial era.

Some divisive ethnic structures included sustaining a total institutional structure for East Indians on the sugar plantations that resulted in minimal interactions between East Indians and Africans; restricting the marketing of African products; using taxes paid by Africans to subsidize East Indian immigration, in order to maintain a cheap labor rate, among others. Today, these same divisive ethnic rules are again applied for capturing the prized legal-political stage which is the government and state.

The ethnic cleavage observed today among ethnic groups has its genesis in the brutal days of the colonial empire. But even among ethnic groups, there exist two class systems, one, a society-wide class structure, and two, a class structure for each ethnic group. In effect, there exists an inter-ethnic class structure and intra-ethnic class structure. Class provides individuals with differing social statuses and differing access to power.

Caribbean countries symbolise class, race, ethnic diversity, ethnic cleavage and ethnic closure that had their embryonic beginnings in the Colonial era; these components have now achieved some degree of permanence.

East Indians and Africans were subordinate to the Europeans under colonialism. Whites constituted the ruling class, and Africans and East Indians were the ruled.

But even among the ruled subculture, dominant and subordinate relationships were institutionalised through differences in job status and religion. During the European conquest, cultural imperialism as manifested in the dominance of European beliefs, values, rules, laws, and sanctions, were complied with by both Africans and East Indians who projected extreme deference to Whites. Such undue deference had its price, for it enabled both Africans and East Indians to view their own cultural make-up as inferior to White culture.

In the Colonial period, Whites controlled the legal-political stage, a prerequisite to sustain their imperialist exploitation as the dominant group. Relations between East Indians and Africans were neutralised and mediated through Whites vis-a-vis a triadic relationship (Whites, Africans, and East Indians). East Indians and Africans interacted and perceived this colonial society as if it were a nation.

Gerth and Mills (1977:176) reported that Weber saw the nation as "...a community of sentiment which would adequately manifest itself in a state of its own." Africans and East Indians' notion of nation as a community of sentiment was the same view held by Whites, largely influenced by the impact of cultural imperialism. East Indians and Africans participated and complied with a framework quite foreign to their own value system. In effect, in the colonial period, the Whites' dominant value system formed part of their concept of a "nation," toward which subordinate groups (East Indians and Africans) displayed compliance and deference to White beliefs and values.

The Whites unilaterally set up themselves as a nation, and created a state to provide for the legitimate use of force, in order to uphold their nationhood and power interests. Africans and East Indians subscribed to this White nation, but were excluded from being part of the nation. Their cultural make-up was not an element in the Whites' community of sentiment (nation). East Indians and Africans were not a component of the state, as the state was used as an instrument of the dominant White group against them.

Indeed, in the colonial epoch, Africans and East Indians were "outsiders" in a society that they helped to build. The departure of Whites from these societies destroyed the triadic relationship among Whites, Africans, and East Indians, thereby generating a loss of the mediating White force among the subordinate ethnic groups. The White exit meant that there was no East Indian and Black nation. The White nation remained intact, ensuring that East Indians and Africans continue to relate to, and be driven by a White value system.

The White value system still drives many Caribbean societies today.

Loss of the White mediating force had induced Africans and East Indians to use the society’s ethnic diversity to their personal political advantage. Caribbean societies characterised by these diverse ethnic origins seem inevitably driven toward displaying racist problems, more a product of political manipulation and race than ethnicity.

In some Caribbean multiethnic societies, long periods have elapsed in which one political party allied to a particular race, has dominated the legal-political stage; and wherein devised its own nation and its own state inclusive of its own race-ethnicity. This process of establishing political authority by one race-ethnic party, following the principles used by Whites earlier, operated to exclude other subordinate ethnic groups.

The race-ethnic party in power, i.e., the dominant group, in attempting to create a nation based on its own cultural make-up, coerced subordinate ethnics to assimilate its values. This assimilation process, driven by the dominant ethnic party's quest to establish its own nation in its own image, was an effort to dilute the culture of other ethnic peoples, and thereby eliminate cultural diversity in the society. A case in point is the Guyana National Service (NS) as administered during the People's National Congress' (PNC) years.

Guyana National Service (NS) was ostensibly set up to expose people to agricultural activities, but centrally to get people working together. Most of the NS pioneers were Africans. The NS objective of creating and improving national unity was problematic, not only because of the predominance of Africans in NS, but also because this interpretation examined the effect and not the cause of NS.

The proposals for establishing NS failed to consider the deep-seated culture of East Indians, as most of them harbored culturally-rooted fears about NS. Incidentally, Landis (1973) found that East Indians expressed superordinate racialism where they perceived their culture to be superior to that of Africans. Africans showed defensive racialism, resulting in a puritanic polarisation of the two races, producing only partial East Indian involvement in NS. Consideration of the East Indian cultural heritage, and indeed the cultural legacy of other political minority groups, need to be valued and politically institutionalised, so that ruling politicians would be committed to the values and interests of subordinate groups’ cultures.

The fiasco over the establishment of an Indian Cultural Centre in Trinidad, funded by the Government of India, was vehemently opposed by the predominantly African-oriented People's National Movement (PNM) and important African organisations. In Guyana, the PNC Government used the Indian Indentured Immigrant fund to set up the National Cultural Centre, again disclosing, however, latently, the dominant ethnic parties’ endeavour in both societies to weaken East Indian culture. Indeed, the PNC Government’s approach in these cases was grounded in race politics, driven by the objective to tarnish and undermine East Indian culture, to create national unity solely defined by the then ruling PNC value system.

Race politics thrives, too, on inverted racism. Inverted racism is an ideology whereby an individual denies his/her race and ethnicity, and joins forces with other ethnic groups to oppose his/her own ethnicity. In Guyana and Trinidad, some East Indians have historically denied their Indianness in order to find favours with the ruling political party, generally perceived to be of another ethnicity. The PNC dictatorship mobilised many prominent East Indians to dilute and subordinate East Indian culture. Unfortunately, many of these same characters are still peddling their brand of diluted East Indian culture in the Metropolitan East Indian Diaspora, and other parts of the Caribbean Diaspora. These people must not be allowed to tarnish and weaken the Indian birthright in the way they did during the PNC years.

Ethnic divisions, deeply rooted in colonialism, have shaped the behaviours of all non-whites, where the quest for political power today exploits ethnic diversity to gain political advantage. Ethnic conflict now is a weapon used invariably as a subterfuge enabling political aspirants to gain advantage at electoral times.



AN OVERVIEW of papers addressing ethnic cleavage and closure through race, class, and ethnicity will now be outlined. These papers are included in my book ETHNIC CLEAVAGE & CLOSURE IN THE CARIBBEAN DIASPORA: INTERACTIONS OF RACE, ETHNICITY AND CLASS (Caribbean Diaspora University Press, 2000).

Structures of dominance
Ringer and Lawless (1989) reviewed the majority-minority status of racial and ethnic groups. They then provided an analysis of the linkage between race-ethnicity and the structures of dominance in society. These structures of dominance include Marx and Weber on class and the economic order. For Marx, the economic sphere shapes the rest of society.

Weber, on the other hand, attempts to differentiate between the standards that stratify the economic order from the standards that stratify the social order. Other structures of dominance addressed are Gumplowicz's political sphere, Fanon's ethno-Marxism with emphasis on the significance of the political order determining relations between the haves and the have-nots, Cox's political class as the group that
produces race prejudice, Dahrendorf's class division in society as
between those who exercise power and authority through the institutional offices they hold and those who are subordinate to this power, and Mills' political-military-industrial complex as the pillars of power where the economic zone is the most powerful.

These structures of dominance vary according to whether the society is colonial plural, corporate pluralistic, or assimilationist. The traditional notion of the colonial plural society is that it is made up of self-contained ethnic segments, and is not interested in assimilating the cultural system of the dominant group. Ethnic cleavage and closure are fundamental to segmented societies (plural), producing ethnic enclaves and boundaries against other ethnic groups; this characteristic is best described as inter-ethnic cleavage and closure.

This plural tradition, however, fails to consider class in its ethnic segments.

Class positions within an ethnic group create internal social divisions, producing intra-ethnic cleavage and closure. Ethnicity and class as dimensions of stratification are found in all three types of society - colonial plural, corporate pluralistic, assimilationist. Therefore, these societies all exhibit inter- and intra-ethnic cleavage and closure.

Interestingly, Gordon (1964:52), cited by Ringer and Lawless, suggested that cultural differences between social classes are more significant than cultural differences between ethnic groups, thereby demonstrating the salience of class whether grounded in the political and/or economic orders. Gordon clarifies, thus:

This means that people of the same social class tend to act alike and to have the same values even if they have different ethnic backgrounds.

People of different social classes tend to act differently and to have different values even if they have the same ethnic background (Gordon 1964:52).

Class, however, may be less significant in a society plagued by racism and institutional discrimination.

Ethnic culture dependent on elite behaviour
La Guerre, in his paper, argues that in Jamaica, T&T, and Guyana, the saliency of ethnic culture depends more on the political behaviour and ideologies of the elites than on inter-group relations. In colonial
times, the significant culture and politics were about the role of
middle classes in politics whose cultural practices were driven by
Europeans. Jamaica, today, shows considerable convergence of the
dominant African and White culture because of Euro-oriented middle-class politics. This cultural convergence became a reality through the process of cultural accommodation and assimilation, known as Creolisation, largely facilitated by the dominance of both African and White cultures.

Thus, Creolisation, even today, drives the political behavior of the ruling group in Jamaica.

However, he posits that European cultural practices dominated

Creolisation. Although Guyana and T&T had waves of immigration from differing cultures of Spain, Africa, Britain, India, Portugal, and the Middle East, nevertheless, culture and politics in these two countries evolved into a monopoly for the emerging Euro-centered local middle class status. Creolisation, however, did not have as much impact on the East Indians of T&T and Guyana, as it had on Jamaica. The cultural system and institutions of East Indians were quite different from those of Africans and Europeans.

Further, East Indian organisations were driven by the belief that East Indian culture had to be protected from Creolisation. In effect, East Indians in T&T and Guyana, highly motivated to sustain their culture perceived to be pure and autonomous, created a structure of greater ethnic cleavage and closure than in Jamaica. In Jamaica, the dominating political model was influenced by Euro-centered creole values, at least, until the advent of Black Power.

Ethnic cleavage and closure may be more intensive for a society where the major ethnic groups not only have miniscule parity in numbers with each other, but the ruling group is also in a numerical majority.

But presently in T&T, parity in numbers exists for the African and East Indian population. This parity in numbers promotes an interaction between Creolisation and East Indian culture whereby both ethnic groups cast off some cultural traits and adopt some characteristics from each other. The African way of life is certainly impacted by East Indian culture through politics, economics, music, food, etc., and vice versa.

In this context of ethnic accommodation, the main political parties now have to compete to win both East Indian and African constituencies in T&T. The Guyana scenario, showing Africans in lesser numbers than East Indians, theoretically, quite different from T&T, shows a greater East Indian cultural resistance to Creolisation and a sustainable persistence of its ethnic cleavage and closure.

However, the December 1997 national election results in Guyana seemed to have partially debunked this theory of ethnic cleavage and closure. Some minimal ethnic cross-over voting, that is, East Indians voting for the traditionally-perceived African party and Africans voting for the traditionally-perceived East Indian party, occurred in a few Regions.

Nevertheless, ethnic cleavage and closure, introduced and institutionalised by the Europeans, and practiced by both Africans and East Indians in T&T and Guyana, did, historically, produce political parties rooted in cultural cleavage. However, La Guerre in the case of T&T, was quick to point out that although the PNM traditionally provided more support to African culture, this type of support was more to do with political patronage than with any clear-cut racist policy.

This ethnic cleavage and closure may be more the product of a need to protect the group's culture than the need to primarily engage in ethnocentrism.

Wherever ruling elites are still motivated to promote creolisation, East Indian ethnic cleavage and closure will gain momentum and be sustained.

La Guerre's work pertaining to T&T, implies that political behaviour by power holders whose electoral strength will now come from both ethnic constituencies, may still have the capability to reduce ethnic cleavage and closure.

Retention of colonial structures of domination
Percy Hintzen, in his paper, painstakingly shows how the colonial middle-class group in the Caribbean, mainly Africans and coloreds, rejected colonial domination, and acquired self-determination through its mobilisation of the lower classes. But even though they rejected colonial domination, they cherished the colonial institution and its value system. Afro-Creole nationalism, fashioned and refashioned by the political leadership of the middle strata, was used as the basis against colonial hegemony. The rhetoric against colonialism, driven and reinforced by White supremacy, was the singular method utilised to effect a coalition between the middle and lower strata.

What emerged, according to Hintzen, was race and class solidarity opposed to White colonial domination. Hintzen points out that the middle strata's accession to power as the new elite was accompanied by the retention of the White structures of colonial domination and exploitation, inclusive of an expanding bureaucracy. This growing bureaucracy became the foundation of power maintenance and accumulation for Africans and Coloured elites of the Caribbean. He believes that Afro-creole nationalism has been the basis for struggle against colonial mobilisation and colonial hegemony, simultaneously. But he contends that Afro-Creole nationalism eventually created neo-colonial control through the persistent retention of colonial structures of domination that resulted in the abandonment of a nationalist domestic agenda.

Hintzen's ruling elites in post-Independence Guyana until 1992 were facilitators for the development of the comprador class tied to and operating in the interests of the core of international capitalism. The consequence of comprador activities intermixed with Creolisation within a multiethnic framework, meant not only an abandonment of domestic nationalism by local rulers, but a strong proclivity mainly by East Indians to zealously protect their cultural interests through ethnic cleavage and closure. T&T, Guyana, and Suriname, are three multiethnic societies in the region where East Indian ethnic cleavage and closure are more pronounced. The ruling elites, by frequently applying coercion to those at the lower rungs to sustain their power, clearly ensured a consistently unequal distribution of resources to the working and lower classes, including minorities. All working and lower classes were placed within caste structures, controlled by local power holders. These included all ethnic groups who were not part of the political dominance and not linked to the comprador class activities.

Even those Africans, East Indians, and Coloreds, formerly of the middle class in the colonial struggle and who then fell from grace, experienced coercion, due to the potential threat posed by their former class position vis-à-vis the existing ruling class. In this context, the rulers' response to protecting their levers of political and economic power was color blind; in effect, class and not race became relevant to power holders in performing the power-maintenance function. In fact, in some ways, we can say that we have class and ethnic cleavage and closure, both within and among ethnic groups.

Part 4
Aspirations as a counter to racism
PREM Misir’s paper is on teachers in Guyana, set within the Burnham dictatorship that promoted serious human rights violations, political patronage, and racial discrimination. The paper shows how high aspirations buffered the protracted ill effects of subordinate status among East Indian teachers, leading to a strengthening of their ethnic cleavage and closure. Meaning systems (dominant, subordinate) were used to explain satisfactions in teaching because East Indian and Mixed teachers saw aspirations as an engine for upward mobility more so than African teachers.

The dominant/subordinate perspective suggested that East Indian and Mixed teachers linked to an aspirational model, perceived themselves as having a subordinate status, i.e., they were failed to achieve any significant upward mobility. This East Indian and Mixed teachers’ perception of having a subordinate status, supported the evidence on the racist pattern of social mobility in education which occurred by selection through ‘race` sponsorship. The absence of upward-oriented aspiration by African teachers coupled with the racist pattern of social mobility in education, could not be adequately explained by the traditional concept of sponsored mobility on its own.

The meaning systems paradigm had to supplant the traditional perspective in explaining the levels of aspirations found among East Indian, African, and Mixed teachers. In effect, in a situation where social mobility is driven by racism, aspirations become transformed into a comfort zone for the ‘race’ victims.

This view constituted a break with the traditional theoretical approach in the analysis of aspirations. It suggested that the utility of the concept of aspirations rests upon its capacity to determine the level of subordination of political minority groups in society. Subordination of social status through ‘race’ sponsorship, as experienced by East Indian and Mixed teachers in the Burnham era, encouraged these teachers to develop and promote ethnic cleavage and closure against other ethnic groups.

Scope for political stability
Given the race-based political party structure in T&T, and given the parity in numbers between Africans and East Indians, Ragoonath’s focus is on whether the polity will create a political deadlock, and whether scope for political stability exists. He discusses the lessons to be learned from this situation where ethnic cleavage and closure may be significant factors in deciding party consolidation and support, and who governs. Ragoonath suggested that the PNM is declining because of the alienation experienced by the East Indian contingent within the PNM, and the perception of the PNM leadership that Africans are discriminated by an East Indian Government headed by Basdeo Panday. The consequence is that East Indians believe that the PNM does not work in their interests, and so East Indians have started to solidify their connections with the UNC, the perceived East Indian party. These issues are analysed within the context of the 1996 local government elections in T&T.

The parity in numbers, however, between Africans and East Indians will force mainstream politicians to compete for both constituencies, and would thereby induce a loosening of the ethnic cleavage and closure that have prevailed since the colonial period. Keep in mind that the cleavage and closure were considerably reinforced by the former Prime Minister of T&T, Dr. Eric Williams. The fragmentation of ethnic cleavage and closure will be induced through greater institutional interaction between Africans and East Indians, as a result of their almost equal numbers in the population. The fact that the 1996 and the 1999 local government elections still showed the persistence of political and racial blocs, suggests that the main parties have not fully understood the implications for elections of parity in numbers for Africans and East Indians.

Therefore, activation of the machinery to reduce ethnic division is further deferred. However, the parity in numbers of both major ethnic groups in T&T, implying that the PNM and UNC will now have to compete for both constituencies, may act as a catalyst to ease the East Indian and African ethnic cleavage and closure. Freeing up this ethnic cleavage and closure means that East Indians may no longer perceive Creole culture as a threat to their own culture.

Status incongruence as the new cultural threat
Interactional problems between East Indians and Africans in the first wave of their migration to the Caribbean, are rooted in the hostile interplay between Creolisation and East Indian cultural autonomy. The second wave of migration of these two groups, particularly to North America over the last forty years, has produced in the host country (U.S. and Canada) a dilution of East Indian ethnic cleavage and closure. The stratification system in the U.S., by manifesting considerable inequality among the classes, requires conformity to individualism as a way of increasing a person’s social mobility. Individualism, that is, taking care of number one, acts as a shield to prevent any erosion of the East Indian cultural autonomy.

Therefore, East Indians do not feel that their culture is under attack in the U.S., as there is no ethnic group’s dialectical assault on their way of life. The East Indian practice of ethnic cleavage and closure, for these reasons, is less important and less pronounced in the U.S., thereby enabling their interactions with fellow Caribbean Africans to be more open and meaningful, albeit that the interaction is still minimal.

However, in North America, a new and serious problem has emerged that threatens the mental health of Caribbean Africans and East Indians. The problem is referred to as status incongruence. It is well established that a person’s status in the stratification system is determined by his/her occupation (Miller, 1991). It is quite common for newly-arrived Caribbean immigrants to accept jobs well below their educational and occupational levels. This type of job acceptance is related to the problem of status incongruence and class, a social and psychological problem experienced by many immigrants in the U.S.

Lear Matthews’ paper addresses this phenomenon of status incongruence whereby many immigrants surrender numerous pre-migratory lifestyle benefits, as community recognition, occupation, and prestige. Matthews suggests that the experience of status incongruence attests to the relationship between stress and immigrant status. This stress created by status incongruence becomes the new threat to the preservation of the Caribbean person’s culture. In the Caribbean, the threat to the preservation of culture has been, and probably, in some cases, still is, political repression. Ethnic cleavage of Caribbean migrants against the U.S. as the host society, now becomes the potent means by which Caribbean people adjust to this threat (status incongruence) to their culture.

Therefore, the relevance of status incongruence is its threat to ‘status’ maintenance, and the ‘ethnic cleavage’ adjustment Caribbean people have to make as a response to this new menace. This behaviour by Caribbean ethnics represents cleavage and closure against mainstream Americans, and even against some of their own Caribbean migrants because of their feelings of relative deprivation and failure. Matthews’ article provides useful insights on the nature of the status incongruence experience for many Caribbean immigrants of all ethnic groups, and the consequences for their social adjustment and mental health at lower class levels. Specifically, Matthews focuses on the end results for the individual when occupation and status change within the context of a polarised class structure, and resolutions to the problems are encountered. He shows the impact of status incongruence through some riveting case studies. This behaviour of ethnic cleavage and closure by Caribbean ethnics, as shown here, is, also, practiced in the host or foreign society like the United States of America. Interestingly, we are more familiar with this 'cleavage' behaviour in the home or donor society.

East Indians embracing a dual individualism
A major adjustment that Caribbean immigrants can make to reducing status incongruence and their socioeconomic status in their lives in the U.S., is through political participation. African Caribbeans have already made enormous strides in not only participating in the political process as voters, but also as electoral candidates, many of whom have been elected to public offices at the City and State levels in New York. African Caribbean’s Creole culture, among their individual characteristics, may have been a substantial contributory factor in their progressive political transition in the U.S. Frankie Ramadar’s paper makes the case for East Indian Caribbean involvement in New York politics.

East Indian Caribbeans, through their persisting cultural autonomy in the Caribbean, developed a strong individualism which is currently being reinforced by a complex American individualism grounded in capitalism. This emerging dual individualism for East Indian Caribbeans creates a false consciousness that taking care of number one is sufficient to live the good life in America. Political participation, as perceived by them, may be unnecessary. Practicing dual individualism without political participation, especially as voters, may be necessary, but not sufficient to live the good life. Ramadar’s article attempts to show that some East Indian Caribbeans are willing to add meaning to their community through political participation which helps to break down ethnic cleavage and closure. Other East Indian Caribbeans in the U.S. use the dual individualism to reinforce their ethnic cleavage.

East Indian & African migrants in Venezuela
Ethnic cleavage and closure projected by East Indians occur not only in the U.S., but also in other host societies to where they migrate as Venezuela. Ronald Singh’s paper shows that about 55,000 East Indians over the last twenty years migrated to Venezuela. Hostilities perpetrated by the host society (Venezuela) toward Guyanese, arise from language differences and religion. Singh noted minimum interaction between African and East Indian Guyanese migrants in Venezuela because East Indians perceived Africans as integral to African political domination between 1964 and 1992.

Hostility, therefore, shown by Venezuelans, and East Indians’ perception of African domination, induce East Indians to aggressively engage in ethnic cleavage and closure in Venezuela, as a form of protecting their cultural autonomy.

Inverted racism
Prem Misir’s paper on inverted racism demonstrates a dual ethnic cleavage and closure. Inverted racism refers to a phenomenon where some East Indians have taken on a minority syndrome, accepting an inferior status, denying their Indianness, and eventually, allying with African racists to discriminate against East Indians. These circumstances produce a dual ethnic cleavage and closure. First, there is a cleavage against themselves as East Indians through their denial of Indianness, and second, a cleavage against East Indians through their alliance with African racists. Dual ethnic cleavage and closure are more a direct product of political repression against all core aspects of a minority ethnic group’s culture. Dual ethnic cleavage and closure are promoted by these East Indians’ perception of their status as entrenched within a culture of marginality. The East Indians’ perception of their marginality induces a belief that East Indians lack authority. On the other hand, other East Indians who also face and experience political repression and lack authority, do not necessarily engage in dual ethnic cleavage and closure.

However, many of them remain within the mainstream East Indian cultural group and/or migrate to the Western world. Suffice to say, too, that dual ethnic cleavage and closure can be displayed by other ethnic groups faced with political repression and a culture of marginality.

Forced & voluntary ethnic cleavage
The final paper points to a distinction between forced ethnic cleavage and voluntary ethnic cleavage. The beginning of indentureship after the abolition of slavery brought huge numbers of East Indians from India to the Caribbean. East Indians came as a source of cheap labor supply to work the sugar plantations. With the departure of Africans from the sugar plantations, East Indians became the main residents on these estates. They were, however, kept as captives, given the harsh rules governing their social lives.


Was Indentureship slavery?
INDENTURESHIP was really slavery in disguise, as evidenced by the following:
Take a large factory in Manchester, or Birmingham, or Belfast, build a wall around it, shut in its people from all intercourse, save at rare intervals, with the

outside world, keep them in absolute heathen ignorance, and get all the work you can out of them, treat them not unkindly, leave their social habits and relations to themselves, as matters not concerning you who make the money from their labour, and you would have constituted a little community resembling, in no small degree, a sugar estate village in British Guiana (Jenkins 1871:95).

Indentured East Indians had to answer a daily muster call, and any failure to attend resulted in punishment not exceeding five days of imprisonment coupled with hard labour for one month. Failure to do five tasks per week resulted in a forfeiture of one month’s wages, or to serve jail term not exceeding 14 days. East Indians had to carry passes and certificates of exemption from work at all times, in order for the White planters to stop desertion and idling. Any East Indian worker found more than two miles from home during work hours, was arrested without warrant. Punishment was extremely severe, as illustrated by Elizabeth Caesar, thus,

“The Coolies were locked up in the sick house, and next morning they were flogged with a cat-o’-nine-tails; the manager was in the house, and they flogged the people under his house; they were tied to the post of the gallery of the manager’s house; I cannot tell how many licks; he gave them enough. I saw blood. When they were flogged at the manager’s house, they rubbed salt pickle on their backs” (Scoble 1840:16).

The harshness and similarity of social and economic conditions for both African slaves and East Indian indentureds on the sugar plantations force the conclusion that slavery and indentureship were the same phenomenon (Cross 1980:4; Rodney 1979:36-39).

Indentureds living in a total institution
As with Africans under slavery, East Indians lived on the sugar estates within a framework that could very well be referred to as a total institution. Generally, a total institution pertains to environments such as prisons or mental hospitals, in which the participants are physically and socially isolated from the outside world (Tischler 1999:127). It’s remarkable that the East Indian way of life was not significantly impacted by a total institutional framework that invariably produces resocialisation, intended to eliminating a person’s culture.

Cultural similarity, especially in language and religion, among East Indian indentureds, could explain the minimal impact on their lives in a total institution.

Keep in mind that by the beginning of the 20th century, about three-quarters of East Indians in Guyana (then British Guiana) came from Uttar Pradesh in India. This ‘total institution’ lifestyle experienced by East Indians during indentureship, induced a forced type of ethnic cleavage whereby there was minimal social interaction between Africans and East Indians.

Multiethnic solidarity
The years after indentureship from 1917 through the 1950s, however, witnessed significant associations between the major ethnic groups (Africans and East Indians), not only at the marketplace, but also in the political domain. It was during this period that many interest groups were formed, including the People’s Progressive Party, and the trade union movement in Guyana, among others; in Trinidad and Tobago, Captain A.A. Cipriani took over the leadership of the Working Men’s Association to promote social and constitutional reform for the working class of all ethnic groups; in T&T, again, note the workers’ hunger march led by Uriah ‘Buzz’ Butler from Fyzabad to Port of Spain in 1935. Adrian Cola Rienzi founded and was President of two powerful unions - Oilfield Workers Trade Union, and the All Trinidad Sugar Estates and Factory Workers Trade Union. These were really serious attempts in T&T to unite the working class across ethnic lines.

In this era, some multiethnic mobilisation to stave off colonial hegemony, occurred, first, between Africans and Creoles, to be joined subsequently by East Indians. Ethnic cleavage while then still a latent characteristic in the societal framework, was not a major driving force in institutional development, at least from 1917 through the early 1950s. The pursuit of multiethnic solidarity as a common goal to destabilising colonial hegemony, may have contributed to reducing any serious manifestations and consequences of ethnic cleavage in this period.

Ethnic competition & conflict
However, at the threshold of the White colonialists’ departure from the Colonies, that is, from the 1950s to the present, saw intense ethnic competition and conflict, resulting in racial antagonism, between the major ethnic groups to fill the power vacuum and secure the legal-political stage. The ethnic cleavage arising out of this racial antagonism, remains intentional, and acts as a subterfuge by politicians to secure political advantage along ethnic lines. That is, it is racial antagonism not rooted in racial and ethnic hatred, but political deceit.

Inter and intra-ethnic class cleavage
Ethnic cleavage and closure are presented by the plural theory as producing dysfunctional consequences. Smith (1965:82), a plural theorist, saw each ethnic group in society as self-sustaining ethnic enclaves for its members. This plural society, Smith contended, had no common value system. The absence of a common belief system demonstrated the need for controlling the overall social order; order, therefore, was maintained by the dominant cultural community. However, Smith believed that the subordinate cultural segments did not wholly depend on the dominant ethnic group, since they developed their own social structure imbued with a culture that was invariably in conflict with the dominant group.

Smith, nevertheless, may have overestimated the role of different cultural communities, by excluding class in the analysis. Excluding class enabled Smith to show practically no meaningful social interaction among and within the ethnic communities. But each community had a stratification system based not only on race and ethnicity, but on class, too.

Both African and East Indian communities comprised upper, middle, and lower classes. A lower-class East Indian was more inclined to interact with a lower-class African as well as with other lower-class East Indians than with Africans and East Indians of the upper classes, and vice versa. Interaction only occurring within a particular class is a manifestation of class cleavage which is highly characteristic of the following two situations: The situation where East Indians only interacted with other East Indians of the same class, is referred to as intra-ethnic class cleavage. The situation where East Indians and Africans of the same class only interacted with other East Indians and Africans of the same class, can be called inter-ethnic class cleavage.

Inter-ethnic class cleavage, involving interactions between Africans and East Indians of the same class, a significant form of social relationship in the Colonial era, has persisted into the post-Independence period. Societies with a pronounced racist system, as in the Colonial America South, Hitler’s Germany, and Apartheid South Africa, showed predominantly intra-ethnic interactions and intra-ethnic class cleavage. Multiethnic societies in the Caribbean, as Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, and Suriname, are not fully consumed by racist intensity, as found in the aforementioned countries. In Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, and Suriname, one dominant ethnic group does not wholly sustain the status subordination and discrimination of other ethnic groups. These Caribbean countries do display some meaningful inter-ethnic relations, grounded in both inter and intra-ethnic class cleavage.

East Indians embracing ethnic-class cleavage
In the Colonial era, despite the fact that each ethnic group had its own structure of internal order and status, thereby displaying ethnic and class cleavage, the total political system was still in the hands of the dominant group that exerted enormous control over subordinate cultural communities in the society. Intra- ethnic and intra-class cleavage as manifested by East Indians, were not solely internalised and applied to seek political control over society, but primarily to protect their culture from Creolisation. The major ethnic groups, Africans and East Indians in Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, and Suriname, characteristically embracing this ethnic and class cleavage, have been constantly locked in struggles to fill the political vacuum left by the departure of the White colonialists. The pronounced political manipulation and utilisation of ethnic and class cleavage in political struggles have invoked a misperception of ‘race’ problems in these societies. However, a better understanding of the goal of ethnic and class cleavage will create a multiethnic culture of trust relations, mutually benefiting all ethnic communities.

What I try to show in this five-part series is that identifying and measuring race prejudice, and discrimination, will have to be addressed through inter and intra-ethnic class cleavage and closure. Allegations of racism constitute one of the significant themes in political commentaries in the multiethnic Caribbean. Undoubtedly, racism is alive and well in these societies, as it is in most multiracial societies.

In this context, social policies have to particularly address racial and ethnic discrimination wherever it is found. In the pursuit of eliminating racism, however, a key indicator is discrimination. Discrimination has to be identified and measured, in order to demonstrate the extent of racism. But such task requires, first, the unveiling of inter and intra-ethnic class cleavage and closure.