Words that wound
January 27, 2002
In your editorial, "Words that wound" [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] where you discussed the use of words like "Nigger" and "Coolie" you claim that "some Guyanese Indians have used the 'c' word as a term of endearment" (01/26/02). As an Indian Guyanese woman, I have never heard "Coolie" being used as a 'term of endearment' as perhaps the same way that Black Americans use the word "Nigger" among themselves. It is often used as terms of disrespect and racism. I offer the following examples. During the beatings of Indian Guyanese after the last election, I often heard the following disparagement among Indians, "Coolie people can only tek licks." I have heard many Indo-Guyanese New Yorkers, who do not wish to live in Richmond Hill, say, "Ah don't want to live among those Coolie people." When I asked my Indian girlfriend, who had said these very words above, to describe her boyfriend, she said he was "Guyanese." "Black?" I asked. "No, Indian." "Where he livin'?" "Richmond Hill," She replied. The boyfriend that she liked is Indian while those people that live in Richmond Hill are "Coolies." Another disparaging use of the term is for example when I hear someone say, "he's a real Coolie boy," meaning that he is uncouth and uneducated.
In his letter in the same issue of your newspaper, Ruel Johnson has justified its usage by pointing out that it was used in some academic circles. But even novelists accepted the term Nigger a few decades ago.
(I remember in the "Sudden" series (Western novels) the hero's black horse was named "Nigger"). But because the term is so loaded, it's not used in civilized, polite society. Similarly, since Indians by and large now view this word as blatantly racist, its usage, officially or otherwise, should be severely discouraged.