Guyana not ridden with racial, ethnic conflict
By Prem Misir
Guyana Chronicle
March 24, 2003

Related Links: Articles on race
Letters Menu Archival Menu

MANY multiethnic societies have a dominant group followed by several subordinate groups, producing some form of ethnic stratification.

And, indeed, the dominant ethnic group has total access to the valued resources of society, with subordinate groups picking up only subsistence rewards.

The dominant ethnic group, generally, sustains its control, power, and privileges through prejudice and discrimination.

Prejudice can be seen as a judgment "based on a fixed mental image of some group or class of people and applied to all individuals of that class without being tested against reality" (Mason, 1970).

In fact ethnic prejudices are generalised, inflexible, negative, and are based on erroneous group images known as stereotypes. Discrimination, on the other hand, is a behaviour denying opportunities and equal rights to individuals and groups due to prejudice or for other capricious reasons.

In effect, prejudice is attitudinal while discrimination is behavioural.

Guyana, as a multiethnic society, does not have a singular dominant ethnic group, as evidenced through access to education and jobs by all ethnics. Spectacular education outcomes and high-level jobs are in the hands of all ethnic groups.

We do not see, for instance, only East Indians, or only Africans excelling at CXC and SSEE. And, indeed, unemployment and poverty do not plague only one ethnic group.

In some multiethnic societies in the developing world, we can observe a rigid ethnic stratification with the impressive education outcomes and jobs going mainly to the dominant ethnic group. Where there is rigid ethnic stratification, there are the accompanying forms of prejudice and discrimination.

Guyana does not have a rigid ethnic stratification system. Given this situation, many aspects of this country's racial and ethnic conflict are politically and socially constructed and reconstructed by ethnic leaders jockeying for political power.

In Guyana, daily, we see the cynical manipulation by ethnic leaders or shall I say, so-called ethnic leaders, whose main agenda is penetrating the backdoor entrance to political power.

It, therefore, is in these ethnic leaders' interests to keep ethnic and racial conflicts alive.

We need to remind ourselves that Guyanese history is not inundated with racial conflict but ethnic alliances.

However, some politicians want us to believe that racial and ethnic conflict is endemic in this society.

Rodney makes the point that the case advanced of highly prevalent racial conflict in the society is inaccurate. This is what he has to say:

" contention is that the case for the dominant role of racial division in the historical sphere has been overstated, and that scholarship on the subject has accepted without due scrutiny the proposition that Indians and Africans existed in mutually exclusive compartments. The problems of interpretation lie not only in the marshalling of the evidence, but, more fundamentally, in the historical methodology that is applied" (Rodney 1982:188).

Let us now look at a few facts supporting this notion that Guyana's history is not ridden with racial and ethnic conflict.

** The Commonwealth Commission commenting on the disturbances in 1962: "We found little evidence of any racial segregation in the social life of the country...East Indians and Africans seemed to mix and associate with one another on terms of the greatest cordiality..."

** There is the alliance between East Indians and Africans under Critchlow's leadership in the fight for better wages, and an 8-hour working day.

** The union of ethnic forces against colonial hegemony is another case in point, e.g., the frequent criticisms launched by the Indian Opinion, the organ of the British Guiana East Indian Association, against the colonial government; Africans challenging the anti-education principles of the 1876 Education law; the demand for Indian languages to be introduced in schools; and the Court of Policy comprising members from many ethnic groups made crown lands available to both East Indians and Africans.

** The emergence of institutional working-class unity in 1946 that became solidified in 1950 with the formation of the People's Progressive Party and the unity manifested by its victory at the 1953 polls.

** H.J.M. Hubbard, a trade unionist in addressing whether Guyana is ridden with racial conflict said:

"It is by any standards a remarkable fact that in a competitive semi-feudal society such as British Guiana with restricted social and economic opportunities and less jobs than potential workers, very few serious physical inter-racial conflicts arose between the ethnic groups constituting the population" (Hubbard 1969:27).

The threshold of the White colonialists' departure from the colonies, that is, from the 1950s to the present, saw ethnic competition between the major ethnic groups to fill the power vacuum and secure the legal-political stage.

The ethnic division arising out of this ethnic competition was intentional and a subterfuge used by some politicians to secure political advantage along ethnic lines. That is, it is an invented racial antagonism not rooted in sustained racial and ethnic hatred, but political deceit.

This deception and pretence whereby racial conflict is presented as afflicting the total society, has had its institutional origins in the early 1950s.

The split within the PPP in 1955 struck a blow to East Indian and African working-class unity. The unity became further strained following the People's National Congress (PNC) electoral loss in 1957.

Dr. Jagan in his `West On Trial' earmarked the PNC's defeat in 1957 as the beginning of racial party politics.

At that time, according to Jagan, Burnham allied himself with the United Democratic Party's leadership comprising John Carter and Rudy Kendall who were connected to the African racist League of Colored People.

In 1958, Eusi Kwayana became the General Secretary of the PNC. Further defeat of the PNC in the 1961 election drove that party more intensively toward African racism. Jagan noted:

"In New York City and in the UN corridors, American Blacks and African diplomats were told that the PPP government was penalising the Africans. At home, African workers were told that the Indians owned the lands and the big houses in Georgetown, were taking over Water Street (the commercial centre), and that if they (the Africans) were not careful, the Indians would soon take over their jobs." (Jagan 1997:301).

Some selected examples of political deception camouflaged as ethnic conflict or engineering this ethnic conflict are:

** Lance Carberry of the PNC Reform (PNC/R) in a programme hosted by Hamley

Case (6/4/2002) said that the People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government's plan is to throw employees into unemployment, destroy the bauxite communities which mainly comprise traditional PNC/R African supporters.

** The President made efforts to sustain the sugar industry (considered the PPP/C stronghold), but the GNCB Trust, with largely African depositors, is being privatised - Come Home to Roger with guest Lincoln Lewis, 6/27/2002.

** President Jagdeo wants to make the African male the beggar and African women the prostitutes - Come Home to Roger with guest Lincoln Lewis, 6/27/2002). The socioeconomic status of Africans would refute this ludicrous argument.

** Lewis said that Jagdeo is on a course to destroy Africans in Guyana, and he is creating economic genocide for Africans - Lincoln Lewis on Labour Speaks, 6/25/2002. Lewis needs to review the socioeconomic status of Africans and he will find that that status is quite comparable to that of East Indians at each tier of the class structure.

** A senior PNCR Executive member at its media conference said that it is the role of the Opposition to bring down the Government by any means. This PPP/C Government is falsely perceived as an East Indian Government.

The history of Guyana does not support a high prevalence of ethnic conflict and violence, as evidenced in some multiethnic societies steeped in prejudice, discrimination, and segregation.

The White colonialists exerted control through structuring the society along ethnic lines, demarcating and emphasising differences between East Indians and Africans.

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 subsidise East Indian immigration, in order to maintain a cheap labour rate, among others.

Today, the principles of these divisive ethnic rules are again applied for capturing the prized legal-political stage which is the government and state.

Site Meter