Dr Gibson’s book should be discussed, not banned

Stabroek News

October 9, 2003

Related Links: Letters on 'Cycle of Racial Oppression in Guyana' death
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Dear Editor,

On June 11, 2003 I allowed the cameras of HBTV Ch 9 to record myself and Dr. Kean Gibson “in conversation” about her life, her work as an academic researcher in linguistics at UWI, and her experiences as an author of books and films which have been published. I did so because I had read and been impressed by her recent book of less than 100 pages: The Cycle of Racial Oppression In Guyana. I was also delighted that academics could use the logical study of linguistics to trace oppression and enslavement.

I began the conversation by praising her for daring. I also made the comment that her book was as pioneering as Dr. Walter Rodney’s work on Africa for West Indians of African descent, and Africans. Thirty-five years ago Walter Rodney lectured to ordinary Jamaicans about many African civilizations and what was happening in Africa at the beginning of the slave trade. These lectures were the fruit of his just concluded Ph.D studies in history. Rodney’s Ph. D studies were published as “A history of the Upper Guinea Coast 1450 to 1800” and his lectures to the Jamaicans became his pioneering publication “The Groundings with my Brothers” which was less than 100 pages. Dr. Walter Rodney was chased out of Jamaica by the Shearer Government for his academic work on Africa that he was making public.

In conversation, I gathered that Dr. Gibson was a grassroots daughter of our soil. Her father is the attorney at law Benjamin Gibson. She was born and grew up in Bent Street Georgetown, and attended the nearby Smith Church Primary School. The later bit of her primary education and her early secondary education took place in London when her father was studying law. She completed her secondary education at St. Rose’s High School where she passed her “A” Level in English. She then entered the University of Guyana where she read English. Two of her icons at UG were Dr. Walter Edwards, and Dr. John Rickford who introduced her to the study of linguistics. She then proceeded to the University of York in England where she did her Ph. D in linguistics. She lectured at UWI (Mona), and is now a Senior Lecturer in Linguistics, University of the West Indies (Cave Hill Campus).

Dr. Gibson also revealed to me that she mixed academic pursuits with the sports of netball, lawn tennis, squash, and swimming. She played netball at school in England. She was the Guyana national lawn tennis champion from the late 1960s and (listen to this) she is the only Guyanese who has represented Jamaica, Barbados, and Guyana at lawn tennis at the international level. She was the Guyana squash champion in the 1970s and 1980s and represented Guyana abroad. She has represented Barbados at swimming. Here was a cultured Pan-Caribbean woman in conversation with me!

Recently, I witnessed Swami Aksharananda on CNS Ch 6, and other East Indian Guyanese on Guyana Television GTV Ch 11, calling on Pandit Reepu Daman Persaud of the

government, and the government itself, to chase Dr. Gibson’s book out of Guyana. I have also read and seen letters and statements in the newspapers condemning this scholarly book from Pandit Chrishna Persaud, Swami Aksharananda, Prem Misir Ph. D., Ryhaan Shah, Ravi Dev, Frederick Kissoon, Parma Saywack, Evan Persaud and Terry Singh.

Dr. Gibson is a linguist by intellectual training. In her book she pointed out that linguistic dehumanisation precedes oppression, which leads to enslavement, and may end with extermination. To illustrate this sequence she gave views by Friar Thomas Ortiz before the Spanish Council of the Indies in 1512, and the white Jamaican historian Edward Long towards the end of the 18th century. Linguistic dehumanization is pernicious. When the Dutch-Europeans made contact with the Amerindians they called them “cannibals”. According to Thomas Ortiz “They ate human flesh. They had no system of justice. They went about naked and lacked shame. They are like stupid asses, half witted and thought nothing of killing themselves and others”. Dr. Gibson concluded that the advent of the Dutch-Europeans on the Guyana Amerindians had a negative impact on their political structures. Many communities became fragmented or were destroyed. The presence of the Dutch multiplied the incidence of warfare within the Amerindian communities, and bred animosities between Amerindians and Africans due to the use of Amerindians as police of slaves.

Linguistic dehumanization is the central theme of Dr. Gibson’s book. She traced it through four cycles of oppression - the Dutch-European period from about 1580 to 1803, the English-European period from 1803 to 1966, the Burnham-PNC period, and the two periods when the Jagans-PPP controlled the government. We have a crisis of intelligence if the persons I mentioned above cannot perceive this central theme.

I have shown above what Dr. Gibson wrote about linguistic dehumanization during the Dutch-European period of oppression in Guyana. The English European cycle of oppression began in 1830. The English had two images of Africans at this time. There were positive images of Eastern Ethiopians, but negative images of Western and Southern Ethiopians. It was the negative image of Africans as “beasts”, “savages” and “monstrous folk” that prevailed during slavery. Slavery was rationalised with appropriate language. And the English cleverly created slave leaders called “Bombas” (like managers with executive authority) to control the slaves. (This reads to me like an invention). Using the sound bite that Amerindians were “children of the forest” the English excluded them from coastal society and decimated their population (as was done similarly in the USA).

The cycles of English-European rule also coincided with colonial racism. By this time, the Africans were Europeanized and had better control of English. They were recruited for the public service bureaucracy, business houses, communication media and industry. Some also turned to the developing industries of gold, diamonds, and bauxite. The Portuguese were brought, and they were chided for their greed, filthy habits and their Catholic religious practice - the English called them “other Europeans”. The Chinese were oppressed because they were “uncommonly ugly” and had to be civilised by the English. The East Indians were indentured from India as “criminal types” and the plantation was their prison. Once you use dehumanizing language on people you can manipulate their circumstance - the “artful coolie” can become the “coolie problem” and Dr. Gibson ended the chapter on colonial racism by discussing the 1948 Enmore shootings.

“Politics of Race” is the largest chapter of the book. It is the chapter in which Dr. Gibson discussed Hindu theology as similar to European dualistic theology. Between 1950 and 1966 the new Guyana state was in gestation, and it was inheriting a new state racism from Europeans. It was inheriting Hinduism from dualism. It was inheriting “good” and “evil”. Europeans labeled Jagan as a “communist” (representing evil) and Burnham as a “social democrat” (representing good).

So, according to Gibson, “Jagan supporters began a campaign of slandering and dehumanizing Burnham supporters”. She quoted Jai Narine Singh, “In many cases, the homes of Indo-Guyanese members of the Burnham faction were stoned, their wives and daughters molested and slandered”. Dr. Cheddi Jagan and his white wife’s politics “succeeded in drawing” into its fold the caste system of East Indian memory. By means of the dehumanizing sound bite “Apaan Jaat” Jagan defeated Burnham in the general elections of 1957 due to the fact that Burnham was Black and East Indians were a lighter color of skin. She wrote, “East Indian supporters of the PNC may be called “black man” or told “Alyuh like black man”.

Dr. Jagan was a Hindu and knew of the caste system from Hindu religion. Caste is an innate class system in Hindu religion based on the color of a man’s skin. Its founding sage is Manu who wrote the earliest law books of Hinduism. It is Manu who introduced color-coded castes into Hinduism. Some Hindu scholars consider the color-coded castes (white, red, yellow and black) to be a disgrace to the Hindu religion. Are the persons I mentioned above defending caste?

I am pleased that an African academic has done a study of racism including Hinduism with specific reference to Guyana. We need to have many more scholars from among Africans. Gibson wrote that “Hindu racism has always been a closet problem in India, but now it is an open problem in countries where East Indians were taken by the British”. I can vouch for that. When I traveled to India in 1989 and again in 2003 I observed that not all East Indians are Hindus but the light-skinned Indians practice racism on their mattie black-skinned East Indians. In the state of Tamil Nadu I witnessed that the black-skinned Indians have nothing to do with Phagwah because it “belonged to the Hindus”. I stand witness to that. But it was Dr. Gibson’s book that gave me an insight into the infamous caste system and the cause of oppression in India.

This has important implications for the dualistic African/Indian society. Africans see but do not know why “the Hindu gods carry weapons for the purpose of killing demons”. In Guyana the only race that worships in a Hindu temple are East Indians. I have never seen an Amerindian, African, Chinese, or European (not even Mrs Jagan) worship in a Hindu temple - which may mean that they are invisible to the Hindus as Dr. Gibson wrote. But Africans are not invisible. Dr. Kean Gibson is a symbol of the intellectual heritage, achievement, and Burnhamesque culture that is available.

Another famous book of less than 100 pages began with the phrase “A spectre is haunting Europe” - Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. It changed Europe. What benefit would there be from banning The Cycle of Racial Oppression in Guyana? Wouldn’t the whole society benefit from open discussion of the root issues presented?

Don’t attack scholarship that you can’t match.

Yours faithfully,

Ras Tom Dalgety