WHERE IS RACIAL DOMINATION IN GUYANA?
A Book Review of 'The Cycle of Racial Oppression in Guyana' by Kean Gibson
BY PREM MISIR
April 21, 2004
THE Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) is currently conducting a public inquiry into allegations of racism against Kean Gibson's book, 'The Cycle of Racial Oppression in Guyana'. In light of this development, I present to you a review of the Gibson book.
The motivation for domination is not whether a racial group is seen as good or evil,
but whether the racial group has something that the power-holding group wants. The need to dominate may have a lot more to do with exploiting any means to achieve profit maximization. A class analysis, therefore, dissipates the potency of Gibson's dualism of good and evil in justifying domination.
Racial oppression conjures up images of African Americans in the Deep South prior to the ending of segregation in education through the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Brown v. Board of Education 1954 case, Africans in South Africa during Apartheid, Africans in Ian Smith's Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), the genocide in Rwanda, genocide against Native American Indians, and Hitler's assault on Jews, among others. Some significant forms of racial domination are genocide, involuntary population transfer, forced assimilation, internal colonialism, and forced segregation. Do these forms of racial domination really describe Guyana? I think not.
The oppressed rapidly experience a sustained social and economic disadvantage and stigma, following their dispossession of all meaningful resources. The rewards of society, driving social status upwardly, are denied to the oppressed, producing a low socioeconomic status (SES) for them.
The SES is a measure of a person's combined score on education, occupational status, and income. The score determines a person's class position and assumes a continuum of inequality between classes. SES is directly correlated with class. Clearly, then, East Indians and Africans can be high on education, occupational status, and income, and indeed, some can be moderate, low, or even zero on these, as well.
A social class is a group of people who holds a similar position in the economic system of production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services in society. Most societies have a class structure for the entire society and another class structure for each ethnic group.
A recent book "The Cycle of Racial Oppression in Guyana" by Kean Gibson claims that East Indians oppress Africans in Guyana through the Hindu caste system. The oppression, she noted, is motivated through East Indians' desire to secure and sustain power. A justification for oppression, according to Gibson, is the use of the dualism of good and evil where Hindus see themselves as good, and perceive Africans as evil because of their black skin color. In fact, Gibson believes that the People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) has an agenda to create a racial state based on racial criteria, which could result in the extermination of Africans in the same way that Hitler attempted to eliminate Jews in Germany. What are we to make of these sweeping statements? Let's review the book.
The caste system
Gibson's book indicts Hinduism as legitimizing racism through the caste system. The term 'caste' was an English derivation from the Portuguese word 'casta', used by the Portuguese to explain India's social structure, according to Malhotra. He said that the word 'caste' is not found in Sanskrit or any Indian language. One of the allusions to such a social structure is found in the Gita, chapter 4, verse 13 where the concept of 'varna' is elucidated. Chapter 4, verse 13 says, "The fourfold order was created by Me according to the divisions of quality and work."
Varna initially was mistranslated as 'caste', which subsequently became institutionalized as the explanation of India's social structure. Later, the British census of India utilized rigid caste boundaries that classified the population. Total communities were categorized into a single occupational category which created a contrived Indian identity. Malhotra further noted, "Later, India's own government continued this caste division as a way to promote affirmative action, thereby exacerbating such divisive identities. Politicians found in the caste categories, what has been called 'vote banks' and this method of harvesting votes has caused social problems. Unfortunately, all this has been blamed on Hinduism by western scholars and their Indian followers."
Gibson erroneously sees Hinduism as the culprit in East Indian domination of Africans through the Hindu caste system. And Gibson presents caste as a mandatory requirement of Hinduism. This is a false interpretation. Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, a former President of India, explains chapter 4, verse 13 of the Gita as "caturvarnyam: the fourfold order. The emphasis is on guna (aptitude) and karma (function) and not jati (birth). The varna or the order to which we belong is independent of sex, birth or breeding. A class determined by temperament and vocation is not a caste determined by birth and heredity. According to the Mahabharata, the whole world was originally of one class but later it became divided into four divisions on account of the specific duties. Even the distinction between caste and outcaste is artificial and unspiritual. An ancient verse points out that the Brahmin and the outcaste are blood brothers...The fourfold order is designed for human evolution. There is nothing absolute about the caste system, which has changed its character in the process of history. Today it cannot be regarded as anything more than an insistence on a variety of ways in which the social purpose can be carried out. Functional groupings will never be out of date...The present morbid condition of India broken into castes and sub-castes is opposed to the unity taught by the Gita, which stands for an organic as against an atomistic conception of society."
Swami Chinmayananda's explanation of this chapter 4, verse 13 of the Gita says "This is a stanza that has been much misused in recent times by the upholders of the social crime styled as the caste system in India. Varna, meaning different shades of texture, or colour, is employed here in the Yogic-sense. In the Yoga Sastra, they attribute some definite colours to the triple gunas, which mean, as we have said earlier, "the mental temperaments". Thus, Sattwa is considered as white, Rajas as red, and Tamas as black. Man is essentially the thoughts that he entertains. From individual to individual, even when the thoughts are superficially the same, there are clear distinctions recognizable from their temperaments."
"On the basis of these temperamental distinctions, the entire mankind has been, for the purpose of spiritual study, classified into four "castes" or Varnas. Just as, in a metropolis, on the basis of trade or professions, we divide the people as doctors, advocates, professors, traders, politicians, tongawalas, etc., so too, on the basis of the different textures of thoughts entertained by the intelligent creatures, the four "castes" had been labeled in the past. From the standpoint of the State, a doctor and a tongawala are as much important as an advocate and a mechanic. So too, for the perfectly healthy life of a society, all "castes" should not be competitive but cooperative units, each being complementary to the others, never competing among themselves."
I intentionally provide these long but significant quotes as interpretations of the varnas in chapter 4, verse 13 of the Gita because the essence of Gibson's book is that Hinduism through the caste system, legitimizes racial domination of Africans. Clearly, Dr. Radhakrishnan and Swami Chinmayananda's explanations of the caste system as applied in Hinduism, cannot and will not support the view, that Hindus perceive Africans as evil because they are from the lowest caste. The lowest caste can move to the highest caste and each caste is not competing against one another, but infuse cooperative elements among each other. Indeed, Gibson fails to present the philosophical implications of the varnas in expounding the societal division of labor in Hindu theology.
At any rate, the Hindu caste system has nothing to do with skin color. Caste pertains to the qualities and actions of people. In Ancient India, these caste divisions were not based on birth, but on qualifications. Today, after three thousand years and the disintegration of the Aryan family structure, the caste system has deteriorated in India. The caste system in this degenerative form has little or no relevance or application to Guyana today, even among the Hindus themselves. Keep in mind that the Gita did not reference the word 'caste'; the Gita uses the word 'varnas'.
Dualism of good & evil
Gibson's use of dualism, on its own, as a theoretical framework, to provide explanations of racial oppression is inadequate. Why? This pernicious dualism of good and evil is seen as two separate extreme options. These options are not allowed to draw from each other because they are seen as two separate sides. The reality, however, is that those East Indians who see themselves as good also may see other East Indians and other ethnics as evil, and which may have nothing to do with the caste system. Both East Indians and Africans seen as evil, theoretically, can occupy any caste position. The lowest caste is not the only bearer of evil, contrary to what Gibson enunciates; other castes also are carriers of evil. Further, there may be cases where Africans perceived as evil do not experience exploitation, contradicting Gibson's main argument. Why? Africans seen as evil also may wield power that would prevent any domination perpetrated on them by anyone or group. If these Africans are perceived as evil and have the capacity to dominate others, then to what caste do they belong? These Africans, therefore, cannot belong to the lowest caste, as Gibson suggests, for the lowest caste will not have the capacity to dominate.
Only those East Indians and Africans in positions of power will have the capacity to exploit those East Indians and Africans without power. Further, these East Indians and Africans without power may both be perceived simultaneously as having characteristics of both good and evil. But the caste system and evil are not the sole determinants of power in any society. This capacity to dominate is determined by a person's class position in society, that is, whether the person is located in the upper, middle or lower classes. Evidently, then, occupancy of a caste and an 'evil' typecast are not sufficient preconditions to dominate another group. This argument seriously undermines Gibson's use of caste as an explanation of domination against Africans.
Do all East Indians also exploit all Africans categorized as evil? Keep in mind working, lower, and under classes of any racial group, by definition, will not have the power to dominate any other group. If any East Indian oppression of Africans occurs, then it will have to emanate from those East Indians in the higher social classes. Using this line of argument, only lower class Africans and not upper class Africans may experience domination. The lower classes of any group will have limited resources to resist exploitation or even to direct oppression at any group or individual. Indeed, this perspective demonstrates that Africans with appropriate resources also could dominate other ethnic groups. Clearly, the group's capacity is a stronger precondition to dominate than caste and 'evil' projection, further deflating the explanatory value of Gibson's cycle of racial oppression.
Do upper-class East Indians see their African upper-class counterparts as evil? Research findings suggest that classes at the same level, even from different racial and ethnic groups, tend to support and effect greater interaction with each other. Therefore, people with resources from different racial groups, may attempt to dominate others from different racial groups who have little or no resources and also are perceived as having characteristics of both good and evil. The motivation for domination is not whether a racial group is seen as good or evil, but whether the racial group has something that the power-holding group wants. The need to dominate may have a lot more to do with exploiting any means to achieve profit maximization. A class analysis, therefore, dissipates the potency of Gibson's dualism of good and evil in justifying domination.
Good and evil in dualism are presented in terms of either one option or another and the 'good' option is generally presented as the proper option, as exemplified in Gibson's work. But options presented as competing alternatives are not necessarily in opposition because good and evil are recursive in social life, and together they constantly adjust to each other in accordance with the social class dynamics of behavioral demands. Therefore, good and evil, simultaneously, can be found in any group and be integral to that group's behavior. Undoubtedly, Gibson's quest to make East Indians the paragon of evil in a multiethnic society ignores the simultaneous presence of good and evil in group behavior, a simultaneity well accepted today as a cultural universal in all ethnic groups.
Further, we have established that Guyana has upper and middle-class Africans who are unlikely to be victims of East Indian domination. Indeed, these Africans through their high socioeconomic status, cannot belong to Gibson's Sudra caste (lowest caste), as this caste, by definition, only will comprise people with low to zero socioeconomic status. Caste as a type of closed structured inequality, as presented by Gibson, is relatively fixed, and allows no social mobility. Clearly, upper and middle-class Africans in Guyana are upwardly mobile and, therefore, are a manifest contradiction to any 'low caste' placement of Africans, as used by Gibson. East Indians, too, who lack resources, can be victims of domination, and those East Indians with resources, will experience upward social mobility.
The SES of East Indians & Africans
Social marginalization of Africans means that Africans do not participate fully in the occupational structures in Guyana. This is not true, as evidenced from my publication on Social Marginalization, A Preliminary Study. Let us review some evidence from this study and use just a few examples. Africans have substantial levels of participation at the University of Guyana, in the public service, especially among senior administrative and executive positions, the State Boards in Education and comparably represented on other State Boards. In 1989, the public service minimum wage was $595 (US$59.50). Today, the public service minimum wage is in excess of $20,045 (US$105).
Region 4, with a large African population, obtained $148 million budgetary allocation in 2001, and this allocation does not include Georgetown with a substantial African population. The Regional Administration of Region 4, apportioned $85.7 million to mainly African areas which include BV, Ann's Grove, Bagotstown, Melanie Damishana, Paradise, Bladen Hall, Victoria, Golden Grove, Plaisance, Buxton, Vryheid's Lust, and Nabaclis. The budgetary allocations are higher for this Fiscal Year. People who are marginalized and dominated do not receive sizable budgetary allocations.
The major ethnic groups in Guyana are well represented among the SSEE (Secondary Schools Entrance Examination) passes as well as among the CXC Examination successes. In this year's SSEE results, 40 out of the top 104 candidates are Africans. Generally, the SES for both Africans and East Indians is relatively comparable. A review of both groups' education, occupational status, and income will demonstrate their spectacular achievements and successes. The evidence does not support Gibson's argument that East Indians dominate Africans or even that Africans are victims of domination perpetrated by other people.
Just as social marginalization of Africans is fictional, likewise political marginalization is unreal. I want now merely to reiterate what I said in previous commentaries on the question of the inclusiveness of the existing political system. Joint committees as one component emerging out of the Dialog achieved substantial gains. With a continuance of the Dialog now called Constructive Engagement, greater gains can evolve. It's an evolving process. The Constitutional Commissions represent another component making for inclusiveness, and these are the Ethnic Relations Commission, Women and Gender Equality Commission, Indigenous People's Commission, Commission for the Rights of the Child, and the Human Rights Commission. In addition, there are the Sectoral Committees in Parliament and the Parliamentary Management Committee. All of these measures - Dialog, Constructive Engagement, including joint committees, commissions, parliamentary committees - can substantially contribute to developing institutionalized structures of inclusiveness of all ethnic groups. And of course, the role of a responsible opposition is a trump card still waiting to be played. Where is this racial domination of Africans by East Indians?
Gibson's book is punctuated with numerous unauthentic sources. Referencing Sidney King's (now Eusi Kwayana) booklet "Next Witness", Gibson describes the vulgarities perpetrated against Africans by East Indians during the 1961 PPP victory motorcade. Gibson then makes the quantum leap, suggesting that these emotional expressions against Africans pertain to the Hindu definition and treatment of the lowest caste. Surely, many East Indians in the victory march were not all Hindus, as participants would also have included East Indian Muslims and East Indian Christians. Muslims and Christians do not accept the caste system. Here goes another Gibson goof!!
The composition of State Boards is based on racial criteria, another claim that should have been verified. Africans dominate the State Boards in Education. In a review of 27 other State Boards, Africans are in a majority on 13, East Indians in a majority on 12, and two have equal numbers from these two ethnic groups. Gibson goofs again!!
The Guyana Defense Force (GDF) is not in a state of preparedness because the current Government has made no inadequate budgetary allocation since 1992, another erroneous Gibson remark. The table below shows the true story.
GUYANA DEFENCE FORCE EXPENDITURE 1990 - 2003
GUYANA DEFENCE FORCE EXPENDITURE 1990 - 2003
Today, the GDF's current expenditure is almost $3 billion and the capital expenditure is $43 million compared to measly pre-1993 budgetary allocations. The GDF has had a consistent increase in budgetary allocations in the PPP/C years.
It's far from the truth to suggest that the PPP/C Government destroyed the Guyana National Service (GNS), again another inaccurate Gibson remark. Several GNS Centers were set up in the early 1970s and 1980s. But early closures started in 1984 and declining enrolment commenced just after 1980. Limited enrolment and financial problems accounted for the closures. It was the People's National Congress (PNC) Party in Government at the time, not the PPP.
These are some of the many examples of allegations and sources not authenticated, as is normally required in serious academic research. We, therefore, can only surmise that the book is a symbolism of racial acrimony and provides a spurious explanation for any racism prevailing in this country.