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Permit me the space hereunder to contribute in a small way to an interesting development that I have noticed within the pages of the Kaieteur News’ publication over the last two days. Specifically, I refer to the letter by Ms Ryhaan Shah, captioned “post-election violence of 1997 caused me to realise my ‘Indianness,’” and Mr Fredrick Kissoon’s column titled, “My non-Indianness and my fictional self-hate.” These two pieces were published serially on 1st and 2nd June 2022 respectively, and have excited my sensibilities enough to will a response. However, I wish to state at the onset that it is my sincerest hope to engage and contribute to the developing discourse on how Afro-Guyanese violence upon their person and psyche continues to impact their processes of self-identification and the reinforcement of their racial and ethnic identity. In the pieces above, both authors expressed and alluded to how it singularly caused both of them to recognise their “Indianness.” My modest contribution, from the perspective of a boviander, is intended only to add another dimension to what has, in recent times, felt like a single side of the story.
For myself, I am quite content to share in my personal experience of how violence underpinned by racist and colourist illogic has come to impact my own processes of self-identification. However, unlike the authors above, it has only served to reinforce my view of the need to construct the discourse on equality and human dignity more broadly in the Guyanese media. In the case of the two authors, I suspect that “Indianness” might be the reason why I perceive that they do not share the same outlook. In my case, however, the take away from a general and extensive survey of my lived experience inclines me to adopt the view that this very “Indianness” is equally a progenitor and perpetrator of the violence against which they complain. More personally, it has left me with an unsettling feeling that I must always take steps to affirmatively assert my equal humanity and dignity, least it is lost on those who presume that by default inferiority is internalised. To be clear, I have found it impracticable to divorce their demonstrated “Indianness” from Indo-Supremacy, and its tenets that undergird their pervasive unwillingness to share a single spatial dimension with a perceived lesser group, but especially Afro-Guyanese.
In this connection, I would like to contextualise the views expressed above by sharing my experience. In 2006, I had left my relatively diverse community, Bartica, to take up secondary education at the President’s College on a government hinterland scholarship. As with the authors above, whether I was too young to observe the comparable phenomenon prior thereto is in doubt. But what I can confirm is that my first memory of being racialised occurred no sooner than settling in along the East Coast corridor, while clad in knee-length trousers and the uniform’s creme shirt. I think it will only be necessary to share two instances which will clearly make the point in relation to what is said above. In about 2008, my aunt had moved into a familial apartment in the community of Better Hope, and I was hoping that I would have been able to move in to avoid the boarding arrangement. However, I was made to understand soon enough that it would not be possible after venturing about 100 meters up the street. For the first time, I was explicitly racialised as “black man” with all the derogatory under and overtones by an elderly Indian woman whose strung together profanities made it clear that the residence of “black man” was not appreciated in that street or community. Onlookers to the rant observed quietly, without intervention, as I returned to the premises for the last time. I was able to breathe a sigh of relief when my aunt eventually moved. The long-term insecurity that it has created is the reason I avoid venturing into predominately Indo-populated areas day or night. I still continue to consciously carry the fear and apprehension of racially-motivated physical violence on my person. The second incident that belies my suspicion of “Indianness” is located in the denigration of my capacity, humanity and dignity at the hands of colleagues with a very peculiar vocabulary. In 2015, I was perceived to be supportive of a political opinion that embraced change. No sooner than it was realised, the invalidating attacks began- stupid, buck, neekaharam and harakati. Still further, it was told in no uncertain terms that I was ungrateful to have been the beneficiary of a government academic scholarship and to entertain any other opinion. It was made pellucidly clear at that moment that there was an ideological undercurrent that perceived that the bounty of the state was in fact for the benefit of some, and not all. Thankfully, as these persons were not the only colleagues with whom I had shared supper and struggles, in a spirit of congeniality our other colleagues stepped in to repel the contemplable and egregious assault on my humanity. But could you believe it? I was reduced to less-than-human in a public space by those who, like these authors, find themselves constituted only victims of Afro-Guyanese violence. More than this, I was forced in the aftermath to reckon with the internal dissonance created by my experience and my belief in an Indigenous policy across that board that was benevolently paternalistic.
Certainty, while these cases do not constitute the everyday norm for me, I see the products of this kind of “Indianness” subtly at work all around. At one end of the spectrum, it may evidence itself in a complete refusal to accommodate even the physical characteristics of another group -as demonstrated by the need for consultation and the failure of the ministry to lead from the front on a matter like natural hair policy. On the other end, it may constitute public figures who go as far as exploiting state media and public platforms to criminalise and discredit the societal contributions of Afro-Guyanese – As was Mr Ramson’s unfortunate remarks and the infamous piece penned by Parvati Edwards to push the narrative through state media that Afro-Guyanese youths are socialised to rob and murder Indo-Guyanese. In between those two points, it may look like inquiries about your race when calling to ask about accommodation rentals; it may look like being followed and having your bag unnecessarily searched in and out of shopping establishments based on profiling; it may look like being selectively denied the right to complete payment transaction by pin-code and card without proof of identification because you don’t fit the imagined profile; Still, it may look like being interrogated by “friendly” neighbours in Bel Air Park about why you have chosen to use a public park, or how come you’re in the VIP section of a party, show or club. This is what the share experience of black and brown people in a non-white country feels like.
Therefore, I invite the authors above to expand upon their construct of “Indianness” and specifically how it extricates itself from the violent and morbid racial complexities that interact within the Guyanese matrix. This is against the backdrop of pervasive racial bestialization high and low – From Nirvan Singh’s allegation to Aunty Sukhie; the colour and ethnic implications of another’s sense of superiority located in the Kshatriya caste; and lastly, the familiar facts that would have emanated for an infamous libel case between Mr Kissoon, himself, and the former president.
Otis Paul Junior Chase