Race & Racism In Guyana

Commentary By Annan Boodram

News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. Nov. 9, 2012: The old adage that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing could not have been better typified by ACDA , the African Cultural and Development Association of Guyana, member, Barrington Braithwaite’s letter in Guyana’s Kaieteur News Newspaper of July 30th, entitled, “We must dismantle the racist victim themes now used for sinister political agendas.”

Writes Braithwaite: “The complex implications of an inter-racial marriage though somewhat common with other Guyanese was always back then a contention with the rural Indo-Guyanese communities whose attachments to arcane and atavistic dogmas and their interpretations had fermented extreme dictates that left no room for individuality and the complex chemistry that governs relationships.”

At no time is this supposedly ‘definitive’ statement supported by authoritative attribution, creditable surveys or academic studies. Instead not only does Braithwaite want us to accept his proclamation of the trees as the forest on the basis that once Barrington Braithwaite says so it is so, but he provides no evidence that he’s quite familiar and therefore quite knowledgeable about the entire world of rural Indo-Guyanese communities – hundreds of thousands strong.

Braithwaite’s ‘say so’ as presumptive authority, is a common theme throughout his letter, but it is not the only tactic. Take, for example his statement, “‘Racist Victim Themes, cultivated through a mythic memory’ that have been utilized effectively by the PPP in the early years of its political advent realizing the power of belief and the mammoth task to dispel such beliefs, rather than just use them.”

All the facts and documented research to disprove this assertion are readily available online and elsewhere but seem to matter little to Braithwaite. Besides, the reality informs that the PPP, in its early years, was absolutely focused on utilizing the class struggle rather than race as its political tool.

Additionally in both the statements quoted above, Braithwaite attempts to prove that blacks are not racist by asserting the opposite – that Indians are racist. Thus, Braithwaite portrays Indians (an entire group) as having a problem with inter-ethnic marriage, the insinuation being that no blacks whatever do. And, for Braithwaite the PPP, and by extension Indians, used/use racist themes effectively, the implication (through omission) being that the PNC and blacks did/do not.

Ironically the same writer states, “Racist Themes’ have always been proven without substance…” Yet, these same racist themes are now the ‘proof positive’ for Braithwaite’s theory/theories. Thus, for Braithwaite, racist themes are only valid when they indict Indo-Guyanese but have no merit in relation to Afro-Guyanese.
So one has to now wonder whether Guyanese politician and elder statesman, Eusi Kwayana’s assertion of no guilty race, still holds sway since according to Afro-centric writers like Braithwaite, Indians use derogatory references to Africans but (given that Braithwaite does not cite the opposite), apparently Africans never use derogatory references to Indians.

But Braithwaite’s elusive ‘argumentation’ does not end there. He goes on to use hearsay and anecdotes to draw what he sees as valid conclusions about the scriptures of Hinduism, doing so even after admitting to not having read the Ramayan and conceding that the adaptations he read did not make any reference to the ‘myth’ to which he gives absolute credence. Yet this ‘giant intellect’ wants to be taken seriously!

Then Braithwaite proceeds to inaccurately apply ‘historicity’ to support yet another invalid contention. States Braithwaite, “The social historical theory explains the creation of the Varnas, Jats and of the untouchables. According to this theory, the caste system began with the arrival of the Aryans in India. The Aryans arrived in India around 1500 BC.” However, references to the caste system are found in the Vedas, the Ramayan and the Gita, among other Hindu scriptures. The Vedas are dated at 5000 BC or earlier; the Gita at 3138 or thereabouts and the Ramayan at about 5114 BC or thereabouts. In effect the caste system was in existence thousands of years before the date of Braithwaite’s theory of its origins. And, if Braithwaite were to do real research he would learn that the caste system’s origination has absolutely nothing to do with skin color and that, in fact, all shades of complexion were/are to be found in every caste.

Braithwaite also cites ‘The Laws of Manu’ – he does not say what adaptation and by which author, but he is confident that not only does this book contain “frightening tenets” but that “The Nazis used these codes as a guide to develop their 1933 racial laws”. While I hold no brief for this text and absolutely disagree with its ‘laws’ about caste stratification and supposed behavior, the fact remains that this text (as opposed to whatever Braithwaite may have thought he read) has absolutely nothing to do with racism. That it can be considered irrelevant today is because it is a text constrained by socio-historical parameters that may have made it somewhat relevant at a particular point in time but social organization and behavior has long moved past these ‘laws’. Furthermore it is now common knowledge that Nazism was premised on Hitler’s Mein Kampf and the book, in turn, was influenced by German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.

As a matter of fact, while a number of other sources are cited as also having influenced Hitler and Mein Kampf ‘The Laws of Manu’ is not one of them. And while some analysts have attempted to link aspects of Hinduism, including the Laws of Manu to Nietzsche, the reality is such linkages are neither proven to exist nor do they stand up to rigid scholarship. Besides notions of superiority/inferiority, racism and pathological practices are common to all civilizations and societies at every stage of history. Does one need to remind Braithwaite of the Rwandan genocide, the Darfur genocide, the social stratifications that ordered Egyptian and other ancient civilizations, or the current day pervasive practices of polygamy, female genital mutilation, slavery and human trafficking et al?

The one truism that Braithwaite could have cited but failed to do is that skin complexion has and continues to be a problematic in all societies. Instead his ‘theory’ that makes this, the purview only of Indians is disingenuous and could be interpreted as testimony to a deeply prejudicial mindset.

In effect Braithwaite’s persistence, ipso facto, destroys any credibility his entire letter may have had and makes it clear that he has an ulterior motive and a disturbing agenda in composing a letter based on fuzzy logics, conjecture, hearsay, assumptions, anecdotes, contradictions and historical inaccuracies.

The simple reality is that specious argumentation aimed at demonizing an entire group is not only self defeating but goes a far way to further exacerbating ethnic tensions and maintaining divisions in society.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Annan Boodram is the founder of The Caribbean Voice newspaper.