ON ETHNICITY


I must confess that I have had an ambivalent attitude to ethnicity for most of my life. My mother was a Hindu and so were all my relatives on both sides of my family. I grew up in the midst of celebrations of Hindu religious festivals, tempered by the dominant influence of the Lutheran Church in my mixed community, as in much of Guyana. Even though I was socialized as a Hindu and, therefore, considered myself, whatever the reality, as Indian by race, my approach to my own ethnicity was determined by factors that had little to do with high principle.

In my mid to late teenage years after I discovered girls, I unconsciously developed a certain approach on the issue of ethnicity, dictated by my dark complexion and curly hair which caused me to be viewed in a particular way. I would defend my Indian ethnicity to certain girls, if asked, and refrain from explaining to other girls, if asked, that I looked like my father, who in turn looked like his mother, who in turn looked like her parents, who came to British Guiana from Bihar. As soon as I adopted this strategy I gained entrée to a much wider community of girls than my friends whose ethnicities were more easily determinable. This doubling up of my opportunities allowed me to stay ahead in the boasting competition in relation to these matters that is part of teenage life.

From the vantage point of fifty plus years later, bearing in mind fading memories, a natural tendency of the male ego to exaggerate about such matters and the unconscious substitution of wishful thinking for reality, I do recall those brief years with nostalgia. Brief because, alas, no sooner had I embarked on my career as a teenage ‘sweet boy,’ and as it was picking up speed, it was wrestled to the ground (thankfully the fight took a good while) by one of the teenage girls that I caught in my widely cast net, a minor at the time, who quaintly insisted on fidelity, and has never since relented. For me, therefore, in my early and more formative teenage years, my considerations of my ethnicity were influenced by opportunism.

Ethnicity for most people is serious business, as it should be. Dr. David Hinds recently wrote a long letter in SN in which he set out some aspects of ethnicity and nationality in some detail. He explained the connection between the two and demonstrated that a proclamation of one over the other does not diminish the value of either and might be necessary depending on the circumstances in which, and the reasons behind, the proclamation.

In my case, even though I have been socialized by Hindu culture, religion and associations, my ethnicity had lost its importance except for opportunistic reasons as I explained above. As I entered my twenties I discovered class in a serious way. I became imbued with the basics of class society, class relations and their importance. Even now, the rise of Syriza in Greece and Podemas in Portugal have both been inspired by specific ideological assumptions and strategies, much of which is related to class. For me the politics of ethnicity and its exploitation by negative forces assumed dominant importance. The issue at the forefront was how to defeat negative forces and unite the working class in Guyana, that is, bringing Indian and African workers and their allies together for a common political purpose.

Since these confounded ideas entered my head, and the grip (some might be tempted to say noose) of fidelity took hold, at a personal level, I could not care less if there were people who were interested in my ethnicity. My teenage experiences, along with my adult views about class, had deepened my ambivalence but, however, unconsciously sustained my opportunism.

Still in our twenties or perhaps early thirties, I was shopping with the aforementioned young lady, now of matrimonial condition. One attractive shop assistant asked me with a smile, ignoring my companion: ‘You mix?’ Old habits die hard, so I automatically responded with the most inviting smile I could display: ‘Yes, I mix.’ I was, of course, later berated, not because I denied what was believed to be my true ethnicity, but because of what may have transpired if, by accident of course, I happened to be alone in the same store.

When Moses Nagamootoo proclaimed that he is not Indian but Guyanese, he was clearly motivated by sentiments of a different and nobler kind and quality than my own youthful exploitation of the issue. He was emphasizing part of his credentials to win the elections. He was saying that for the purposes of national unity, which he says is the objective of his alliance, our national identities as Guyanese are more important than our ethnic identities. He was pursuing the political agenda of unity, which is a major theme of the APNU+AFC alliance.

Some may legitimately disagree with such an approach and may view their ethnic identities as more important than their national identities. It is not known if the critics of Nagamootoo are of the above persuasion. In this questioning political atmosphere, they should clarify.

6 thoughts on “ON ETHNICITY

  1. mr ramkarran. i cannot help lamenting guyana,s loss in u not being president – in place of that toxic, inelegant, scampish champion of dirt. I could add uneducated because i believe the claim that a degree from patrice lumumba costs us400 and a masters us1000

  2. Interesting prognosis on ethnicity….
    On nationalism …the political class usually uses it
    cleverly to win votes.
    National unification serves all but usually if at war
    with other nations/states/tribes.
    On class ….political leaders must encourage
    movement from one class to other by the introduction of new laws.
    Race and/or colour becomes of less an issue.
    In India if born a “colie” you are more likely to die
    in that class. Modi s dilemma.
    In UK its rich V poor class with the liberals claiming
    “freedom” class status.
    Obama has cleverly encouraged growth of the middle and lower middle class in american society…AKA “working class”
    Whicher party wins on 11 May in Guyana the class
    struggle will continue. Politricks

  3. Trevor
    Don’t know how closely you follow Guyana s political dilemma…stagnation.

    Ramotar is Jagdeo s lap dog…..not unlike Tony Blair s lapdoging to stupidest president USA ever had…George w …..

    Some are born leaders but most sheep to be taken to slaughter….

    Guyana is desperate for “strong” leadership but the status quo in its political class is depressingly negative…..

    If no change occurs on may 11th…it will be another
    set back for progressive politricks
    Remain optimistic for change.

  4. I must thank you for the articles that you so eloquently articulate in your website. I have never met you but I was once an associate of your younger Bayney while he practised law in the eighties. I also followed his rise in the public service and was disappointed when he was not elected as the assistant secretary general to the OAS. I grew up (during the sixties) in Leguan and race and ethnicity were never thought of. In fact, I never saw any difference among my friends most of who were Afro-Guyanese. I also believe that it was the same with them. We played together; shared our fruits and candies; attended Hindu weddings/celebrations together; made “baby pot” in our backyard; constructed bush houses etc. I always wish that life could have been the same for all Guyanese but unfortunately it is very fluid and things have changed. It boggles my mind to think, how we perceive our fellow Guyanese particularly when they do not look like us. I returned home during September 2015, and managed to arrange a fun evening with some of my primary school friends. They are all of African descent; I cooked for them; we sat in my backyard under a mango tree and dined together (they preferred to be outside where it was cool); they drank some alcohol that I purchased at the village shop; we joked about our teenage years; spoke about our family etc. but interestingly we still do not see each other differently. Is it possible that the good old day can return?

  5. In an ideal world…yes !
    But doubt it ….our world has changed, is changing,
    will change, must change.

    Nostalgia it remains.

  6. Guyana has to move beyond race and ethnicity and enter into the discourse on National Identity. We not going anywhere without that. If we continue the way we are going, we will always have the “haves” and the “have nots”. We need more leaders like Mr. Ramkarran coming to the fore please!!!!!!

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