THE EDITOR: Years ago the Mighty Chalkdust told us through kaiso “White people laughing at we” when we mindlessly ape the dress, mannerisms and institutions left behind when colonial rule supposedly retreated. Perhaps he should re-release that song with a “special verse” on the way the two major ethnic groups use the same racist slurs and stereotypes against each other that the colonisers applied to both African and Indian people.
So I’d like to agree with Earl Lovelace and Dr Kumar Mahabir who, in their respective spaces, called for more, not less, “race talk.” We’ve avoided those conversations for far too long. They’ll be uncomfortable and heated yes, but they’re necessary.
So let’s have properly informed talks about race and inject into those conversations the close relationships between Indians and Africans IN India going back thousands of years. India’s former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had no problem speaking openly about it so we shouldn’t either. Long before even the Arab slaving operations in the Indian Ocean contributed in their own perverse way, there were migrations from Ethiopia and the Sudan. Listen to African and Indian classical music; note the similarities.
Let’s have race talks that remember the historic march by NJAC to Caroni in 1970. Although NJAC clearly had their shortcomings, let’s remember that what they attempted should be taken in the context of what Uriah Butler was attempting to do back in the 1930s. Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t it Butler who reached out and kept reaching out to the Indian sugar workers? Wasn’t he called “Mahatma” by them because he represented for them Mohandas Gandhi? And didn’t Butler establish contact with Gandhi and Nehru and in 1947 called for a nation-wide celebration of India’s independence?
I agree that there is a long and ugly history of Afro/Indo tribalism, some of which has seeped into the calypso fraternity that once was a voice for the grassroots to the power elites. I agree that there must be acknowledgment of the way East Indian culture, dress and people were demeaned and looked down upon by people of African ancestry here in this country since the first indentures arrived. There’s no denying that it was shameful. But put it in proper historical context; who held the power? Who created the environment? Who set the very narrow parameters that anyone – Afro, Indo, Lebanese, Chinese – aspiring to be let into the corridors of power and influence (or so they thought) had to conform to? Who remained extremely powerful even after the flags were superficially switched in 1962?
Note that in the same kaiso fraternity we can also find many voices from Lion in the 1930s with “Bargee Pholourie” to Shorty’s “Om Shanti” to Chalkdust’s “Ram Kirpalani” that held up elements of the Indian community to admiration and emulation. Cro-Cro and Aloes are not the sum total of kaiso and bible-waving Christians are not necessarily the sum total of Africentrists. We can’t be going on holding these same toxic ideas of the Other. Who does it benefit now? Answer that question and let’s include those in the talks as well.
Corey Gilkes, La Romaine