Hinds’ Sight – The Black/African Guyanese intellectual tradition and a nation of hypocrites

THERE is a debate in the newspapers over the role and activism of the Indian-Guyanese intellectual. Inevitably the discussion has made reference to and comparison with African Guyanese. One of the observations being made by some of the writers is that African-Guyanese intellectuals who speak and write about the condition of their ethnic group are treated as sacred cows—they are less criticised. On the other hand, their Indian-Guyanese counterparts are timid about speaking up on the condition of their group and those who dare speak out are often maligned. Today I want to speak to that phenomenon by saying something about the Black intellectual tradition.
This is not the first time one has heard this line of argument about Black intellectuals getting a pass when they speak about Black issues. The fact that it is not borne out by evidence does not bother those who repeat it. In ethnically divided societies such as ours, the instinct for pointing out the advantages of the other side is compelling. It is not true that African-Guyanese intellectuals are not challenged. How many times Kwayana, Ogunseye, Alexander and other have not been called racists by Indian and African-Guyanese politicians. One newspaper says that I have race on my brains. In Guyana, whether you are Indian or African, once you touch race publicly you are condemned. Yet in our private and semi-private enclaves and in our politics of domination we engage in the worst form of racism. When it comes to the race question we are a nation of hypocrites.
At the heart of the current discussion is ethnic victimhood, which has to be at the core of any discourse of this nature. In fact, the very basis of ethnic advocacy is that collective feeling of actual suffering is a threat to the survival of the group. In that regard, it is perhaps disingenuous to expect African and Indian-Guyanese intellectuals and activists who engage in the study of and advocacy on behalf of their respective groups to do so in identical fashion.
The African-Guyanese narrative of suffering arises out of the singular, sordid, dehumanising and all-encompassing experience of forced enslavement. It is an experience that spanned centuries and its formal end did not spell the end of the ideology that engendered it. That ideology of anti-Black racism continues to devastate Black communities across the globe. From the middle passage to the present, as Cornel West reminds us, Black people have had to confront a central question —what it is to be human? They have had to battle, every day, physical and social death. They have had to constantly prove their humanity. They have had the singular dehumanising experience of having to fight for the enactment of laws to affirm their humanity. And all of this time, out of this forced bondage they have been creating new civilisations of freedom. It is not that other groups have not experienced suffering; all groups have. But the Black suffering, grounded as it is in that system which the Mighty Sparrow describes as “cruel and wicked,” is qualitatively different and unique.
It is from that experience that the organic Black intellectual and activist arise. The academic and political narratives come from that deep place—extreme suffering, resistance to and overcoming suffering, affirmation of humanity and construction of survivalist cultures. It is very difficult for the Black intellectual to avoid that narrative, even if he or she does not directly engage it. In fact the very existence of this intellectual is grounded in that narrative of suffering.
The very enormity of the Black condition compels that group to always find its voice and raise it as loud as possible in the words of Brother Bob Marley to “disturb my neighbor.” The loud and constant voice of the African Guyanese intellectual is not the product of some leniency granted by somebody. It is the product of that persistent struggle of Black people to overcome social death and answer that question—what does it mean to be human?
The African-Guyanese intellectual is part of that tapestry—that Black Intellectual tradition. It is from there that the Rodneys, Thomases, Andaiyes, Kwayanas et al come. As is the case with all societies under extreme duress, the intellectual must play a major role—standing side by side with the suffering majority as a source of socio-political comfort and nourishment. But I want to point out something else about that Black intellectual tradition. It is not homogeneous; it is as diverse as the group itself. A section of that tradition engages racism from a strictly race-centred standpoint. Another section engages the intersections with class and gender.
To expect the Indian-Guyanese intellectual to be “like” the African- Guyanese intellectual is somewhat unfair. The Indian-Guyanese experience and narrative of suffering in the Americas, despite some similarities with those of African-Guyanese, are very different. Many Indian-Guyanese intellectuals have constructed that narrative around the “28 years under the PNC”. We have to respect that. Except for Clem Seecharran and to some extent Ravi Dev, the experience of indenturedship is relatively silenced.
More of Dr Hinds ‘writings and commentaries can be found on his YouTube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.com. Send comments to dhinds6106@aol.com

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