Cross-ethnic support must be wooed; not bludgeoned

My old friend and ex-PPP Minister Dr. Henry Jeffrey responded rather acerbically to my piece “Stop blaming Indian indentureds: we were all pawns/We once again call for a national conversation on race/ethnicity”. But I am a bit unsure about the source of his angst. The gravamen of my article was that it was not a historical fact that Indian Indentured undercut the wage demands of the newly-freed African labourers and made them leave the plantations. And that when the claim is repeated in the present, where the two groups are competing for power, it unnecessarily adds to the justificatory blame game. To ordinary Guyanese, it appears that Indians transitively stymied early African aspirations.
Henry, however, went beyond the proof I offered: that by 1848, when the strike by the African labourers for higher wages was broken by indentured labourers, the Indian component was much smaller than the combined African West Indians, Liberated Africans and Portuguese Madeirans. He approvingly cited the historian Webber to conclude, “Africans were leaving the plantations voluntarily en masse: Indians did not have to chase them!” Yet he chose to label my claim “propaganda”.
He also took great pains to emphasize that, overall, indentureship depressed plantation wages: implying that if the wages were higher, the freed Africans would have remained on the hated plantations. He thus contradicts his own citation of Webber: ‘The forsaking by the Negroes of the plantation and electing to work on them only when the direst necessity compelled it may be understood. They had no gratitude to, and less liking for, the men who had placed a yoke on their necks for 100 years.’
The reality was that, in Guyana and Trinidad, the availability of land offered the freed Africans an opportunity to be completely free of plantation labour. In places like Barbados and Antigua, where there was no available land, the freed Africans could either accept plantation work or, at best, emigrate to Guyana or Trinidad, where wages were higher. That’s right: the wages on the Guyanese plantations were not only attractive to Indians and Madeirans, but West Indians from the small islands.
Presumably as a corrective to my “propaganda”, Henry offered “four notions of truth”, which I will use to evaluate my claim, which Henry also dubs a “false narrative (that) falls short on every count.” Whew!!
1: Factual or forensic truth: an interpretation of facts that would at least erode any denials about the past. Isn’t this what I did with the uncontroverted asynchronous numbers on Indian Indentured arrivals and the movement out of the plantations by newly-freed Africans??
2: Personal or narrative truth: stories told by perpetrators and victims that provide an opportunity for healing and reconciliation. There were no narratives from 1848.
3: Social or ‘dialogue’ truth: generated by interaction, discussion and debate of conflicting views. Isn’t this what Henry and I are doing, even with Henry’s name-calling?
4: Healing and restorative truth: truth as a factual record is not enough: interpretation must be directed towards goals of self-healing, reconciliation, and reparation. I was attempting to show that labelling Indian Indentureds in effect as “scabs” who undercut African wage demands misapplied an agency to the former, who were pawns in the Planters’ determined efforts to obtain plantation labour. Plantations, as Rodney noted, “require a labour supply of a particular type. The labour must be cheap and plentiful, and even more important, the labour must be easily controlled.”
Henry says my claim “obstructs the opportunities for healing and reconciliation as contained in the Opposition’s position”. To wit, that “the idea of shared governance is rooted in the fact that all of us have built Guyana, and should equitably share in its operations and outcomes.” But the Opposition’s memory warriors bellicosely insist that African Guyanese have an unassailable legitimacy to Guyana’s patrimony because of historical claims of prior arrival, greater suffering etc.
The fact that they and Henry can demand that extant neutral democratic rules for allocating governmental authority be jettisoned to facilitate their “seat at the table, or else”, exemplifies this assumption. In the absence of imposition of shared governance, they undermine needed cross-ethnic outreaches such as Norton’s and Alexander’s support for INDIAN Arrival Day.
In divided societies, cross-ethnic support must be wooed. The Opposition’s memory warriors remind me of Sparrow’s misogynistic advice in this department: “Black up deh eyes, bruise up deh knee/ And den deh love you eternally”!!