There has been a minor exchange over the major issue of identity in the Stabroek News between Ms Ryhann Shah and Mr John Mair. Mr Mair, as some Guyanese often do, sought to silence ethnic identity. Ms Shah was moved to correctly assert her Indian identity as a legitimate part of her Guyanese identity. Then Mr GHK Lall got into it (I am first and foremost Guyanese: Stabroek News October 22, 2019). Mr Lall dragged me into the matter although I was happy to stay out of it. According to him, “The similarly singular Dr David Hinds was identically proud to articulate his steadfast identification as an Afro-Guyanese a little while back”.
So, here we go. On the matter of my identity, I am quite capable of speaking for myself; I don’t want Mr Lall speaking for me. I am not confused about my identity – never was. As I have said on many occasions my identity is plural – Buxtonion, African Guyanese, Guyanese, Caribbean and Black. I love each aspect of that plural identity equally and wear and live them with utmost pride. Affirming one at any given time does not cancel out the others.
Indeed, when I am in Guyana, nobody asks if I am Guyanese – I am Buxtonion. When I travel to the wider Caribbean, it is my Guyanese identity that rises to the fore. And when I land in New York, by God my Caribbeaness is what identifies me. Just as when I suffer these days with the boys and girls in maroon on that cricket field, it is my Caribbean identity that suffers most. Finally, when I land in Arizona where I work, all the other aspects of my identity give way to my Blackness.
If I stress my African Guyanese identity from time to time in Guyana. It is because, in our ethnic mess, some people try to demean ethno-racial identities or silence them. And I will have none of that obscenity. When you try to demean my ethno-racial identity, you are affirming and reaffirming a historical assault on that aspect of my humanity that was once savagely brutalised to its very core – the scars of which are still fresh on the soul of the Black person. You are prolonging the myth that Black people are inferior.
So long as Blackness is under assault, I shall answer it in the most forthright manner possible – it is my duty to those who died to make me free, to those who still live in bondage and the unborn who must face the whip when they arrive. As Bob Marley, the prophet of Black freedom sang, “Every time I hear the crack of the whip/ My blood runs cold/ I remember the slave ship/ How they brutalise our very soul.”
When persons seek to use “Guyanese” to silence or erase African Guyanese, I will be in your face as an African Guyanese. I am letting nobody get away with masking my black face with their hypocritical “Guyanese” in order to wipe away the violence against Black humanity. African Guyanese blood watered this land called Guyana long before it was known by that name. And, if I am the only African Guyanese standing, I am not going to let Guyana and the world forget that.
I consider myself a multi-racialist Guyanese in the tradition of Walter Rodney. Rodney made a distinction between the authentic multiracialism that arises out of respect for one’s own race in conjunction with respect for other races, and, on the other hand, the multiracialism that seeks to deny racial diversity and embraces a linear identity or what he called the “myth” of multiracialism. Let Rodney speak for himself and many of us— “…the Black intellectual has to move beyond his own discipline to challenge the social myth which exists in the society as a whole.” In other words, this myth of the multiracial society. This is the sort of thing which we have a duty to perform to the Black people from whom we come” (Grounding with my Brothers, page 63).
Rodney is saying that simplistic multiracialism is not the one he embraces. And I am respectfully saying to Mr Mair and Mr Lall and others of that sway, that simplistic Guyanesesness may work for you. But don’t impose it on me – it’s not my thing. I am 100 per cent African Guyanese and 100 per cent Guyanese. To those who say they are first and foremost Guyanese or Guyanese only, I say I am also Guyanese.