Sheer hypocrisy – “negro”, “house slave”, and “soup drinker” all imply inferiority

When an Opposition activist was arrested on a cybercrime allegation – for participating in a public discourse on TV calling for the President, the VP, the Attorney General and the Minister with Responsibility for Finance and Public Service to be hung on the seawall for everyone to see – the police described the gentleman as a “Negro” male.
A well-known Opposition attorney complained to the ERC that the word implied inferiority and was derogatory. A contentious debate has erupted in Guyana over the use of the word “Negro” to describe a black Guyanese citizen.
There is no dispute: the word “Negro” has been in disuse for a long time now, and there is general unanimity that the word is associated with negative connotations for people of African descent. In case anyone would misconstrue my view, let me be unequivocal – the police and all other institutions should remove this word from their guidelines and other documents, and should discontinue using it.
In this context, I commend Mr. Nigel Hughes for highlighting the use of the word in reference to the Opposition activist. I believe that the whole of Guyana should support the removal of this word, and in this case, the police have shown maturity in changing the language they used. The non-utilization of the word in the future by all in Guyana is a positive step forward, certainly adding strength to our “ONE GUYANA” Movement.
I wonder, however, if one of the black PPP activists was arrested and described as a “Negro”, would there have been the same repulsion that the Opposition elements have displayed in the above case? I seriously doubt that anyone in the Opposition would have reacted the same way. I know they would not, because there is ugly hypocrisy when it comes to matters like these.
Incidentally, the word “coolie”, like the word “Negro”, also implies inferiority. Are we now also going to reject anyone being called a “coolie”?
Our black comrades in Guyana are expected to be politically homogenous and to support the PNC, no matter what. Those who dared associate themselves with the PPP have been described by the most heinous names. Those same persons who today are revulsed that an activist of the Opposition was described by the police as a “Negro” have never found the description of black men and women who dared to abandon the PNC and join the PPP as “house slaves” a horrible thing. Indeed, many of the same people today who are beating their chests and screaming out in agony that a black man has been described by the police as “Negro” have themselves called other black men and women “house slaves” and “soup drinkers”.
Ask PM Mark Phillips, Bishop Juan Edghill, Hugh Todd, Oneidge Walrond, Joe Hamilton, Odinga Lumumba, Dr Jennifer Westford and others how many times they were dubbed “house slaves”. The late Guyanese patriot Dr Roger Luncheon was described as the ultimate “house slave”. Not only have these people, like many other black Guyanese, been insulted by the term “house slave”, but they were also serenaded with the term “soup drinker”.
It was wrong of the police to describe the Opposition activist who has been charged with a crime as a “Negro”. It would be wrong for any of us to call anyone of our sisters and brothers a “Negro”. It is equally wrong for any of us to deem another a “house slave” or a “soup drinker” or a “coolie”. Calling other people these names is just as egregious as calling someone a “Negro”.
So, while it is commendable that the attorney in this case highlighted the inappropriate use of the word, and while it is high time our country removes such uncouth language from official documents, we must also highlight the use of other words and terms that disparage people. The time is more than ripe for people in Guyana, no matter what the circumstances, to stop describing their sisters and brothers as “house slaves” and “soup drinkers” simply because they refuse to be the property of a political party.
The word “Negro” became a word implying inferiority during the 1960s, when Stokely Carmichael began the “Black Power” Movement in the USA. In a powerful speech at a rally in Mississippi, in other speeches around America, and in his landmark book Black Power: The politics of Liberation in America, Carmichael argued persuasively that “Negro” implied black inferiority. Gradually, the word “Negro” began to fall into disuse, and the American media totally abandoned the word by the middle 1980s.
Even the US Supreme Court abandoned the word by the middle 1980s. Ironically, civil rights champions such as Booker T Washington and W.E.B Du Bois, in the 1920s, advocated that the word “Negro” be used instead of the word “coloured” because “Negro” was both etymologically and phonetically more appropriate.
Until Stokely Carmichael succeeded in the 1960s, the word “Negro” remained dominant, and was easily used by the great Martin Luther King. The great Civil Rights Leader Jesse Jackson wanted the term African-American, but that never gained traction.
There is now agreement that the word “Negro” implies inferiority, and must be disused. In this sense, we are grateful for this debate. But the collateral benefit in this consciousness must be a similar uproar for which we can all unite behind no person should be called a “negro” and no person should be called “house slave” and “soup drinker” simply because they are black and refuse to be part of the PNC. It is hypocrisy, however, when the words are seen as appropriate when applying to people who associate with the PPP, and objectionable when they apply to those who associate with the PNC. Derogatory terms must be rejected from all corners.