Race, ethnic politics and police violence in Guyana – By David Hinds

Commentary: Race, ethnic politics and police violence in Guyana
Published on March 25, 2014 – By Dr David Hinds
There is major concern over police brutality against African Guyanese since the current executive government came to power. African Guyanese activists have pointed to over 400 African Guyanese, mostly young men, who have died at the hands of the police since 1992. There are strong claims that there was direct state involvement in some of these killings during the period 2002-2006. The recent Colwyn Harding incident has raised these concerns anew. Many have joined the debate. There have been some very useful contributions. The police force has correctly come under severe criticisms. But, sadly, what is missing from the debate is how police brutality is a reflection of our larger ethno-racial problem. Of all the public commentators, only Henry Jeffery and Freddy Kissoon have dared to go there.

Dr David Hinds is a political activist and commentator. He is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Caribbean and African Diaspora Studies in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University. 

And yes, we have had and will continue to have an ethno-racial problem. I use the term ethno-racial to mean ethnic groups that relate to each other through the lens of race. To get a proper sense of what we are talking about, a brief history and explanation of race is needed. We often talk about race in Guyana as if it is figment of people’s imagination — false consciousness. But it is not; it is real. Race as biology has been proven to be unreal. But race as social, political, economic and cultural practice is real.

The concept of race was first developed in the USA in the late 1600s as a justification for the rise of plantation slavery. It gave social meaning to skin colour. Blackness came to mean less than human, while whiteness came to mean fully human. The German philosopher, Hegel, said to be human is to be white. Thomas Jefferson would later remark that blacks were inferior in body and mind and do not feel life’s pains as other groups. Other white thinkers concluded that black people could not exist in a state of freedom. Hence it would be dangerous to free them from slavery.Blackness became synonymous with, among other things, backwardness, indolence, shallowness, unreason and laziness. This characterization of blackness as inferior — the white racial frame — found its way into laws and socio-economic and political policies. Over time such laws and polices inevitably begun to shape people’s consciousness about blackness and, by extension, whiteness.

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  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 03/25/2014 at 4:05 pm

    Nothing will change until we can emancipate ourselves from the old ways of perceiving blackness.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 03/25/2014 at 10:52 pm

    Since Dr. Hinds invoked some historic background about the concept of race in the USA; here is something worth reviewing, a book by Professor Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness. This is an hour-long interview on PBS Bill Moyers & Company: http://www.alternet.org/newsandviews/article/1002661/bill_moyers_on_%22confronting_the_contradictions_of_america%27s_past%22/

  • Abert  On 03/26/2014 at 3:12 pm

    Race problem in the U.S. and Guyana are in at least one way very different. If I should write exactly what I think on this subject I would sound like a far right Conservative, which I am not.
    Some forty or so years ago many of the problems within Afro American groups were spoken mainly behind closed doors. Now the dirty “secrets” are in the open. A few months ago a black judge in the south, took the unusual step of asking the whites in the court room to leave for a while then express, what amounted to his feeling of shame about the behavior of so many black people brought before him.
    Last month a black State Senator, speaking at a mixed racial audience, did almost the same thing. He spoke about young black men from middle class families who stop getting on the school bus, dropping out of school and going to join gangs, selling drugs on the street corner, one out of every three in the state ending up in jail………he went on and on.
    One major difference with Guyana is firstly, one is not likely to make it in America without a good education. Secondly, there are hundreds of colleges literally begging for students. They have to send staff abroad to recruit foreign students to full their classrooms.Who is to blame if many blacks refuse to educate themselves and strive for a better life, instead of singing “we shall overcome”.
    There is a serious problem with a large proportion of black people in America. The question should be what measures are necessary to correct the problem. We have been looking back too long, and it seems to make excuses.
    There are some remarkable achievements made by many black people in America. Especially those who came from abroad or their children. According to a report Harvard had more foreign than local blacks. Maybe only social psychologist have the answers.
    Now I look forward to hearing how incorrect my views are.

  • gigi  On 03/26/2014 at 4:43 pm

    Well said, Albert. Concerning Guyana, the Guyana Police Force, military, and govt jobs are predominantly held by Afro Guyanese. This was since the days of PNC/Burnham’s rule. One would think that this would have changed when the PPP gained power, but it hasn’t. What we are seeing is a government demanding that the police actually do their jobs regardless of the skin color of the criminals. Kudos!

    The Trayvon Martin case did bring to light a troubling problem plaguing the African American community, that “stand your ground” law was a popular and successful defense often cited by defense attorney representing clients in black-on-black murders. The black community is/was very much aware of this hence their effort to do away with it using the Trayvon Martin case as cover . Because in order to do so they had to make it race based to get national attention and support. It didn’t work because whites were not willing to give up this protection for the benefit of the black community hell bent on killing off each other. Interestingly, too, black-on-white hate crimes statistics are higher than white-on-black hate crimes but garners less media attention, if any at all. Why is this? Because white-on-black so-called hate crimes fuel racial divide and deflects from the real issues – the rising poverty of whites in America. America is a class based society held in place by deliberate racial incitements. And successful African Americans are just as guilty as whites for peddling racial divisive issues. It’s how they keep their bread well buttered.

    Take heed Guyanese citizens. Don’t be fooled by those “concerned parties” peddling and yelling “racism” in order to regain power, protect their vested interests, and maintain the status quo.

    • Thinker  On 03/28/2014 at 3:13 am

      Gigi’s premise is that in all cases of black protest, it is a matter of playing the victim. The Trevon Martin case is deemed groundless, just a means of cynical manipulation. All from a person who sees the Guyana flag as “too African”. The background to “Stand your ground” is to be found here: http://scholarship.law.ufl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1008&context=csrrr_events
      It is the Ted Cruz right-wing crowd which talks of the law being of benefit to Blacks. No evidence.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 03/28/2014 at 11:19 am

    I just decided to look up FBI Hate Crime Statistics 2012 and look what I found:

    ◾Of the 5,331 known offenders, 54.6 percent were white and 23.3 percent were black. The race was unknown for 11.5 percent, and other races accounted for the remaining known offenders.

    I hope gigi understands the difference between victim and “offender”???
    Perhaps, she may want to take this up with the FBI –


  • Malcolm  On 03/28/2014 at 3:44 pm


    Let’s put things in perspective. If one considers the entire white as well as black populations in USA, one would find that the 54.6 percent white statistic would dwindle, as compared to the 23.3 percent statistic for blacks, which would rise tremendously; since one is looking at 5.331 sex offenders in the combined population. The emphasis of research should be on why the difference in statistics, and should be conducted through tint free lenses.

  • Malcolm  On 03/28/2014 at 3:50 pm

    Where you see the word sex replace with race. Thank you.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 03/28/2014 at 5:26 pm

    There is one more point that I would like to make, at the wake after the 2012 mass murder at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, one of the mourners spoke up about being beat up and spat on by a group of white youths. That started the ball rolling, and others started to share their stories of being victimized by white people in public, but they never reported it – never even told their spouses – they call these incidents, “soft attacks!”

    My point is, if the truth be known, the list of offenders could be much longer and the percentages much higher. Although, I believe a victim is more likely to report a non-white offender …. For obvious reasons – they are more likely to gain the sympathy of the authorities, I believe. Therefore, for gigi’s benefit, in particular, the percentage of white “offenders” could be around 60-percent or higher – that is what I believe.

  • Henry Horton  On 03/30/2014 at 4:50 pm

    Bro.Hinds how do you explain the continuing oppressive policies by the American govt. at home (incarceration of a disproportionate amount of Black men in prisons etc.) and abroad (murder by drones etc.etc too many to mention) by a so-called African American president and your continuing support for him, in spite of these shortcomings? Sure, I agree 100 percent about the structural racism inherited by our people since slavery but we will get nowhere unless we replace the neo-liberal agenda slavishly followed by our elites so let,s continue to make the case for progressive black politics in your adopted country and a new model for development in the Caribbean region (dumping the junk economics and prescriptions of the IMF & World Bank that confine working people to a life of poverty degradation and young black men to crime).
    The African American elites are quite contented with the present system (no protest in USA about Obama,s policies!) and the Afro creole elites in our region are quite happy to slavishly follow the economic policies of the white western overdeveloped world. (nothing new from APNU & the AFC in Guyana).
    Walter Rodney dared to dream, let,s not forget his legacy.
    Note: you mentioned Kissoon but he is a pro western, born-again neoconservative, hostile to anything remotely socialist!

  • Abert  On 03/31/2014 at 1:09 pm

    My friend you are doing what the extreme right wing group in America keep doing: making uninformed or misinformed criticism of the President. Is Obama responsible for the “disproportionate” number of black men in prison? It was that way long before Obama came into office.
    What is progressive black politics?
    And do you really know about Walter Rodney?

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