What is Indianness – Response to Freddie Kissoon of Guyana; violence against Indians!
Freddie penned in his KN column (May 15) that he hasn’t discovered his Indianness and doesn’t know what it is. He requested from me (and others) an explanation of what is Indianness. Indianness, as a concept, is no different from say Africanness or Blackness, Irishness, Italianness, Turkishness, Ukrainianness, Germanness, etc. – an inner feeling and pride in one’s ethnicity and cultural background that members of the group experience. There is a special feeling one gets about being a member of one’s ethnicity that is very difficult to describe. You experience and feel it on your own especially at times of achievement and or of pain because you belong to that group. For example, when Indians in Guyana were targeted for violence and robbery or election rigged to deny the party that they support political office. They were targeted on account of their Indianness. No others were targeted for violence and robbery on account of ethnicity.
I did not understand and consciously subscribe to the concept of Indianness until a couple years after I entered university (1977 as a 16 years old) and began learning theories in social sciences and humanities – sociology, anthropology, history, political science – while pursuing a degree in Bio-Chemistry. In Guyana, Indianness, like Chineseness and Portugueseness, etc., was silenced and repressed during the period of the dictatorship. Unlike during the authoritarian years in Guyana, in democratic America or Canada, one is free to promote and adhere to one’s ethnic identity – Blackness or Indianness or Irishness. The Whiteman does not deny anyone his or her identity in America; it was suppressed a hundred years ago but not today. In Queens alone, where some 300,000 Indian Caribbean people and half a million other Indians are settled, there are over 200 ethnic groups with each celebrating identity with parades and cultural expression. Indianness is in vogue and cheered by mainstream politicians of other ethnicities who celebrate with Indians their various festivals and national days.
One is born into an ethnic group. In my case, I am born an Indian and in Guyana, making me Indian, Guyanese, West Indian, Indo-Caribbean, and Caribbean – multiple identities. I can’t suppress any of them in favor of another. A people can’t deny race or ethnicity or nationality.
who When Indian Guyanese or Indian Trinis travel abroad, they are not viewed as Guyanese or Trinidadian. They are seen as Indian and so labeled, defined, and treated (with hostility or embrace). As an illustration, Freddie is perhaps the most ‘non-ethnic’ person in Guyana; he does not subscribe to Indianness and he champions the interests of countless non-Indians. Yet those very non-Indians see him as an Indian and treat him with odor from time to time.
When Indian Guyanese and Trinis were denied purchasing of homes (from Italians, Irish, Germans) in Richmond Hill, Queens during the 1970s and early 1980s, it was not because they were Guyanese but because the (sellers) viewed them as Indians who were not welcomed in their white neighborhood. (Off course, Indians are now embraced by all ethnicities) because of educational achievements and acquisition of enormous wealth — the ‘most educated’ and highest income group in the US). When Indians were attacked by the ‘dot busters’ (Hispanics, African Americans, and Italians) during the 1980s and 1990s in New Jersey, it was not because of nationality or even religion, but race; both Indo-Caribbeans and South Asians were targeted. Being Guyanese or Trini or Jamaican, did not grant the Indians reprieve from violence. When Indians were beaten (driven out of) at Wismar, Linden, Agricola, Georgetown, West Berbice and other locations, it was on account of their Indianness or race. The perpetrators of the violence didn’t ask them which party they supported. In fact, Indian supporters of AFC, WPA, and PNC were also violated.
When I entered university in 1977 in Harlem and went to participate in Caribbean Club activities and meetings at CCNY, I was not welcomed. Myself and other Indo-Caribbeans were treated with hostility and contempt and told “You are not one of us. You are East Indians, not West Indians (defined as Black)”. The feeling of Blackness was on display and nothing was wrong with it. Afro Caribbeans were proud of their identity and told us we are not one of them. Naturally, a feeling of Indianness emerged. So we had to form our own student organization, Indo Club.
As I learn from my studies in sociology and practical experience, a people (race or ethnic group) define themselves and are defined by others. That is a law of nature or reality; it is so everywhere including in the US. As I learn in studies in anthropology, the group embraces and or subscribes to certain values or culture (music, cuisine, music, arts, language, traditions, customs, clothing, etc.) that distinguish them from another group. They are proud of who they are as well as their values and community or group or organization affiliation. Identity stays in you and is transferred into lineage; one can deny it but others label you based on physical appearance.
If there is a civil war or an act of injustice against my group, like an election rigging to deny my group political power in a polarized nation, people will expect me to support my group against the riggers or violent elements. Off course, if my group is perpetrating acts of injustice against members of another group, decency requires that I take a position against such acts (especially rigging election).
I must point out that invoking or expressing pride or adhering to values of my ethnicity (brought by my ancestors from India) does not deny that of others (Africanness, for example) who don’t belong in my ethnicity, and I also embrace those not from my ethnicity or of mixed ethnicity who subscribe to my cultural values. We must respect and embrace all regardless of ethnic ancestry and cultural values. No one should attack or violate another on account of ethnicity like what happened in West Berbice in September 2020. Such behavior must be condemned.
Read More Articles From Dr. Vishnu Bisram
Please send your letters, articles, photos and short videos to this free online Indo-Caribbean paper: email@example.com