IS THERE RACISM AGAINST INDIANS IN ST. VINCENT? WHO ARE THE VICTIMS? WHO ARE THE CULPRITS?
by DONNA F. GAYMES and MOSES SEENARINE
May 30, 2000 (Published by Saxakali.com on September 1 2000)
I will prove that the East Indian population of St. Vincent receives the majority of racism against their minority group.
I will do this by proving East Indians are the minority of the island, that the Black population In St. Vincent are extremely prejudiced against the East Indians, pointing out the stereotypes and myths told about the East Indians.
I will prove that this racism against them stems from times of enslavement, and I will further prove that due to the racism and prejudiced, East Indians in St. Vincent have been deculturated. I will use written sources as well as interviews to prove my argument.
The East Indian population In St. Vincent is the minority population of the island. The current population In St. Vincent is approximately 150,000, of that number no more than a 5% of is made of East Indians. This is an extreme minority and with the Interracial crossings of marriage, and pregnancy that number is diminishing.
Interracial marriages were considered taboo and didn’t occur because according to East Indian tradition, the father makes the decision as to whom will marry his daughter. African men were taught that East Indian women did not know how to conduct themselves among blacks, because they were too shy and timid. (Skinner 1971) However, the times have changed and races have mixed and the population of East Indians in St. Vincent has been vanishing.
"All them black men does want an Indian girl, like she some kind of trophy. They does think some silky hair and light skin is a gift from God. Them nuttin’ but trouble. Hear me now, them Indian girl and she family is just headache. All them Indian girl come for take our men. But let me tell you, us black women ain’t want for none of them coolie men. Their men blame our men because they does say they take up their coolle girls, but they really just vexed because the black women dont want them coolie men for nothing." (Burke 2000)
East Indians in St. Vincent experience racism and prejudice mainly from blacks, due to the many myths told about East Indians. Some of those myths believed by blacks are: The East Indians would do anything for money, and that among them money is carefully saved instead of being used for food and clothing. (Horowitz 1971.)
While it may be true that Fast Indians prefer to save their money, rather than overindulging themselves with non necessities, this doesn’t mean they will do anything for money, nor does it make them foolish.
"When Mikey caine to the States he did work so hard and never spent a penny for heseif. Only bought what he needed and the real cheap things too. We did make fun of him, but look the man now. He have he own house, and a car and he children In college. Mikey did used to tell us to save we pennies, but we Liked to have fun and we have house and car, but it took us longer to get it. Mikey missed out on the fun, but he has the fun now. We did call him the coolie boy from Layou. His father had 11 kIds, all coolie, and his father would buy up plots of land to leave he children when he passed. But the older ones would take care of them young ones. Mikey saved he money to buy a guitar, and he father took the money and bought groceries and a new shoes for Mikey’s brother. But that is how them Indians are. What the hell is the sense of buying properties for children and you can’t put food in their bellies or shoes on they feet?" (Burke 2000)
Many people believe in saving money and spending only on the necessities. The blacks in St. Vincent believe themselves to be superior to the East Indians. They believe that because the population of East Indians is so minuscule, the East Indian population cannot compete at the same level, and gives the blacks the notion they are superior and are more productive.
Negative statements have been made against East Indians, however, when looked Into more deeply we can see that it is the majority and minority numbers of the populations that make these statements false. One statement is: The wealthiest man is an East Indian. Contrary to what you might be lead to believe, in actuality the wealthiest man is an East Indian, however, there are many more poorer East Indians than there are blacks. (Horowitz 1971)
Now, If the East Indians are more poor than the blacks, and they are the minority of the population, I would believe that there chances for advancement in their society is limited. I further would tend to think if an island has a big majority of blacks, that were running most of the businesses, the schools, and the medical facilities, on that island, then the chances of advancement are limited by the prejudiced and racism displayed by the blacks.
In America it is called being held down by the man, presumably a white man. Consequently, in St. Vincent, I would go so far as to say that it is being held down by the man, the black man. In a ratio of less than 5% of the population, and you are the poorest on the island, I would think racism fairs highly as one of the reasons.
One instance is:
"One time I do remember a girl in school she was very bright, but I was at the top of the class. When it came time to do some exams for end of the school term, she did score one point higher than me, and she graduated at the top of the class. I deserved to be at the top, but the teacher was black and my classmate was also black and I know that is why the teacher give she the better grade. That girl called me coolie’ everyday when I went to school, every single day. When she finished the class ahead of me, she started to call me ‘foolie coolie’ and asked me how I ever thought I could beat her? My parents didn’t have money to send me to university so I didn’t go. Now I does take me coolie’ ass to town everyday and work at the bank. But the girl who took my education Is a doctor now. I should to be a doctor, but I just a ‘coolie’ and I guess nobody doifl want no coolie doctor. They missing out, all they have is half a doctor. I would have been the best, now they have half a black doctor and its what they deserve." (Young 2000)
"Complete emancipation was on 1 August 1838 and many Blacks moved away from plantations." (Gullick 1985). Following this an episode of cholera broke out in 1854. "The cholera left St. Vincent witha labour shortage, so workers were brought from Barbados and Indenture slowly grew again. In 1861, 260 East Indians (coolies) were imported, in 1862, 307, in 1866, 214, in 1867, 477 and in 1869, 343. Chief Justice H. E. Sharp maintained that ensuing riots were, amongst other things, due to the ex-slaves jealousy of the Portuguese and Coolies.(Colonial Reports, 1860)
The blacks were freed and moved from the plantations. Then they rioted against the replacements? They should have rioted for the rights of replacements, not against them. The East Indians did not come here by choice, nor did the blacks, both groups were forced and yet the blacks were fighting the East Indians who were now brought in as the replacements. Indentureship in India is the way of life. It is the social and economic status of your family that will determine your future. You are born into it and there is basically no chance of improving your status.
This is not based on your race, and so the blacks began a very racist and prejudiced rage against the East Indians, because they based it on race and color.
"The jealousy of the blacks turned to hatred and sparked the racism against the East Indians. Many blacks chose to believe that the Indians thought themselves better than the blacks because of their hair texture and skin color. These visual traits are more closely related to whites than blacks. However, it was the blacks who made these comparisons and presumptions. The blacks were freed in 1838 in St. Vincent, thirty years later the East Indian reinforcements were brought to the island. The blacks were filled with rage, anger, and now for competition. The blacks could do the work on the fields for wages now, and the indentured, although they received wages, were more valued to the land owners because it was cheaper to have them there." (Gunsam 2000)
’The Vlncentian East Indians are far more deculturated than those in Trinidad and Martinique." (Gullick 1985). It is true, the East Indians are far more at a loss for their culture than those in Trinidad and Martinique. The main reason for that is the numbers. The major population in Trinidad and Martinique is East Indian. So the customs and the cultures will affect that throughout the island. The customary religion among East Indians is either Hindu or Moslem. However, I learned through my readings that the East Indians In the Caribbean were forced to convert to Christianity.
This was due to the ideal of divide and rule. If you take a person’s character and beliefs away from them, they are left with no identity. And so an identity was created for the East Indians in St. Vincent. They were coolies, without their religious beliefs and were forced to assimilate with the others. Being the minority of the overpowered people, they had no choices as to their identity.
"Them coolies does cry how we so mean to them and they ain’t nice to we. They shop In our shops and complain the price, they does want things for cheap, cheap and we tell them the price is the price. Just because you all Indian dont mean you get different price. If ya want different price, then I go charge you more. It’s when me say that, hear them, no no it’s okay, we pay the price you ask. It’s just we poor folks and don’t have much so we does try to do the best we can. And they pockets fill with cash, like me dotish and don’t know they have money. I does tell them if you can’t pay the price because you too cheap, then you can’t shop here because you all would run me out of business." (Burke 2000)
There are East Indians who do own businesses and are doing well for themselves, however, this is not a large amount of the East Indian population. For the most part, the East Indian population in St. Vincent are suffering. Some live In conditions unimaginable in this day and age.
In various parts of St. Vincent, such as Layou, Bambarou, and Baroulie there is no running pipe water. This means there is no indoor plumbing, no hot showers, toilet bowls, kitchen sinks etc. Everyday things which I take advantage of, have never been experienced by some of my own relatives.
"On a recent trip to St. Vincent, I stayed at the Cobblestone Inn for three nights. It is located in the heart of Kingston, and is a lovely place to stay. However, after preparations were made for my stay in St. Vincent, I stayed with family members in [ayou. It was a terrible experience for me.
While I do not look down on anyone, especially those forced to live in the conditions of these people, I only lasted there two days. After the second day, I went back to the Cobblestone Inn for three days and then stayed with family in New Montrose. I would again stay in Layou overnight. When I saw how these people lived It disgusted me. To think this island with all it’s beauty to endure, could have people living like savages Is beyond my comprehension." !! (Gaymes 2000)
While I have witnessed many blacks living in these conditions also, the majority of the people living this way are the East Indians. They are forced to live like this and It is rather unfortunate.
"I remember one coolle girl from Layou, that manied a black man. His family disowned him because he shamed them. It was like an insult to them. He didn’t think enough of himself to marry a black woman. His family felt like he lowered himself to be with that woman. To this day they don’t speak to him. He have children with the woman and he family refuse to recognize them as their blood. His family says she ain’t nuttin’ but a gold digger. How she only went after him because he have family in Annandale and she want for house in Annandale." (Young 2000)
In reality racism will be experienced in all walks of life. It is not uncommon and has been ongoing for a long time. However, It is rather unfortunate when a group takes on a role as the racists in a community, where it benefits no one.
There are many stereotypes, myths, and untruths spread about many ethnic groups. The East Indians are not the first to experience this type of behavior and they will not be the last, however they have much to overcome in St. Vincent.
However, with race dying out slowly, through death, interracial marriages, losing cultural identity and the racism, which causes many to try to conform to the ideologies of the blacks. It will be a long journey, which may not result in a positive outcome.
I have explored how the East Indian population in St. Vincent receives the majority of racism against them.
I have done this by showing that East Indians are the minority of the island, and how the Black population in St. Vincent are prejudiced against East Indians.
I have pointed out the stereotypes and myths told about the East Indians and suggested that the racism against East Indians In St. Vincent stems from times of enslavement.
I further suggest that due to the racism and prejudiced, East Indians in St. Vincent have been deculturated.
I have used many written sources and all backed-up my arguments with interviews conducted by myself.
Burke, Camille. 2000. Personal Interview conducted by the author. Camille is a 39 year old, black nurse, who resides in St. Vincent.
Gaymes, Tracy. 2000. Personal Interview conducted by author. Tracy is a 22 year old, East Indian Vincentlan. She was born in New York and has resided in New York her entire life. She visits St. Vincent every summer
Gullick, CJMR. Myths of a Minority, 1985. Van Gorcum & Comp., Assen, The Netherlands.
Gunsam, Kathy. 2000. Personal Interview conducted by the author. Kathy is a 31 year old housewife. She has a degree in education.
Lowenthal, David. Consequences of Class and Color, 1973. Anchor Press/Doubleday. Garden City, NY.
Skinner, Elliot. Peoples and Cultures of the Caribbean, 1971. The Natural History Press, Garden City, NY.
Young, Madonna. 2000. Personal Interview conducted by the author. Madonna is manager of CBC Bank.