Sunday, August 08, 2010

The difference between Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 08 August 2010)

Whatever the cultural and social influences that create a racist, I seemed to have been immune to them during my developmental years. It was not as if I did not interact with racists. I grew up in Middle America where racial ignorance abounds. Yet, somehow race hate never took hold in me.

A few years ago, I read something about race that has long stuck with me. It was a passage from “When God Was A Woman” by Merlin Stone. The book is not about race, of course, but this one sentence caught me and I’ve always remembered it. Speaking of the aggressive northern Aryan invaders, who felt themselves superior to the more civil and developed Near East inhabitants, the author said, “But historical, mythological and archaeological evidence suggest that it was these northern people who brought with them the concepts of light as good and dark as evil (very possibly the symbolism of their racial attitudes toward the darker people of the southern areas) and of a supreme male deity.”

When I read that passage, I stopped reading and chewed over the notion that perhaps it was at that point in history when racism started and continued spreading to the extent that in much of the world, a person’s skin colour became a determining factor in how much respect and freedom that person should be afforded.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, this racist ideology pervaded and money hungry individuals ripped whole groups of people away from their homes in other lands and made them live in conditions that even animals were not forced to endure. People with dark skin lost their culture, freedom and dignity to men who insisted they were superior because their skin was lighter.

Those men were wrong. Colour of skin is nothing more than one of many physical attributes found in humans. I recently watched a documentary, “Race – The Power of an Illusion,” (it can be found on YouTube) that explained that humans are the most similar of all species. For example, according to this film, look-alike penguins have twice the amount of genetic difference – one from another – than humans. Fruit flies have ten times more genetic differences from one fruit fly to the next. In fact, any two fruit flies may be as different genetically from each other as a human is from a chimpanzee.

Even more important to the “race” conversation, the documentary went on to say there is as much, or more, genetic difference within any racial group as there is between people of different racial groups. The film showed DNA tests done on a group of college students who were certain their genetic make-up would be most similar to others in the group of the same race, and they were wrong every time. The students had more genetic similarities with students from other races than with students of their own race.

So what is the difference between Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese?
Nothing. In fact, a DNA test may well show any Afro-Guyanese to have more genetically in common with any Indo-Guyanese than with another Afro-Guyanese, and vice versa.

So if we are so similar, what does cause one human to look so different from another? According to the Statement on Biological Aspects of Race by The American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA), “Biological differences between human beings reflect both hereditary factors and the influence of natural and social environments. In most cases, these differences are due to the interaction of both.”
The third point in the AAPA’s Statement maintains, “There is great genetic diversity within all human populations. Pure races, in the sense of genetically homogenous populations, do not exist in the human species today, nor is there any evidence that they have ever existed in the past.” In other words, we have always shared the same genes.

The Statement continues in the sixth point, “The human features which have universal biological value for the survival of the species are not known to occur more frequently in one population than in any other. Therefore it is meaningless from the biological point of view to attribute a general inferiority or superiority to this or to that race.”

The last point in the Statement concludes, “The genetic capacity for intellectual development is one of the biological traits of our species essential for its survival. This genetic capacity is known to differ among individuals. The peoples of the world today appear to possess equal biological potential for assimilating any human culture. Racist political doctrines find no foundation in scientific knowledge concerning modern or past human populations.”

Therefore, any biological rationalisation you have ever heard to justify racist behaviour has been pure nonsense. It has no scientific foundation.

I have said all of this to make one point, it is time we stop focusing on our differences and focus on what we have in common. Which, as I have shown, is very much. The only difference left to cause trepidation in one group of humans concerning another is cultural. However, although Guyana has many diverse cultures, it also brings all of these cultures together as one cohesive Guyanese culture.

I am not suggesting that any group should allow its ancestral traditions to die away. Those traditions are part of the beauty of humanity. However, adhering to those cultural traditions does not have to stop progress as a national people.

Guyana has its own beautiful culture. Afro-Guyanese, Indo-Guyanese, Amerindians and all the other groups of people in Guyana share genetic connections, cultural connections and historical connections. The only divisions that actually exist are those created by fear.

I mentioned in my column last week that my mother was abusive, but I could never thank her enough for raising me to reject racial fear and to embrace cultural differences. I wish everyone in Guyana that same immunity against meaningless racist fear. In fact, I wish this for the whole world.

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