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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

On Indo-Caribbean postgraduates, ABDs, PhDs and professors

In all Caribbean academic conferences, seminars, webinars, panel presentations and roundtables, there are few Indo-Caribbean researchers, scholars and intellectuals. Given that they are a numerical minority in the region, they are still almost invisible because they just do not appear in the audience or on the stage.

But you do see these university “educated” people from the Humanities and Social Sciences in all-Bharatiya Facebook, WhatsApp and email chat groups and communal blogs. They speak in safe spaces such as private gatherings and in Bharatiya Diaspora Conferences usually held in communal venues such as the NCIC Divali Nagar, rather than in university auditoriums.

They hardly appear in large multi-ethnic fora dominated by non-Bharatiyaa, and are incapable or too scared to debate with Afro intellectuals on race and ethnicity. Perhaps they have taken a decision to self-surrender into silence and invisibility because they have been shouted down too many times.

Their gravest mortal fear is to be called “racist”, so they avoid any semblance of researching, writing or talking in public spaces about Bharatiya identity. Not unexpected, they fear talking or writing about institutionalised discrimination and systemic racism against their own Bharatiya group, even when they themselves are victims.

If these Postgraduates, ABDs (All but dissertation), PhDs and Professors do appear in multi-racial gatherings, they are apologetic about being Indo-Caribbean, assume a Black persona, and viciously attack fellow Bharatiyas and Bharatiya identity to prove to Others that “I am not one of them Bharatiyas” or “I am not one like them Bharatiyas”. If they do appear in multi-ethnic conferences, it is to talk about their research on the past (indentureship, 1838-1917), not the present; talk about past oppression by Whites, not about present institutionalised discrimination by Blacks.

It is a type of Saheb Babu or Uncle Tom personality, the latter drawn from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) in which the title character is an enslaved African American. In an attempt to cope with threats, Tom becomes passive, submissive, subservient and appeasing to his master. This type of Bharatiya academic, teaching in Black-dominated (community) colleges and universities, give up or hide their ethnic outlook, traits and practices in order to be accepted into the mainstream.

The theory of multicultural psychology explains ethnic minority behaviour as a means of coping with threats, hostility and subjugation by dominant individuals and groups. [Multicultural psychology explains all aspects of human behaviour as they occur in settings where people of different racial and cultural backgrounds encounter each other (Peony Elyn Fhagen, 2010)].

As ethnic minorities, Saheb Babus and Uncle Toms even identify with hegemonic group members and adopt their thoughts, views, expressions and behaviour. They become docile, non-assertive and non-interrogative as a survival technique for recruitment, permanent employment (tenure), promotion, peace and self-preservation as well as to maintain good, friendly relations with their aggressors and superiors to avoid retaliation.

Society for Caribbean Studies 44th Annual Conference

One case in point is the current six-day, online Society for Caribbean Studies 44th Annual Conference (6th to 10th July, 2021). Of about 90 presenters, there is only one Indo-Caribbean academic: Ms. Shalima Mohammed. Based in Trinidad and Tobago, Mohammed is the only intellectual from the entire Caribbean, including Guyana and Suriname, and their Diasporas. Indeed, she is the only Indo-Caribbean from the entire Western Hemisphere to present a research paper as (a) an Indo-Caribbean, and (b) on an Indo-Caribbean topic.

Her presentation is/was entitled: “Exploitation: Re-imagining the migrant experience” based on her fieldwork on Indo-Guyanese migrants in Trinidad. Mohammed qualifies as a scholar mainly because she contextualises her field and library research in a theoretical framework, lacking in so many presentations and publications by PhDs and Professors.

Ms. Shalima Mohammed

This is her brief biodata: Shalima Mohammed (Trinidad and Tobago) obtained her Master’s degree in Business Psychology from Franklin University in Ohio in the USA, graduating with a GPA of 4.0. She is a strong advocate for health and wellness practices based on Traditional and/or Alternative Healing. Mohammed has presented research papers at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad, at the Anton de Kom University of Suriname, and in Indore, Madhya Pradesh in Bharat.

In this Society for Caribbean Studies (SCS) 44th Annual Conference with about 90 presenters, where are the other Indo-Caribbean Postgraduates, ABDs (All but dissertation), PhDs and Professors from the Humanities and Social Sciences? Some of them find time to write weekly newspaper columns but refuse to present their thoughts, ideas and research findings at conferences to be peer-reviewed by international scholars.

The theory of multicultural psychology explains why academics of the dominant Afro-Caribbean group feel empowered and self-confident to present papers on racism, slavery, C.L.R James, Kambule, Ghana, Creole Poetry, Kamau Brathwaite, Haiti, ex-slaves, reparations, reggae/ dancehall, Aimé Césaire, Emancipation, Apprenticeship, Black Spectacle, Black Bodies, Carnival, Soca and Afro-Caribbean identity. See the following non-Bhartiya presenters and their topic presentations:

  • COMMISSIONG, NATASHA: Race and Gender-Based Violence in the Caribbean.
  • PETLEY, Christer: ‘The Baptist War in Jamaica: Rethinking the Politics of Slave Resistance and Rebellion’.
  • HØGSBJERG, CHRIST: C.L.R. James and South Wales.
  • FRANCIS, KEON: Kambule: Bois Bataille! Re-enactment, Social consciousness and Power in Contemporary Trinidad.
  • ETHERINGTON, BEN: ‘Hie, Bro. Mahbunta!’: On the Beginnings of Creole Poetry in Print in the Anglophone Caribbean.
  • ZIMBLER, JARAD: ‘A Caribbean Presence in Africa: Kamau Brathwaite’s Ghanaian Writings’.
  • KETTLE, SHODONA ORISSA: The case for reparations in Haiti: Remembering and strategic forgetting.
  • ITO, MICHIRU: Narratives on perceived whites and their privilege – Analysing whiteness in Barbados.
  • GILL, GORDON: The Contestation and Construction of Freedom by Guyanese Ex-Slaves, 1834-1848.
  • PATTEN, H: Dancing identity: reggae/dancehall and visibility in Britain.
  • JOSEPH JACKSON, SHAMMANE: History of the Construction of the British Guiana Railway and its Effects on the Emancipated Africans.
  • ALLEN-PAISANT, JASON: Thinking with Spirits, or, Dwelling and Knowing in the work of Aimé Césaire.
  • SMITH, CHELSEY: Cultivating Free Children’s Minds: Child Labor and Education in Apprenticeship Era Jamaica, 1834-1838.
  • WALL, NATALIE: Black Spectacle, Black Bodies: Performing the Caribbean at the Notting Hill Carnival.
  • BARRATT, KAI: “By Any Means…”: Soca and Survival on Instagram Live.
  • BROWN, CHASITIE: Performing Afro-Caribbean Identity: Carnival in Santiago de Cuba.

Had this SCS Conference been an Bharatiya Diaspora Conference organised and hosted online by the NCIC Divali Nagar in Central Trinidad, the number of Indo-Caribbean presenters would have been about 40, instead of one.

Does the theory of multicultural psychology explain this group behaviour? As an ethnic minority, Indo-Caribbean people feel safer and more comfortable in their own settings among their own people with whom they can identify, as opposed to a multi-ethnic environment with the presence of a hegemonic group.

This type of behaviour is universal among all ethnic groups, particularly a minority in a mono-cultural setting where the risk of religious, racial, political and ideological conflict is minimal.

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Dr. Kumar Mahabir
Dr. Kumar Mahabir
Dr. Kumar Mahabir, Assistant Professor University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) Chairman, Indo-Caribbean Cultural Centre Co. Ltd. (ICC) E-mail: [email protected]


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