Ideologies of Race and Class

Guyana Table of Contents

Racial stereotypes developed early in the colony. British planters characterized Africans as physically strong but lazy and irresponsible. East Indians were stereotyped as industrious but clannish and greedy. To some extent, these stereotypes were accepted by the immigrant groups themselves, each giving credence to positive stereotypes of itself and negative stereotypes of other groups. The stereotypes provided a quick explanation of behavior and justified competition among groups. Africans were described as improvident when they refused to work for low wages or make long-term contracts with the plantations. East Indians were considered selfish when they minimized their expenses to acquire capital.

In modern Guyana, the association of behavior with ethnicity is less rigid than in colonial days. Where once there was a sharp and uniform distinction between behavior considered "British" and behavior considered "coolie," now there is a continuum of behaviors, which receive different ethnic labels in different contexts. What is considered "British" in a rural village might be considered "coolie" in the capital.

Along with stereotyping, the colonial value system favoring European, specifically British, mores and behavior has persisted. Eurocentrism was promoted by the colonial education system, which idealized British customs. The superiority of British culture was accepted by the ex-slaves, who perceived their Christianity, for example, as an indication that they too were civilized. From the late nineteenth century, the emerging middle class of urban AfroGuyanese , Indo-Guyanese, and others developed a nationalist ideology based largely on British values. They claimed a place in society because they met standards that had been set by the British.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress