Metissage or Miscegenation?
August 10, 2004
IN MAY, Guyana celebrated the coming of the Indians to this country; this month we celebrate the emancipation of African slaves; next month we will show our appreciation to the people many newspaper articles and feature addresses will refer to - if somewhat patronisingly - as "our Amerindian brothers and sisters."
And while we celebrate these things nationally and for most intents and purposes, as a unified people, within all this is the undercurrent theme of separate identity, an acknowledgement - perhaps most reflected in our political cultural outlook - that there is `an ever-fixed gulf’ between us.
To deny that this gulf exists would be overly optimistic, foolhardy or absurdly dishonest. Equally so, however, would be to argue that it is unbridgeable.
The thing is, much of our individual attitudes - and by extension both governmental and non-governmental policy - ever since Independence have been polarised around either of these two extremes.
For instance, our national motto of `One People, One Nation, One Destiny’ may be seen as an example of the optimistic denial of our differences, while Mr Ravi Dev's [final?] solution of a federal system based on the geographical separation of at least the major races is an example of the pessimistic abandonment of hope.
While Mr Dev's idea – reeking ever so slightly of Apartheid – may never come to fruition, much of post-colonial policy has, directly or indirectly, been dedicated towards the fulfillment of our national motto.
This has been the case, whether we are talking about National Service under the past regime or Mashramani as it is celebrated under this one.
Official post-colonial policy in Guyana has always largely been concerned with the mixture of various ethnic strands into a distinct Guyanese tapestry; the proposed process being ostensibly cultural but with the unavoidable result of a biological or genetic parallel as well.
Wherever people of different racial heritages interact in a relatively free and unregimented society, there will be racial and cultural mixing.
There is no doubt that the concept of the amalgamation of peoples is as central to the establishment of our common myth as the phrase “E Pluribus Unum” is that to America’s.
The question is how should the individual citizen view this process? As metissage, or as miscegenation? They mean more or less the same thing.
Metissage, from the French-Canadian noun metis, means the mixing of races. So does miscegenation, a word coined by two American reporters in a notorious hoax pamphlet that took America by storm during the 1860s.
Miscegenation is the word of choice for those who contend that the racial mixing results in a profound and irreplaceable cultural and often genetic loss, usually to the race that they are part of. Metissage is most often employed by those who view racial and cultural mixing as the end all to every problem on the globe.
It may be that the best path – as so often is the case with contentious things – lies not closer to either extreme but somewhere in the middle; the unexamined prospect in which instructs that before we adopt certain postures, before we pronounce on the positions of one or the other tribe, we take time to simply learn more about our neighbours.
Or, as Anthony Hopkins’ character – Parrish – says in the movie, Meet Joe Black,
“The more we all know about each other, the greater the chance we will survive.”