• 27 Jan, 2023

Prejudice Against Indian St. Lucians: 'That coolie boy'

Prejudice Against Indian St. Lucians: 'That coolie boy'

Prejudice Against Indian St. Lucians: 'That coolie boy'

Wherever they are settled, Indians can’t escape prejudice, hate, discrimination, and racism.  It is also so in Guyana, Trinidad, Suriname, USA, Canada, etc.
In St. Lucia, as Dr. Dhanpaul Narine penned in a column in West Indian News on May 3, 2014, a St. Lucian Indian politician, Guy Joseph (note the name, very Christianized – faith didn’t matter), he was derogated, denigrated, and talked down to by another politician (Tom Walcott, an Afro Caribbean) in being referred to as “that coolie boy”. That is how Indians are viewed and referred to in the Caribbean by non-Indians. Fortunately, most of the people of St. Lucia did not subscribe to such hate and prejudice.  Guy Joseph, a Christian Indian who studied at a Methodist school, was elected to office in what is largely a multi-ethnic constituency. Guy is a non-ethnic person who did not and does not pander to ethnicity. He defeated another Indian politician, Menissa Rambally, of the Labor Party for a seat in the capital city of Castries.
Poet, novelist, and Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, unknown if there is any relationship with the politician Tom Walcott, himself a St. Lucian, wrote that he “don’t give a damn about ethnicity. It’s not important”.  In a poem, as Dr. Narine quoted Walcott, “My race began as the sea began with no nouns, and with no horizon.”

Photo : Poet, novelist, and Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott

Indians first arrived in St. Lucia as indentured slaves or girmityas, under similar conditions as African slaves, on the ship ‘Palmyra’ on May 6, 1859. They were referred to as coolies from India, as indeed all indentured slaves (laborers or girmityas) from the region were called. The Indians rescued the agricultural sector in all of the Caribbean societies including French, Dutch, and British Caribbean. Indians were also indentured in the Danish Caribbean Island of St. Croix which was subsequently acquired by the USA.
As Dr. Dhanpaul penned in West Indian News (NY publication), in April 2014, Tom Walcott from the St. Lucia Labour Party described Guy Joseph , a Parliamentarian from the United Workers Party as ‘that coolie boy.’ Tom Walcott could not miss the opportunity to derogate Guy’s ethnic ancestry, identity, and ethnicity. Then Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony of the Labor Party, as Dhanpaul penned, “went to great lengths to further disrespect and diminish the parliamentarian Guy Joseph, the Indian St. Lucian, by continuing the racial slurs based on his Indian descent”. Anthony, like Walcott and other MPs, appealed to basal racist instincts. They always saw the coolie as the source of their problems and difficulties.

Kenny Anthony
Photo : Kenny Anthony

Coolie connotes a similar prejudice and hate as the ‘N’ word that is sued against Blacks. Regardless of their religious background, Indians are targeted and denigrated everywhere. Some 160 years later, the coolie stigma, hate, prejudice, and discrimination against Indians in St. Lucia and the rest of the Caribbean remain very strong.
Dr Dhanpaul Narine notes that the slur against Indians in St. Lucia and the Caribbean have not evoked “the slightest response from the rest of the Caribbean leadership (not politicians, not religious figures, not community leaders, not academicians, not even Derek Walcott himself who recently passed on in 2017).  Derek Walcott never publicly and not on record condemned racism against Indians in the Caribbean.
Guy Joseph is a Saint Lucian politician, parliamentarian, and Cabinet Minister. He represents the constituency of Castries South East for the United Workers Party (UWP). Joseph won the seat at the general election held on 11 December 2006, defeating Menissa Rambally of the St. Lucia Labour Party.

* Dr. Bisram is a historian and specialist on the Indian Diaspora

Dr Vishnu Bisram

Dr. Vishnu Bisram is Guyanese born who received his primary and secondary education in Guyana and tertiary education in the US and India. He is a holder of multiple degrees in the natural sciences, social sciences, and education. He taught for over forty years in the US. He is a specialist on the Indian diaspora traveling globally to research and write about Indian communities.