Guyana govt bans official use of “negro”, “East Indian” by police, health sector; lists new descriptions

Last Updated on Friday, 7 June 2024, 21:35 by Writer

The Guyana government on Friday announced that it has banned the use of “Negro” and “East Indian” in official records of police and health sector facilities, in the wake of recent concerns about the use of “negro” to describe the detention of a political activist for cybercrime offences.

“Recognizing that many Guyanese find the terms “negro” and “east Indian” offensive, the Cabinet decided on June 6, 2024, that the terms used by the Guyana Police Force including immigration, and the health sector as forms of identification and epidemiological references to ethnic descriptions will now read as follows Guyanese of African descent, Guyanese of Indian descent” the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance said in a statement.

Further, the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance said other descriptions would be Guyanese Amerindian, Guyanese of mixed ancestry, Guyanese of Portuguese descent and Guyanese of Chinese descent.

The government ministry said relevant entities are instructed to implement the Cabinet’s decision and update their operational manuals and rules accordingly.

The Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) had promised to examine Attorney-at-Law Nigel Hughes’ request that that constitutional body direct the Guyana Police Force to cease using the term “negro” and replace it with Afro-Guyanese. Mr Hughes had raised the objection after his client, Working People’s Alliance political activist Kidackie Amsterdam, had been initially described as “negro” in police records.

The Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance criticised Mr Hughes and the People’s National Congress Reform for suddenly raising the issue of ethnic identification. “This newfound urgency did not extend to condemning the caller who demanded the beheading of government leaders and displaying their heads on staves by the seawall—an image reminiscent of the barbaric practices of the colonial rulers,” the government said.

The Guyana government noted that despite being in government from 1966 to 1992 and again from 2015 to 2020, the People’s National Congress and the PNCR-led APNU+AFC Coalition, along with their advocate Mr. Nigel Hughes, failed to address the issue of outdated Police ethnic identification categories, such as “negro,” which was inherited from British colonial times. “These terms, while not enshrined in law,
have been used as an identification tool since the colonial era and after independence.”