Thank you for covering my talk at the forum on “The State of Black African Guyana: a time for renewal and empowerment,” held on Sunday, August 4, 2013 (‘Guyanese African women beset by economic violence,’ SN Aug 5). I need to clarify some aspects of the report and the best and easiest way to do that is via the following lengthy quote from what I said:
“In most discussions on African Guyanese and the economy the focus tends to be on deliberate acts of sabotage, plus today, on the impact of corruption, nepotism, cronyism and discrimination on the African Guyanese economy. But if we found a way to end the corruption, nepotism, cronyism and discrimination, as we must, and maintained the dominant economic model and policies, the problems would not be solved. There would still be fundamental problems deriving from how capitalism and most clearly, unregulated, unbridled, unrestrained, predatory capitalism works. How it is set up to work even when racism is not the prime motivator. The role played by IMF policies which here we call SAPS and in Europe they call ‘austerity.’ We know those policies are not class-neutral but seem to ignore the fact that they’re also neither race-neutral (in Guyana cuts in the public sector, including in the 1980s, put many African Guyanese out of work) nor gender-neutral (when you cut public spending you increase the unwaged caring work that is done mainly by women).
“Ending the corruption, nepotism, cronyism and discrimination would not by itself solve the problem of what is happening at the level of the household economies of poor people.
“This is the violence which is assaulting African Guyanese women, in particular. It is not that there is no economic violence against grassroots women of other races; or against grassroots men. There is plenty. The situation of working class African Guyanese men is dire. But the economic violence against poor people has a particularly severe impact on African Guyanese women and therefore on African Guyanese children because of the level of responsibility African Guyanese women have for the survival and growth of children – which is not new, but operating now in changed conditions.
“On October 7, 2012 I had a letter in the press responding to an article celebrating a 39-year-old single mother of five boys, security guard, sweeper/cleaner, drainage worker, including on Sundays, maker and seller of pointer brooms, grower and seller of plants, and maker and bottler of products like pepper sauce with other women. That’s one woman. She has no electricity which makes most household tasks take longer. Her workday adds up to at least 20 hours (not counting many of her household tasks, including checking that the children have done the tasks they’re assigned to do, that they’ve attended the lessons she sends them to in part so they will be ‘meaningfully occupied’ while she earns money ($10,000 of which goes to pay for the lessons), and all the other tasks of raising five boys aged 9-13 to not become statistics of ‘failure.’ She also takes Home Economics, Maths and English classes in the hope that they will lead to better-paid jobs.
“For every mother who manages to ensure that her children don’t become statistics of failure, at whatever cost to herself and them, there’s a larger number of mothers who don’t succeed. They are all around us. In the main, they fail not because they are ‘wutless.’ To say just that they are examples of the continuing legacy of slavery doesn’t make sense, because if that is the whole story then why is the situation today worse, as we can all see that it is? No. They are continuing victims of a way of organizing the economy which creates poverty and then criminalizes it, which imposes on poor families a choice between being superhuman or being beaten down by inhuman conditions, which destroys families without a care ‒ today, via a massive migratoriness of labour in a world where capital can travel freely but not labour, and where labour therefore migrates under conditions that tears families apart, and is tearing apart the kind of extended family and community which was the bedrock of African Guyanese survival. Look, for example, at what’s happening with the Caricom Free Movement of People where Caricom says you can travel but individual governments fail to introduce the mechanisms which would allow you to place your children in school in the country you’re migrating to work in. So you have to leave them. For me, these are root causes.
“Which requires that we look for the solution where it belongs, and that cannot be just at the level of the individual household. A SN editorial of Thursday, October 18, last, which salutes two mothers, the one we just heard about and the other, a newspaper vendor, who, it said, ‘scrimped, scraped and saved to send her third child to university and law school,’ seemed to be proposing that we can end poverty by individual sacrifice which – according to the editorial – can start ‘a revolution against poverty.’ On August 2, 2013, less than a year later, the media had another report on the same woman: she is the mother in Sophia whose husband chopped her and their children on Emancipation Night, including the one who is now a lawyer.
“Even if you do not encounter these women in your daily life you see them on the TV when someone has interfered further with their ability to earn – not a living but a partial living: “I’se a single mother with 5 children and now they want to move my stall and whuh they expect me fuh do?” They are vendors, mini bus drivers and conductors, security guards, domestic workers, shop assistants, or cooks, cleaners or waitresses in a cook shop, sex workers. They work unbelievable hours. They often have no one at home, not even an older child, to care for the other children. The other relatives who would once have taken up the slack, including sometimes the other parent, are either somewhere else in the country or out of the country trying to earn money. Worse, we have families without a single resident parent or guardian. Men are part of the huge migrations we are seeing today but more women than men are migrating in the Caribbean. We have mothers who are ‘catching dey hand’ in another country while their children catching their tail living on their own or moving from house to house, because both immediate families and extended families have scattered. In the letter I went on: ‘Only a fool would say there are no bad mothers among us; clearly there are. But there are far more who are “mothers extraordinaire” (the term SN used). Some succeed in raising their children on the ‘straight and narrow’ and deserve honour. But when we ignore or demonise the others who also deserve our respect even though their hard work does not lift their families out of poverty, then the mothers themselves, their children, and the whole society – all of us pay.”
I ended by proposing that what one member of the audience had called a “vision of liberation” be considered from the point of view of a woman I’d referred to earlier in my talk: a woman whose hands had been chopped off by her husband and whose story says to me that we have to build a movement against the injustices of sex, race and class.
I’ll clarify what I said about domestic violence in a separate letter.