Some state institutions need to update their lexicon for ethnic identity

Dear Editor,

While some sections of the population find the term ‘negro’ is a proper descriptor for Guyanese of African descent, it would be useful for the state institutions to update their lexicon given our history, the socio-cultural context and the cohesive society we aspire to build.

Over the past month, it came to the public’s attention that the Guyana Police Force has the practice of using the term ‘negro’ for ethnic identity in wanted bulletins and reports.  Specifically, wanted bulletins for prison escapees issued on July 10, 2017 and suspected cannabis seizure report issued by the GPF, Berbice division on August 8, 2017 were revised following a public outcry on social media.  From these two references, the public could deduce that the Guyana Police Force has not updated its lexicon for the ethnic identity of suspects, rather its approach has been reactive to public sentiment.

The national census provides better language that speaks to the ethnicity and heritage of our diverse population. All law enforcement institutions should reject descriptors inherited from the colonial era in favour of identifiers used and accepted in official documents and human rights reports. The state as duty bearer of citizens’ rights has the responsibility to ensure identifiers are consistent for all ethnic groups by clear policy directives and monitoring.

Yours faithfully,

Roxanne Myers


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