What black people want is fairness, not free things

Dear Editor,

During his speech before the NAACP, US Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney proclaimed that an essential element in his creation of jobs plan would be getting rid of “ObamaCare.“ This, of course, did not sit well with the attending audience of mostly African Americans. And they let him know this by responsive booing. This was probably anticipated by Romney in deciding to make the visit, and suggests that rather than an attempt to win black votes, this venture was designed to win favour with his base of conservative white Republicans, whose ideology, to put it plainly, is founded on being averse to anything that benefits blacks or other minorities, even though it might also benefit the larger poor white population. When Mitt Romney went back to his base, he recounted the response he received at the NAACP from the mostly black audience. He likened the booing to black people wanting free things, and asserted that if they wanted free things they should vote for the other guy, meaning Obama of course. In effect, his argumentation was that the opposition of African Americans to the repeal of the Obama Health Care plan was because they wanted free things.

Why I find this US political interplay so interesting, is because we have an equivalent situation playing out in Guyana in the Linden electricity rate hike scenario. The opposition of Lindeners to that rate hike has been met with Mitt Romney like assertions from ruling party officials, sycophants and cyber warriors. In blogs, and letters in the state-owned Chronicle, they arrive at the same conclusion Romney and many of his supporters do with regard to African-American opposition to any repeal of the Obama Health Care Plan. In effect, black people in Linden want free things. The shared journey of two disparate political assemblies separated by thousands of miles of geography to one central conclusion, especially when in both situations it involves people of African descent, cannot be, and is not coincidental. It is formed on the basis of a synthesis of stereotypes of people of African descent, produced to rationalize their enslavement, promote the concept that Africans were intellectually inferior to every other group, were lazy and did not like to work, coveted the property of others, and given a preference would opt for state welfare rather than earning their own way. A construct that flies in the face of reason, and is tinged with real irony given the fact that it was this same ‘lazy‘ group that was chosen to provide free labour for the initial development and enrichment of the West.

This sacred cow of ethnic prejudgment has never been far from the core of our social interaction in Guyana. It represents the ideological foundation upon which the country was settled, developed and socially stratified. A stratification that was conceptualized on a continuum of race and colour, with white European at one extreme end as the model for all that is good and positive, and black African at the opposite end as the representation of all that was bad and negative. It was echoed in schoolyard ditties like, “If yo white yo alrite, if yo brown stick around, but if yo black stay back.“ And on many occasions the voices of those who were in fact black were just as strident in the assembled choir in schoolyards or tenement yards, shouting the lyrics with no sense or understanding of the ethnic self flagellation in which they were involved.

While Emancipation might have ended the physical arrangement that reflected the social order of where racial and ethnic groups were positioned in Guyana, it certainly has not emancipated the prejudicially conceived notions from the minds of many who were in Guyana when emancipation came, or arrived afterwards. And as the authors of the construct departed from power and the social influence to define and arrange the order, there emerged willing replacements who enthusiastically grabbed the torch and proceeded to carry the flame forward. So the socialization of “black youth to violence and ethnic hatred” becomes a viable thesis in a national journal, notwithstanding the fact that Africans have no cultural, religious or historical links to belief systems constructed on a foundation of human superiority and inferiority. Like Michael Jackson’s lyrics advised, the people who advance this thesis today need to take a look at themselves in the mirror of history and culture before pointing fingers at others.

Finally, I have had it up to my neck with this racist notion that black people like free things while everyone else works hard for what they own and enjoy. If you live in a former slave-holding country you are the beneficiary of an infinite amount of free things that accrue from black labour and sacrifice. This distribution obtains in every nation in the Western hemisphere, where the ancestors of current day Africans provided centuries of free labour to develop the economies and infrastructures of those nations.

A Guyanese immigrant now living in Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn, etc, enjoys many free things, such as the ability to live where they wish, the opportunity go to certain schools, open businesses in certain areas, etc, to the struggles and sacrifices of African Americans, who did not let the fact that others would enjoy these free things be a constraining influence over their decision to struggle for fairness. Every Guyanese has benefited from free things obtained from the contributions, willing or coerced, from the ancestors of current day Africans. So spare me the inverse proportional ethnic proclamations that black people want free things or freeness, whether the issue relates to the electricity rate hike in Linden, or the Obama Health Care plan. What black people want and agitate for is fairness for everyone regardless of who they are, a tradition that represents the total embodiment of history, our culture, regardless of geography and time. Stop telling me that I have a “big foot” on the assumption that it might hide yours.

Yours faithfully,
Robin Williams



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