Barack Obama is of mixed race and president of a country with deep racial divisions. He is from an ethnic minority (mixed race) that is a mere 2% of Americans. He is viewed as black by the majority of Americans. Race has created and still creates many fault lines in America. America did not give up slavery willingly. It took a savage war (American Civil War) with untold suffering to end slavery. It took a lot of pain and angst to end Jim Crowism in the sixties. The difference between the US and Guyana is the response to racism. Apart from the unitary politics of the early fifties and Walter Rodney’s multiracial message, our nation has been strafed with bigoted racial politics and ethnically provocative leaders.
While great Americans leaders like Lincoln, King, Lyndon Johnson and Malcolm X committed themselves to battling bigotry and fought to end discrimination, our mercurial leaders (Jagan, Burnham and to a lesser extent D’Aguiar) entrenched racial attitudes. One nation passed anti-discrimination laws, fought segregationist politics, institutionalized tolerance education in the classroom, enforced the law and adopted affirmative action programmess to level the playing field, the other nation pursued ethnic triumphalism and dominance.
By the time Walter Rodney arrived in the seventies with his multiracial message, race politics was already firmly stamped in the minds of Guyanese. Apart from Rodney’s multiracial message in opposition to the PNC dictatorship, Guyana never had a struggle to end racial discrimination. America went through that struggle.
America is by no means a level playing field, but it is level enough for Obama to gain power in a country where just fifty years ago he would have been jailed in several parts of America for even attempting to run for political office.
Obama’s mixed race heritage gives him clout, and because such a leader would naturally get support from all races, he has no room to pander to any particular race like the PPP or PNC leaders have done. He can execute generational change simply because he is not trapped by ethnic considerations and motivations.
Race is a compelling psychological and emotional aspect of our social and political decision-making in Guyana. There are many Guyanese primarily of African and Indian descent who will not vote for a candidate because of that person’s race, no matter how brilliant, talented, skilled, virtuous and ethical that individual is. An Obama type of leader in Guyana could change that. His more complex racial heritage will grant him some legitimacy to appeal to all ethnic groups. Such a leader could focus some voters away from race to issue-based political decision-making. Guyana is a country of politicians a number of whom are characterized by laziness, self-interest, crookedness, incompetence, mismanagement, lack of integrity, vindictiveness and a complete lack of wherewithal. Apart from Rodney who faced racial politics limitations, this country has never had a leader who was eloquent, charismatic, intelligent, honourable and a family man, and who was possessed of unimpeachable integrity, as well as being hardworking, placing country ahead of ideology, ethno-politics and power. We need such a leader. Obama is not perfect and his economic performance has not materialized as promised but Americans recognized he tried and minorities assumed he would create a more equal society so that when the economy returns to glory, they can reap the benefits equally with others.
When a country goes from 92% turnout for elections to around 71%, people have lost faith in racial politics. The greatest impediment to the emergence of an Obama figure is our political parties and system. A man like Obama would not make it under the Jagdeoites, or under the PNC and APNU. This is why America is the land to which we flee and Guyana is the land from which we run. PPP supporters are forced to accept the Jagdeoites‘ handpicked weak candidate while PNC supporters are forced to accept a battle between two political dinosaurs from a failed era (Granger and Greenidge). The greatest symbolism of the power of an Obama to Guyana is the fact that the majority of Guyanese-Americans of Indian and African descent many of whom would never have voted for an African or Indian respectively or a mixed race individual over an Indian or African when they lived in Guyana, voted for Obama. People need truth more than race. People are willing to walk away from fear but only if a true prophet arrives.