Race in the Guyanese historical context has always been an expression of power

Dear Editor,
We read your coverage of the report by the UN Independent Expert on Minorities with interest. The PPP’s response to it contains a great deal of truth. But also a great amount of the self-administered intoxicant that distorts its perception of the reality of race relations here.

First, it occurs that neither the diagnostic of our problem as detailed in the report, nor the solutions, are to us unfamiliar. There is, or has been, a racial problem. We heard cries of discrimination from the PPP when it was in opposition. Dr Jagan offering to the world the inflated idea that Indians in the country were living a condition comparable to “apartheid.” But that was the sole dimension of the racial problem with which the PPP occupied itself. An observation that speaks volumes about the true character of the party. Blacks, who, according to a recent work by Prem Misir, did not even have a middle class before Burnham took over, (all “lungeera”) were living the good life during the 28 years. No need to speak for them.

Whence we observe that once the PPP laid its hand on the helm, the conditions of racial inequality and discrimination magically disappeared. All became well. Rickford Burke, Ronald Waddell, Eric Phillips, Clarence Ellis, Tacuma Ogunseye and the others, constantly and unrepentantly accusing the PPP of ignoring racial discrimination against blacks, became in the public discourse of the ruling party nothing more than malcontents and agitators, themselves stirring up fear and loathing against the only party in the country that has historically been anti-racial. This is the PPP’s official and public narrative.

The PNC, when in power, took equal care to dismiss and publicly downplay the race question. All was well. They had at one time created a ministry to which “race relations” had been appended, much in the manner that the PPP has its ERC. They banned one film from Suriname or Trinidad on the grounds that it would reopen badly healed wounds because of its treatment of race. The PNC took care to promote competent Indians, many of whom shared the same social profile of its leadership. It sent out messages on Indian holy days exhorting the sufferers to bear in mind the true message of Phagwah or Youman Nabi. It invited Pandit and Maji to public events. Once out of power the PNC discovers that Indians were almost to the last man pro-PPP. Unrep-entantly so. The PNC in its turn would then publicly speak out on matters of discrimination.

Discrimination then, is something that is largely restricted to the party in power. Opposition parties cannot discriminate, according to the logic of some of our leaders. For the simple reason that discrimination is primarily about equity in the distribution of the national cake. And should the PNC ever regain office, the PPP will re-discover, as if by enchantment, that discrimination exists and that it is solely against Indians and perhaps the Amerindians it has now taken under its wings. The social and cultural discrimination entrenched in our society is ignored.

It is too much, then, to expect our political parties to admit that the race question is multi-dimensional, unresolved, or that the partisans of the other race-party will ever have anything to genuinely complain about.

Race, in a Guyanese historical context, has always been an expression of power. From the time of the white man to the succeeding “revolutions” we half-lived. And power that is political has by a sociological process of status equivalence, attracted to itself wealth. By fair means or foul. In this sense the country is now seen as having reverted to a pre-colonial order where the ruling party/race wishes to appropriate to itself, exclusively, such wealth and power as the country could afford. This is part of the narrative of the PPP’s detractors.

It is hard to subscribe to the idea, contained apparently in the UN expert’s report, that young blacks are being “profiled.” But it is a fact that the police are known to kick down doors and drag youths in Buxton to a station house to be harassed. As it is also a fact that the majority of the specialists in certain types of crimes against property have been the “young black men” whose mortality rate under the PNC may have even been higher than it is under this regime.

The PPP’s argument against shared government, expressed in its response to a recommendation in the report, is weak and partakes of the same convolution and internal contradiction that characterises its declarations on race.
The party’s take on power-sharing cannot be detached from its history of asking the PNC to share when the opposition was in power.  It is merely the turn-about of the schoolboy who wants to share your marbles when he is losing but resents sharing when he wins.
The idea that institutional arrangements to satisfy the PNC’s need for involvement, are unimaginable, would be a terrible comment on the intellectual capacity of the governing elite were it not to be seen for what it is. Just another card trick of the type that makes the race problem disappear when one gets into office.

It is in essence a cold and even horrifying lack of concern for the social peace. And all in the interest of the race from which it springs, which it has always defended, and always without caring at all about the others when they represent no ballot-box capital. The PPP, for all the good it has done to communities of all races, unfortunately allows itself to be seen as drifting away from the ideals of its founders.

We remember Dr Jagan, for all his exaggerated anguish about discrimination, wishing sincerely for national reconciliation and progress in an atmosphere of peace. It is possible that after all these years in power the progressive element in his being would have recognised that the “objective conditions” were ripe for a government of national reconciliation. It is time for his followers to build on the foundation that he laid.
Yours faithfully,
Abu Bakr

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