Elections are wired to race

Dear Editor,

Recently I attended a meeting organised by a very credible non-government organisation that has been performing a valuable service come elections time across the length and breadth of this land for over twenty odd years, and with which I have had a long association. The purpose of the meeting, among other things, was to examine other meaningful avenues of extending its scope of work in relation to elections, and particularly post-elections activity, so it would venture beyond its present role of basically monitoring elections and submitting a report at the end of the process.

Among that small gathering of folks who care and had a desire to chart a new course, were two now-generation youngsters – an Indian female and an African male. This is reassuring, since both needed to be very much a part of the discussion of the role of the organisation if it is to maintain its relevance within the scheme of things.

There were a number of sound points, projections and questions: (a) the role of civil society organisations; (b) dispossession of our young people; (c) a significant shift/movement in the thought patterns and actions of our people, as a result of which they are moving ahead of political leaders; (d) impact of elections this time around with respect to an anticipated coalition; (e) expectations of a substantial portion of the electorate – moreso African Guyanese; (f) folks in some places feeling freer openly voicing their party’s preference and such like. All these and more were legitimate concerns. I left that meeting with much of what was said rumbling in my head.

Editor, for long our elections have been wired to race; the ballot is tied to race like the two blades of a pair of scissors, and that is no different today, Walter Rodney had cracked the shell somewhat but with his demise, it mended back. This is what has us padlocked; race today is the bone stuck across the throat of this nation. This has to be soundly and roundly, meaningfully, earnestly and honestly preached against by all those who have assumed leadership roles as was done by Rodney – one of his most valuable contributions to this nation. Let us take off our rose-coloured glasses and see the thing for what it is; when it comes to race we don’t play. And though I’m not saying it is insurmountable, it’s a tall order until we get rid of the mindset, suspicion and distrust, much of it falsehood and myths well planted and nurtured. We need folks like Clem Seecharan from the Indian side and Walter Rodney from the African side to help take us there before eternity.

A brother told me he was in a country when elections were taking place and only realised it when he saw it on TV; that people waiting in line to vote were freely saying who they were voting for, and it’s unfortunate that we are not that lucky. As one brother said at the meeting in his workplace they were openly voicing their preferences.

I’ve seen that, but this is generally done on conditions and is not always as carefree as it appears. Many do so in a guarded way and you will find that mostly where the gathering is almost all of the same ethnicity.

Let’s be real, here’s a loaded one: Tell me just what would be the luck of an Indian in predominately PNC/APNU terrain standing in a line to vote who is brazen enough to openly declare his love for the Cup? Or the other way around: the fate of an African in predominantly Indian terrain? One has to be an alien not to know that race is factored into almost every turn we make come elections.

Nothing triggers our racial adrenaline like elections. Aren’t we constantly being reminded to keep an eye on Ramjattan and Nagamootoo, then from the other side not to trust Trotman and Hughes? Now the young man at the meeting expressed the apathy of his generation; that they don’t care. Now we have to be careful how we deal with this, it is not a safe place to be, though I understand the frustration of many young people – even adults. But this don’t-care-a-damn attitude of our young ones has been pushed so much by some that our young people have claimed it.

I do agree that young people like everyone else want betterment, upliftment and a good life, and whichever government can provide it, that is all well and good – nothing else really matters. This apparent don’t care attitude is in itself a serious concern and a good gauge for evaluating our state of affairs.

But have we come to realise that there is one instance in which race always seems to have some difficulty: no matter how much people are rooting for a party led by race, if what they desire is not forthcoming and ends cannot meet then they can’t truly say, “We ain’t kay is we own.” No, not when the harsh reality of existence is taking its toll. Bread and butter issues are much different from our undying love and support for West Indies cricket, for example, where whether win, lose or draw we keep backing them with gay abandon since that doesn’t interfere with our livelihood.

It is our hope that one day when we change the stage and come of age, and are a more mature and responsible electorate, our condition will change. Twist it and turn it as much you want, generally our young folks carbon copy our racial behaviour; it’s kind of automatic, and is embedded as if inbred. This sounds ugly but it’s true. It’s the way we have taught them and the way we have been taught. The young of African extraction desire a PNC victory, the young of Indian extraction desire a PPP victory, however simple we are in thinking and believing that “young people don’t care.” And why is it that even with an ever widening generational gap, race remains firmly intact? This ought not to be our station as a nation, but here we are stuck. It is our doing; representing the effects today of an inveterate racial voting trend which now resides insidiously under our skin – in the psyche of our people.

 Yours faithfully,

Frank Fyffe

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