The drive for ethnic dominance is an unavoidable consequence of our social history. It manifests itself in numerous ways and appears in discourses relating to social and economic policy. More importantly and fundamentally, it appears in political competition. Ideas of ethnic dominance have always shaped our society, and politics could not have escaped it even if it had tried. Our main political parties understand this reality but have each constructed an historical narrative that tells an alternative story. The narratives have subsisted together with and have had a parallel trajectory with the drive for ethnic dominance.
Even the youthful leaders who formed the early political movement, the Political Affairs Committee of 1947 and the Peoples Progressive Party in 1950, did so with the understanding that ethnic unity was a vital pre-requisite. The split of the PPP in 1955, although overtly between ‘moderates’ and ‘extremists,’ were led by an African Guyanese, Burnham, the ‘moderate’ and the walkout was against the Indian Guyanese, Cheddi Jagan, the ‘extremist,’ resulting from a demand made by Burnham for ‘leader or nothing.’ But within a short time the split inevitably developed into ethnic dimensions. The ethnic violence of the 1960s and two decades of authoritarian rule have together ensured its rigidity and sharpened its significance as a factor in Guyana’s politics unlike, say, Trinidad and Tobago, and have brought home the need to create political and constitutional structures that would undermine its political potency.
Membership of our two main political parties does not necessarily imply that one is a racist or subscribes to an ethnic approach to politics. The leaderships of both parties seriously strive, largely unsuccessfully, to broaden the leadership and membership of their parties. That they have not been successful has not modified their efforts. In the past when there was a clearer ideological distinction between the parties, it was even easier to justify the assertion that motivations for political activism were not ethnic, at least overtly. But supporters are recalcitrant.
While no leader would tolerate ethnic slurs made by their supporters, they are always conscious of the fact that unacceptable language or characterizations in referring to another ethnic group is a common feature of Guyanese life and their supporters might falter. Strong measures should always be taken against such behavior. When Bill Maher, the white US TV host/comedian, liberal and strongly anti-racist, who donated US$1 million to Obama’s election campaign, recently said light-heartedly while interviewing someone that he should not be considered a ‘house n***’, there was a national outcry. He barely kept his job and had to apologise and publicly atone. One of his guests in his next show, the African American actor and rapper, Ice Cube, said that when that word is used in any context, except by African Americans who are now the owners of the word, and presumably are permitted to use it, ‘it’s like a knife.’ Words of racist abuse feel the same way to every race and they do reflect a ‘personal philosophy.’
The government is silently leaning the economy towards Burnham’s socialist control system, to cooperativism and poverty, where the sugar workers suffer and the private sector has no influence. The past government’s policies favoured drug lords, the criminally inclined and business crooks. While these two parties are in existence racism will never die in Guyana and the problems outlined above, and more, will never be resolved. Guyanese have a decision to make, or not to make and to live with the consequences. That decision is whether or not to support a political party for the next elections to be soon announced by Mr. Craig Sylvester, whose views, as set out in a letter in yesterday’s KN, are summarized above.
The dominant narratives in and about Guyana are conditioned by slavery, indentureship and their consequences. One major consequence is the existence of two ethnic blocs which have been socialized differently and separately. Guyana consists largely of two different societies, in watchful competition, but largely at peace, existing under the same national roof.
Against all expectations, Donald Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States of America. From the moment he appeared on a descending escalator in Trump Tower, his luxury building and home in Manhattan, New York, announcing his candidacy for the Republican nomination, very few took the billionaire property developer seriously. Trump, whose messages on the campaign trail were of racism, sexism, xenophobia, misogyny, violence to opponents and more, exhibited all the traits of a confirmed narcissist – abusive and easy to offend.
Defying the Republican Party’s decision in 2012 that it must court the Hispanic vote after Mitt Romney’s reduced support in 2004 on account of Republican hostility to immigration reform, Trump accused Mexico of sending its ‘rapists’ and ‘criminals,’ threatened to build a wall on the southern border with Mexico to stop illegal immigration and to expel the eleven million undocumented immigrants, mostly Hispanic. He also promoted Islamophobia and promised to ban Muslims from entering the US.
In 1838, as former slaves were celebrating the abolition of slavery the British colonial empire, Jesuit priests of Georgetown University in Washington DC, in the US, were selling 272 slaves to Southern estates to raise funds for the University. This trade in human degradation lasted until 1865 when the institution of slavery, one of the worst crimes against humanity, was formally abolished in the US.
After much public pressure Georgetown University announced during last week, as recommended by a report it had commissioned, that it would offer a public apology, would rename two halls as Isaac Hall for Isaac Hawkins, one of the slaves sold, and as Anne Marie Becraft Hall, in honour of a 19th-century educator who founded a school for black girls in Washington. It would also give priority in admission to descendants of the 272 slaves whose names were recorded and some of whose descendants have been or are being traced.