The campaign for the 2020 election has begun. The PPP has made it very clear that its political strategy would be centered on the potent issue of race. This is an area in which that party has tremendous experience—it knows how to use race as an ethno-political mobilizing tool while casting itself as anti-racial. But as I have argued in the past, the success of the PPP’s praxis regarding race rests largely on the inability of its current opponents to construct a counter-narrative that blows away the PPP’s mask.
As I always do when I address this matter, I make a distinction between race and ethnicity, but try to show the relationship between the two constructs. Ethnicity is broadly a cultural construct, while race is political. Ethnicity has to do with differences in heritage and history, while race has to do with meanings of inferiority and superiority attached or imposed on those differences.
Race is a construct that was born in the context of plantation slavery where, in their quest to justify slavery, the plantocracy attached meaning to Africans and Europeans—that Africans were by nature inferior to Europeans. In other words, race gives meaning to ethnicity or skin colour. Again, you often hear many Guyanese ask why we can’t be one human race. What they really mean is that we are all one human species. But race has nothing to do with biology—it is purely a political construct. So, there cannot be a single “human race.”
In Guyana, our problem is ethnic—we have different ethnic groups in a common space competing for political, economic and cultural resources. This is normal. The challenge for all countries, including Guyana, is to develop institutions and systems to ensure that that competition does not inhibit the common development and security of the various groups. Because we have failed miserably in that regard, our ethnic competition has over time taken on a racial outlook. We have attached political meaning to ethnic political behaviour.
So, African Guyanese have come to believe that Indian Guyanese are by nature economically greedy—that their grand design is to own and control all of Guyana’s resources, and in the process, economically disenfranchise and disempower Africans. It follows that if they hold political power, they will use it to economically dominate other ethnic groups. Indian Guyanese, on the other hand, have come to believe that African Guyanese are by nature economically lazy, and are political bullies and cheats who do not play by the rules. So, if they hold power, they would use it to stifle the Indian Guyanese economy and bully them physically and otherwise.
That narrative is at the heart of Guyanese political culture. It is the use of race—giving meaning to ethnic behaviour—to inform our ethnic differences and the competition for resources. It is shared by the elites and their followers within the various ethnic groups. It took root in the colonial divide and rule framework and it has been institutionalized since independence. And what is worse, Guyanese are in denial or are hypocritical about it. How often do we hear the nonsense from both politicians and followers—we don’t have a race problem; it’s the politicians and people like Hinds who talk about race all the time.
Let me end with the PPP and its 2020 election campaign. For 2020, the PPP intends to pin the sins of race on the APNU+AFC government, while using the very race to mobilize and protect its political base. From the moment it lost the election in 2015, the party set about to convince its supporters that ethnic cleansing of Indian Guyanese was a major objective of the new government. It tracked every move the government made regarding the staffing of State institutions and spun them as ethnic cleansing. And because the government was politically inexperienced and careless, it wittingly and unwittingly walked into the PPP’s ethnic trap.
The PPP knew that because it had, in its 23-year reign, institutionalized Indian Guyanese domination of the State, the society and the political economy, any corrective measures, if not handled properly, would look and smell like ethnic cleansing. In other words, the ethnic domination institutionalized by the PPP could not be dismantled without ethnic consequences.
Admittedly, the government has clumsily handled our ethno-racial problem, largely because the African Guyanese political elite have always adopted a simplistic approach to this complex issue. It has believed that if you put a few Indians and Amerindians in top positions, use some multi-ethnic rhetoric, and avoid the appearance of favoritism towards African Guyanese, the problem would be contained or solved. In the process, it has ignored deep Indian Guyanese sensitivities, their political culture and how the PPP manipulates them.
In other words, the government has been politically clumsy on the ethno-racial issue, but it has not engaged in any systematic ethnic cleansing of Indian Guyanese. It just simply has to contend with an enormous Indian Guyanese-dominated State and political economy that it does not know how to creatively address.
So, the PPP is using the racist approach—the underlying narrative that African Guyanese are naturally cheats and bullies. This is what the GECOM controversy is about. Here is the institution that is charged with overseeing the election. It is staffed by mostly African Guyanese. They all belong to the African Guyanese rigging party. That party is unchanging—it will always rig because rigging is in African Guyanese genes. Roxanne Myers is African Guyanese, so she is PNC and she is going to rig the election. Never mind Vishnu Persaud is PPP by virtue of being Indian Guyanese—the PPP’s logic. He will not rig because rigging is not in Indian Guyanese genes.
Let me end with this. I am African Guyanese and I am not PNC. I am not a rigger and would not condone it. Remember, I was among those African Guyanese who challenged rigging back in the old days. I have an interest in race relations—better race relations. Its an area in which I offered my services when this government first came to power, but my independent politics did not cut it with the overlords.
I am glad Mr. Jagdeo wants to talk about race relations. He has challenged the president to debate the issue. I don’t know whether His Excellency would accept. But let me push myself up a bit here. Please Mr. Jagdeo, the president is busy right now dealing with the business of the State. I know I am not a big official, but I have been around a bit. I am available—please challenge me to debate race relations.
More of Dr. Hinds’ writings and commentaries can be found on his YouTube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr. David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.news. Send comments to [email protected]
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