According to media reports, President Granger used the occasion of the Emancipation Eve event at Beterverwagting to deliver what one media house described as a “hard-hitting” speech in which he rebuked African Guyanese for not lifting themselves as their fore-parents did. It was one of those moments that caused all of Guyana to stop and listen because the rebuke came from the leader of the country and the political leader of Black people in Guyana on a day when those people turn out in their numbers to celebrate the anniversary of freedom from the worst form of human bondage.
Twist it or turn it, Emancipation Day is a sacred moment for Black people—a moment of memory of bondage and of overcoming and defeating bondage. It is a moment of celebration of the best of the African spirit. It is also a moment of sisterhood and brotherhood, of Black unity within the context of Black diversity. It is a moment of sober reflection on the road traveled from 1838 to the present. It is a moment when Black people must ultimately confront their present condition. So, what is said on that day has great meaning.
As I read the president’s words, I detected an attempt to grapple and confront the current Black Guyanese condition. I, myself attempted to do so in my column last week. Five years ago, as part of the leadership of Cuffy250 organization, I suggested that we title our annual forum, “The State of African Guyanese Forum” and use the occasion to reflect on the current condition of the group. President Granger gave the keynote address at four of the five forums we have held to date and on each occasion, he spent part of his address speaking frankly to the state of African Guyanese. It was always appreciated, and his comments never raised concerns.
So, I am at one with President Granger in openly and frankly confronting the current state of African Guyanese. He observed some negative tendencies that have taken root among sections of the Black community. They are not universal among the group, but they are prevalent enough to be cause for concern. Self-critique is vital to democratic deliberations and it is the highest form of critique. Self-critique could be uncomfortable for the group, but when criticisms come from within, it, more often than not, comes from a place of love.
I think President Granger loves Black people—he has spent a lot of his academic and journalistic energies unearthing Black history and constructing Black narratives of resistance and pride. But, having said that, I must admit that I have some difficulty with his rebuke. There was something about the tone, the generalization, a kind of “talking down” rather than “reasoning” and a seeming lack of responsibility to the group that bother me.
Excerpts from the president’s speech are worth quoting: “You must be ashamed if you do not have work. Some people are proud that they don’t have work. They want a raise. They always want a raise. People get a raise today, they expect to come back… to come back to want another raise, but we’ll have to promote self-employment in this village and other villages,” Granger said.
“Go out there and use your talent to enrich yourself and your children. That is economic emancipation. We must go out there and use our talents. If we make our living by hanging around the corner and liming at the Guinness Bar, we will be forever poor but if we go into our farm, go into our workshop, go into our schools we will be able to bring prosperity,” he said.
“Let’s put our monies in boats, buses and bicycles, not in vodka, rum and gin. Let’s put the children first. If our fore-parents were drunkards, we won’t be here today, but they saved their money and they bought these villages not for themselves but for future generations.”
My first difficulty is with the very notion of self-critique coming from the president. While the president justifiably feels free to admonish his people in the open for their bad ways, he heads a government that is most intolerant of internal self-critique. No member party of the governing coalition has felt free to criticize the government in the open on any issue. The WPA, of which I am a leading member, has been severely criticized for publicizing its own marginalization—the outcome has been further marginalization.
At a personal level, I, along with Lincoln Lewis, have been removed as a columnist from the sate-owned newspaper on instructions from the highest level of the government for engaging in self-critique of the government. The president did not condemn that act or separate himself from it or order an inquiry, which has been his preferred mode of justice. Lincoln Lewis and I are known supporters of the government and our criticisms come from a place of concern and love. There is a double standard in the president feeling free to rebuke his people for their shortcomings while his government punishes supporters for rebuking them, the government for their shortcomings.
My second problem with the president’s rebuke has to do with the context of his comments. He was addressing his rebuke to poor Black people. He is a successful Black man. He is their leader. He got opportunities that they don’t now have. Yes, he is right to talk about their bad priorities, the bad attitude of some of them to work and education and the “raise” mentality that resides in their midst. But these are poor people whose options are limited, who exist in a state of hopelessness and who often lack the enabling environment to encourage alternative choices.
We who have escaped the clutches of the ghetto have to be very careful when we seek to rebuke those who are left behind. In trying to urge them towards a different way we must try to climb down from our social perch of relative privilege and power and try to get into their minds and heads. We must try to avoid talking down to them or appearing to do so and strive to reason with them instead. I don’t get the impression that the president was in a reasoning mood at BV. So, his message came over negatively—as anti-poor and smelling of the traditional black-stereotypes that have been the narrative of those who feel blackness is inherently inferior.
It must also be pointed out that liming and having a drink or two are part of leisure—a vital part of human existence. True, too much of it could take away from other aspects of human endeavor. To his credit, the president seemed to be arguing against leisure as a substitute for work. But that got lost in the tone of his remarks.
My third difficulty with the president’s speech is that after rebuking Black people, he left them with little hope. He is the most powerful person in Guyana. His power came from the votes of mostly Black people, including some of those same drunkards and bad-way people he rebuked. Some of them put down the bottle and the hustle, stopped liming and voted for him and the Coalition in May 2015. Many of them voted for us because they wanted an opportunity to do better. President Granger and the Coalition promised them that if we won power, we would help them. Now that we have the power, we seem to be telling the “go help yourselves.”
No, Mr. President, that is not right or fair or just. We have to go back to these very people in 2020 and ask for their votes. You, Mr. President, have the power to make a difference in the lives of those poor Black people. Having rebuked them, you promised them no big policy to help then own the “boats, buses and bicycles” you urged them to aspire to. Where are they going to get the loans or start-up capital from, for example?
Mr. President your brilliant career as a military man came because of government investment in you and your generation. Now that you hold the reins of government, you should do the same for the present generation—invest in them. Rebuke them, but when you are done, tell them what your government will do to help them to do better. Government policy is not hand-out—it is part of what government was created for. That is a major role of government in post-plantation societies. There is no country in the world where the descendants of the enslaved lifted themselves without the deliberate intervention of government. Even the most stubborn of them, the USA, saw it fit to enact an affirmative action policy.
Those people empowered the president and the government to help them. It is my considered view that the bad habits which the president correctly identified and criticized would decrease if and when his government put in place policies that target the structural problems of the black community. A PPP government would never see that as their principal task. The president is not a disinterested party in the scenario he lamented at BV.
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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