Is it Gross or Willful Ignorance: Is Racist the new “N” word in Guyana?

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Guyana is an interesting country. But it has to be. It is a country with a legacy of ethnic divisions spawned by the competition among non-white peoples for scarce resources. And its post-colonial political arrangements have exacerbated the problem rather than solve it. The majoritarian zero-sum politics leave little incentive for a politics of sharing. So whichever of the two major ethno-political camps gets its hands on government, it treats it like the ultimate prize with little regard for the consequences.

The 2020 elections reflected everything that is dysfunctional about Guyana. From an over-bloated voters list to a No-Confidence vote triggered by intrigue to external intervention to a hyper-partisan majority at GECOM to a judiciary caught in between the machinations of two warring factions, the election tore the country further apart. The “winners” have framed their victory as a triumph of democracy over attempts at fraud. And the Civil Society endorsed the masquerade partly because of laziness or political spite.

So, we enter a post-election era in high distress—a party of triumphalism versus one of victimhood. Somewhere in the midst a tiny few of us refused to endorse either of the two claims of victory. For us, the election was inconclusive and thus provided the ideal case for a shared government. Neither side bit. In fact, one side took my imagery and turned it into literal meaning—David Hinds wanted to destroy the ballot boxes. Was it a case of gross or willful ignorance? I know it was the latter—a way in which ethnic thirst for power induces insane ignorance.

I give that long introduction to come to the present. I sit back and laugh my eyes out at big people carrying on over black pudding—its taste, its ethnic origin, who should make it, sell it and where to buy it. True the whole thing was ignited by my recounting of an experience of over a decade ago to make a larger point. The PPP propaganda machinery sliced and diced part of my two-hour program to turn me into a racist. Freddie Kissoon, ever the alarmist, bought the PPP pig in a bag, then Guyana Chronicle bought it from Freddie and Roshan Khan bought it from the Chronicle. Even my friend Nkwesi Wiggins got into the act .

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And these men are carrying on about their sister and aunty making black pudding . All the while, I am laughing because none of them bother to search for my original program to hear exactly what I said. In fact, Mr. Alarmist wrote with a straight face that I sent out the video that was circulating. Again, I ask, is it a case of gross or willful ignorance? In any case when they are finished with their treatise on black pudding and are willing to discuss “Institutional Racism and Self-Reliance in an Ethnically Divided Society” I am ready for that discussion. In the meantime, I am enjoying the Black pudding War as my learned friend, the brains behind the Eyewitness column at Guyana Times, labels it.

You see, in Guyana we speak in tongues. As soon as an African Guyanese puts on a Dashiki, or say she loves her African self or defends African Guyanese against assault or criticizes the PPP, he or she is called a racist by PPP supporters. I am sure that those supporters know that a racist is one who advocates the superiority of his race over another and that none of us who they label racist has ever preached African superiority. Again, I ask, is it gross or willful ignorance? I am convinced that the word racist has replaced the “N” word as the derogatory word for Black.

Ever since Minister Ramson made his famous Black Role Model speech everybody and their uncle have discovered their thousand Black Role models. They remember their Black teachers and godmothers. Look these people are not stupid—they know that there are untold numbers of Black People who have accomplished big things. The key to what Ramson said was his reference to seeing his father go to work every day. He did not say his mother or his parents—he stressed his father.

The young man was dog-whistling the well-known stereotype of the absent Black father. It was hardly disguised. The words Role Models were mere masks for a deeper stereotype. Yet, they are all discussing Black Role Models. He was repeating a staple about Blackness that is loudly whispered in non-black communities. The problem is that Ramson was repeating it as a government minister announcing government policy—translating individual prejudice into institutional racism. The government will now provide “fathers” which Black Kids can model themselves after. Again, I ask is it gross or willful ignorance?

So, today is Jordan and Burke–who next? The government is pushing the envelope—it wants a confrontation. I have pleaded with African Guyanese who listen to what I say—violence is not an option. But if the government keeps provoking people, I want to paraphrase Dr. King—I am not going to be a firehose. There are better ways to govern.



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