Support Village Voice News With a Donation of Your Choice.
Former USA Attorney General, Eric Holder, once described his country as a nation of cowards when it comes to issues of race. Here is Holder in his own words: “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.” When asked to review his statement, the AG refused to back down: “I wouldn’t walk away from that speech… I think we are still a nation that is too afraid to confront racial issues… Americans are still hesitant to reach out to one another across the color line [to] talk about racial issues.”
I have referenced Holder to talk about Guyana. Holder in my estimation was on spot even if somewhat charitable in his description. I make bold to go further and describe Guyana as a nation of cowards and hypocrites when it comes to issues of race. Political parties do not confront the issue because they fear they would lose “crossover votes.” Yet when they think that they are safe in the presence of co-ethnics they are fulsome in their condemnation of the other. Civil Society organizations and leaders ignore the issue because they don’t think it should be part of polite conversation. Some leaders and commentators only speak about race and ethnicity when their ethnic party is out of government. Hence the hypocrisy.
The consequence of this cowardice and hypocrisy is that any individual who confronts the issue in the open space is deemed a racist by the opposite group and a political risk by his or her own group. I remember how shocked African Guyanese were when a former president described his party, the PPP, as an Indian party. The man was simply speaking the truth. Further, he was saying aid nothing that African Guyanese and all Guyanese do not say and believe. Yet these very African Guyanese were quick to call him a racist. Or when Indian Guyanese condemn those of us who dare to point to what we see as ethno-racial discrimination by the current government. Only yesterday these very people were loud in their charges of similar discrimination against the previous government.
A newspaper columnist writes almost daily on race and ethnicity in defense of Indian Guyanese and the Indian Guyanese government. Prior to 2020 this very person declared that he did not care about race; that he was a non-racial person. Yet today he is the leading proponent of Indian suffering and victimhood. He said openly that he was always inclined in that direction and declared that he watched more Indian movies than the leading Indianist theorist in Guyana. But this columnist while defending Indian Guyanese honor and dignity is fierce in his condemnation and demonization of African Guyanese activists who dare speak up for their group.
On a recent edition of my program Politics 101, I posed the following question for discussion—Does Guyana’s Oil Wealth belong to all Guyanese. One of my guests could not or refused to answer the question. He instead wanted to discuss who squandered Guyana’s wealth these past 52 years. For some commentators, enhanced local democracy would solve Guyana’s problems. Others feel that we should strengthen our institutions, and everything would fall neatly in place. Still others feel that Constitutional Reform would do the trick. They all avoid the proverbial elephant in the room—the root of the Guyanese problem.
My friend Ravi Dev who until recently felt that the race problem had to be solved to the satisfaction of all ethnic groups outside of elections, has now declared that the problem has been resolved by the results of the last two elections. He has walked away from an organic solution and has embraced an electoral solution. Whereas yesterday he viewed elections as a symptom of the problem, today it’s a solution. When Ravi made that shift, I realized that we were headed for deeper trouble. While political leaders and propagandists play important roles in shaping public consciousness, there is also a pivotal role for serious people armed with ideas and prepared to go beyond propaganda and politicking.
We now have a very vocal Oil Lobby in Guyana that raises the important question of government giveaway of our oil patrimony. So far so good. But these advocates ignore the fact that the current government giveaway is part of the Regime Change deal of 2020—that there is a relationship between the government’s refusal to renegotiate the Oil contracts and its lax regulation of the Oil companies and the fact that it was installed in government in a disputed election with the overt and covert assistance of these very oil-interests.
The Oil advocates also ignore the fact that the commercial elites of certain ethnic groups benefit from the Oil status-quo and use their influence on the government to ensure that there is no change. The Oil advocates are loud on oil-discrimination against the Guyanese nation, but silent on ethno-racial discrimination. Some protest government highhandedness in relation to the Natural Resource Fund but do not locate it as part of a larger authoritarianism . For them the government is democratic but on oil it is recalcitrant.
At least the USA in the form of the recent USAID Report is honest enough to raise the Ethno-racial problem. They may have done so in pursuit of their own interest but what is noteworthy is that despite their entanglement in the last election, they recognize the danger that that outcome poses. It is an attempt I think to point to a more nuanced reading of the situation. What has been clear for all to see, even if we pretend otherwise, is that neither of the two major ethnic groups wants to be governed by the other. Six decades of attempts to force that on them have led to socio-economic and political disaster. If Guyana is to make the most of our oil patrimony, we have to stop being cowards and hypocrites and face head on our racial demons. We are going nowhere until we reach for a political solution in which the ethno-racial distribution of power in its wider and profound dimension is settled.