Two main races share comparable socio-economic status
BY PREM MISIR, Ph.D.
December 17, 2000
THE election season is now dawning. The usual political rhetoric that Guyanese have grown accustomed to at election time, continues to embrace allegations of racism. Politicians, especially those of the `live off race politics' ilk, struggle unconvincingly to explain almost every issue through use of the race card.
This behaviour should be expected, since many such `race politicians' are only interested in marshalling their own race for vote and `power' purposes; in their political wisdom, if you can call it that, they believe that their voting support, if any, will not surge from other races. All Guyanese, therefore, need to understand this political `race' behaviour, and exercise their vote expressly against `race' politicians.
Numerous political commentaries, in this election season, claim that racism has reached unbridled proportions in Guyana, and that the elected PPP/Civic Government only represents Indo-Guyanese interests. The PNC claims that the 1997 elections were rigged, and, has since refused to acknowledge the PPP/Civic Administration, including both former President Janet Jagan and now President Bharrat Jagdeo.
The political commentaries claim, too, that the PNC only represents African interests. What has emerged since the last elections, say the commentaries, is a sharpened polarisation of the two major races - Africans and East Indians. Their solution to this perceived racial and ethnic divide, is power sharing.
But how many of these `race politicians' legitimately represent the races for whom they claim to advocate, preserve, and protect?
Allegations of racism constitute the main theme of these political commentaries. Undoubtedly, racism is alive and well in Guyana, as it is in most multi-racial societies. In this context, social policies have to particularly address racial and ethnic discrimination wherever it is found.
In the pursuit of eliminating racism, a key indicator is discrimination.
Discrimination has to be identified and measured, in order to demonstrate the extent of racism. Only in this way can the structures of racism be eliminated.
However, this `race' burden unflinchingly eludes ordinary Guyanese behaviour, as they live out their daily social intercourses. Many Guyanese, mainly, are focused on `bread and butter' issues.
Guyanese across racial and class lines need genuine reassurance about employment and job security, real wages, access to quality and affordable health care, quality education, and child care - strategic areas which are fertile ground for discriminatory practices. The evidence in Guyana does not support the view that discrimination pervasively encroaches on each of these institutions, to the point where Afro-Guyanese are treated in an inferior way, or Indo-Guyanese experiencing similar malady.
This kind of evidence, however, can only be extracted from observations and content analysis sources, in the absence of national data collection and data structures based on race and ethnic origins.
In education, both Afro and Indo-Guyanese have comparable rates of high school attendance, high school graduation, and access to higher education.
With regard to jobs, Africans are conspicuous in the higher echelons of the public service to which they have traditionally gravitated. Similar access to health care is provided throughout the society to both Afro and Indo-Guyanese.
What emerges from these casual observations is a probable statement confirming the comparability in socio-economic status (SES) of both Indo and Afro-Guyanese. According to Macionis (1999), SES refers to a composite ranking on various dimensions of social inequality. These dimensions are education, occupation, and income. A high SES means that a person is high on all three dimensions, and vice versa. To suggest that both Indo and Afro-Guyanese have comparable SES, means that they have fairly similar levels of education, occupation, and income, at each class position, in proportion to their population numbers in each class category. In effect, their population proportions at each class level produce a similar statistical band width for the SES of both groups. Afro-Guyanese are the victims of large-scale discrimination, then their socio-economic status would have been well below that of Indo-Guyanese, and vice versa. But this is not the case. Institutional discrimination exists in the corridors of some institutions. In these cases, the PPP/Civic Government, or any Government for that matter, has a moral and constitutional obligation to eradicate any such discriminatory practices.
The United States is characterized with high levels of racism, producing intensive discrimination throughout the society. Examining the relative economic positions of African and White Americans for 1994/95, indicates considerable inequalities between them. These inequalities are largely a product of discriminatory practices.
Only 13.2 per cent of African Americans, 25 and over, have a four-year college education compared to 24 per cent of Whites. The median family income for African Americans is $24,695 while that of Whites is $40,884. The unemployment rate is 10.4 per cent for African Americans compared to 4.9 per cent for Whites. About a third (30.6%) of African Americans are living below the poverty line while only 11.7 per cent of Whites are experiencing poverty. Although these are 1994/95 data, the situation is relatively similar today for both African and White Americans.
In any case, the U.S. data suggests that the relative socio-economic status for Afro and Indo-Guyanese are much more comparable than the situation that holds for both African and White Americans.
`Race' politicians, in alluding to pervasive racism in Guyana, must provide evidence as to how the comparable socio-economic status of the two major ethnic groups is grossly affected by racism and discrimination. If Africans were profoundly discriminated against, then their comparable economic position would hardly have been a reality. The same argument holds for Indo-Guyanese. Saying this, however, does not mean that racism and discrimination are not part of the ethnic landscape. An institution as an Equal Opportunities Commission could seriously address any institutional discrimination.
PNC protests during the aftermath of the election results are not an indicator of race problems in Guyana. Keep in mind that the protests were confined to a few streets in Georgetown; the protests were certainly not nationwide. If these protests were really a response to Indian racism, then a large chunk of Guyana would have been rocked by communal conflict and violence. This was and is not the case. Apparently, `race' politicians peddling their `race' baggage enter into protracted hibernation between elections.
Again, if any of these two major races is so heavily discriminated against, as some `race' politicians suggest, and which is contrary to the SES comparability factor for both races, then how come Guyana has experienced relatively stable race relations since 1992.
This constant wrangling about power sharing is not based on any genuine comprehension of class relations in the society. The power sharing rhetoric symbolises a thirst and frenzy for political power. Make no mistake about this. All fair-minded Guyanese should review any evidence on the comparable relative socio-economic status of both Indo and Afro-Guyanese.
Having done that, then make conclusions on the basis of the evidence, and don't allow provincially and racist-minded politicians to pollute your minds.
Consolidation of democracy is here to stay! Let's work together in the interest of nation building. Guyanese have really worked hard to restore democracy. Let's not allow a few fickle-minded people to destroy what has taken years to build. Voters really need to identify and isolate the `race' politicians!!
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