Racism charges merit higher priority

by Festus L. Brotherson, Jr.
Guyana Chronicle
March 21, 1999

AS LONG as the issue of racial discrimination is perceived to be on the secondary rungs of the priority ladder in officialdom, President Janet Jagan, despite her honest heart and sincerity of purpose, will continue to have a difficult time in establishing a professional working relationship with Desmond `Bully' Hoyte.

The President herself and nearly all of Guyana are calling for them to put aside differences to assure an environment free from fear and for getting on with the business of effective governance. Also, the more charges of racism are perceived as not engaging high priority attention, the more enduring will be the challenge of placing Mr. Hoyte who leads, oops! directs the opposition People's National Congress (PNC) back on the defensive and, hopefully, onto proper leadership.

This is the illogic of what Guyanese scholar at the University of California at Berkeley (UCB), Dr. Percy Hintzen, calls politics continuously energised by "ethno-communal pluralism" which has been the dominant marker of politics in Guyana for many decades. More candidly, political life anchored in charges of racial discrimination produces benumbing stagnancy, persistent tension in power relationships and, very significantly, it undermines formal rules in bureaucratic decision making in appointments, firings, personal behaviours, oversight procedures, promotions and recruitment efforts at official and private levels.

Although bureaucracies have formal rules for standard operating procedures, it is usually informal rules derived from kinship, nepotism, patronage imperatives, and prejudice which tend to prevail in decision making in racially divided societies; especially in Third World states where bureaucratic structures tend to be corrupt, infirm and readily manipulable.

Racial discrimination is so viscerally foul that, if the perception of its practice (right or wrong) is present and unrelieved over time, it can be used effectively to rile up base criminal elements to riotous activities. Why? In the context of Guyana, where black citizens (especially among the middle classes) believe they are victims of racism, believe they are continually suffering its effects, and feel terribly insecure about their and their family's prospects for advancement in society, the society becomes polarised in silly games of one-upmanship and revenge in a point and counterpoint escalation of tensions.

This is especially so when hope of advancement or for keeping one's current station in life, in the minds of those citizens, begins to diminish. That usually ever present sense of `Dum spiro, spero' (While I breathe, I hope) - the necessary psychological glue which keeps connectedness in stable societies - starts to soften and ultimately dissolve.

Guyana experienced the calamitous consequences of this during the 1960s and is, in this writer's view, inching towards that catastrophic brink of disorder and trauma once more. In the current unstable environment, an experienced Afro-Guyanese bully who craves leadership for vainglory can become the self-appointed domineering voice of those who perceive themselves as victims of racism. Thus far, we have been lucky largely because the principal aspirant for such power, Hoyte, has an uncanny aptitude, if not compulsion, to constantly shoot himself in the foot by engaging in iconoclasm and by criticising anyone who dares to disagree with or criticise his 'brilliance' derived from so-called messianic eminence.

But it would be imprudent to dismiss the brooding instability because of Hoyte's buffoonery. The tension in the socio-political and economic environment is real. The illogic of perceived racism, and the perceived ignoring or dismissing of it tends to produce its own logic - deeper and more firmly entrenched instability.

The ultimate result tends to be an awful "synergic unification of the masses" which combusts to produce violent results on a scale that stymies basic governance efforts and diminishes political legitimacy.

Of all the e-mails this writer receives, most are about racial discrimination from good friends and noble foes alike who give rebukes or are less kind about what they term my lack of understanding. And in the wake of the Hoyte-dictated PNC's repeated agility at using racial fears to make Guyana "ungovernable," the matter of persistent charges of racism from law-abiding Afro-Guyanese must be addressed more vigorously in an organised, investigative and purposeful public manner to assuage fears, give added assurances and, where necessary, correct wrongs.

It is also widely known that in the past Indo-Guyanese suffered the harshness of exclusion and persistent violence on grounds of race. It is obvious today as well that many are the targets of violence on the same noxious grounds of race. This increases the danger of current instabilities in our society and makes more urgent the need for immediate action towards solutions.

The calls are increasing for the reconstitution of the Race Commission to which President Jagan and the late Cheddi Jagan expressed rock-ribbed commitment. I support those calls. To their credit, both the President and the late Cheddi did retain many known black stalwarts of the ousted PNC upon electoral victory in 1992. Many still remain in high office and carry out duties of great sensitivity.

This writer elaborated on this positive approach to effective governance in a lecture at the University of London as early as December 1994. However, according to the mail I have been receiving, key decision makers have become so entwined in the vicissitudes of crises management that not enough focus is being placed on charges of racism which might be an important aspect of the instabilities. In nurturing our newly democratic polity, high priority must be given to make racial discrimination at the governmental level a non-issue for Mr. Hoyte as he continues on his personal crusade to win back the presidency he occupied illegally and lost by the people's voice at the polls.

Here is Hintzen from his 1998 essay on Guyana, "Democracy on Trial: the December 1997 Elections and its Aftermath." After lamenting the historical institutionalising of racial politics in Guyana, he says, "Under such conditions, communal groups develop a vested interest in political organization and mobilization as a means of participation in political decision making. The issue of legitimacy pertains therefore not (only) to a demonstration of popular support, but to effective representation of the competing communal groupings in the process of decision making about resource allocation. The more politicized or exclusive this process, the more intense the demands for communal representation."

Relatedly, veteran observer of politics in neighbouring Trinidad & Tobago (T&T), Dr. Anthony Maingot, has authored a December 1998 Study at the North-South Center of University of Miami, Florida entitled "Global Economics and Local Politics in Trinidad's Divestment Program." Since both Guyana and T&T have near similar ethnic profiles, and the politics of race is also entrenched there, it is valuable to cite Maingot.

He found that, "Because (in T&T) 1995 represented the first time Indo-Trinidadians have held national power, there were early predictions of racial confrontations and political instability. As far as instability is concerned, there has been little...(and) Despite the ethnic/racial divisions, there has always been some attempt of ethnic distribution...." It is a fine study and I recommend the section on "Race, Employment and the Origins of State Intervention."

(Brotherson can now be reached by e-mail at: lysias2@yahoo.com)