The Legacy of Institutionalized Racism
The PPP/Civic's Response

From Prime News , April 19, 1996
by Prem Misir

Charges against the PPP-Civic

The PPP-Civic Administration is charged with advocating racism, corruption, police brutality, and unofficial affirmative action. As you can see these are criticisms emanating from different quarters. The charges of racism, corruption, and police brutality, are hatched by oppositional critics of the government. Those expressing vocal concerns about government's excess involvement with unofflcial affirrnative action are traditional supporters of the Administration. Democracy must be working, as criticisms are flying from people with different political complexions!

Unofficial affirmitive action

Afflrmative action refers to policies and programs giving preferential treatment to particular groups so as to compensate for historical atrocities inflicted upon them. Its purpose is to place the disadvantaged group on an equal footing with other groups in the society. Individuals opposed to affirmative action measures suggest that the govermnent tries hard to create a racial balance in major public appointments.

For instance, as the recent selection of Dr. Martin Boodhoo as Pro-chancellor of the Universityof Guyana, happens to be an East Indian, their current deliberations for filling the vacant post of ViceChancellor are driven by the racial balance perspective; in this case, the appointee must of necessity be an African or of non-Indian origin. The placement of ambassadors and consulate chiefs are another case in point, as well as the retention of significant political appointees from the Burnham/Hoyte era. Traditional supporters of the PPP-Civic believe this to be true, as the racial balance perspective motivates the recruitment, selection, and placement decisions of key appointments. Such high-level posts must be grounded mainly on the selection criterion of competence.

Affirmative action presumes as a given that the Administration's policies and programs are inherently racist and/or contribute to the disadvantaged status of a particular ethnic group. Obviously, the people opposed to official or unofficial affimnative action do not accept this presumption. Close scrutiny of the nation's history implies that both Indian and African groups suffered as victims to the imperialist onslaught. Therefore, both groups should benefit from such compensatory programs providing preferential treatment.

This is not necessary, as there is an open stratification system, allowing a fair amount of social mobility to all groups in the society, perhaps with the exception of Amerindians. Consider for instance the high quality of the new Guyanese immigrant of any ethnicity to the US! A closed and racist stratification system is incapable of generating such desirable human products. Continuous access to the important resources of the society - education, and the economic and political systems - initiating a level of social mobility comparable to the Western world, is quite an achievement. The social mobility level in the US has remained constant since World War II. Salaries and standards of living in Guyana may be undesirable, but there is reasonable fluidity in the labor market for at least the Indian and African ethnic groups.

The PPP-Civic and the "Indian" Image

This situation does not need afflrmative action programs. In fact, these traditional supporters of the present government perceive the Administration's decision making in strategic areas to be too overly concerned with satisfying the African Guyanese. If this is factual, then the PPPCivic government's rule is weak in the rnanagement of its operations, and demonstrates minimum leadership capacity in transforming Guyana for all Guyanese, and not merely for the African group. Apparently, the PPPCivic Party was over the years characterized as having a historical obsession with diluting its 'Indian' image. This dilution process ensures that fundamental political decisions are primarily driven by a 'de-Indianization' of its public image, and not by the objective factors affecting developmental issues. This decision-making outlook is marred, as it is political defensive and reactive, and not proactive.

The PPP-Civic and "de-Indianization"

The current Administration inherited a legacy of institutionalized racism and discrimination from the Burnham/Hoyte dictatorship. While the PPP-Civic attempts to govern predominately through the process of 'de-Indianization', the Burnham/ Hoyte Administration essentially created policies and programs, aimed at sustaining the power base of the African elite. The mechanism used to achieve this goal was the creation of a visible and sharply defined subordinate group. The elite cannot function as an elite without concomitant services from a subordinate group. To make this happen the dictatorship for twenty-eight years arbitrarily denied to Indians access to strategic societal resources.

These were discriminatory practices that were part of the ruling nones and customs of the society. Such norms and customs became entrenched so as to work in favor of the African elite against the Indians. This fortification of standards and practices constituted the institutionalization of racism and discrimination against Indians. Later, working class Africans were coerced into becoming a segment ofthe subordinate group joining hands with largely working-class Indians.

The African elite's exploitation of Indians constructed their power base and increased the elite's share of the surplus wealth. Keep in mind tbat this surplus value was solely appropriated by the elite. Workers have no share of this. The African elite's exploitation of Indians produced their power base, and therefore subjecting working-class Africans to the same indignities as Indians, expanded the level of domination. An increase in exploitation results in a growth of control and influence.

Today, the African elite's power still persists. A change in government is not a sufficient prerequisite to destroy the existing institutional framework, comprising the discriminatory practices against both Indian and African workers, and an illegitimate African elite, a legacy of the Burnham/ Hoyte epoch. The government has to have a perception that the framework in which they operate is evil, and then they have to define the situation as such in policy formulation.

Assimilation as cultural fragmentation

Further, this African elite advocated antithetical intergroup relations between the working-class Indians and Africans. Assimilation as a type of intergroup pattern, was a central policy strategy for the B u r n h a m / H o y t e d i c t a t o r s h i p. A s s i m i l a t i o n happens when a minority group is induced into the life of the dominant group, so that the minority ultimately disappears as a separate, identifiable unit. In this case, the minority group must comply with the dominant culture. The National Service is a case in point. Under the guise of introducing an agricultural program and creating national unity, the National Service anempted to subordinate Indian culture to African culsure, applying, among other mechanisms, the use of opportunistic Indians, armed with requisite cultural skills, to modify the Indian heritage. The program turned out to be a miserable failure, and was heavily funded by the Guyanese taxpayers.

In addition, the dictatorship formulated a policy of systematic fragmentation of the hindu and muslim community. This policy of fragmentation was effected through the planting of visible Indian professionals to produce a coup de etat of the legitimate and democratically-elected temple and mosque organizational personnel. Again, the strategy failed.

The legacy of the Burnham/Hoyte epoch

The PPP-Civic government has languished on the establishment of vital strategies to tear down the legacy of a fraudulent institutional framework that upholds racism, corruption, police brutality, unofficial affirmadve action, and an illegal African elite. The PPP-Civic's tactics and decisions are driven by this false organizational arrangement. Political appointees from the Burnham/Hoyte Administration must tee dismissed. The illegal African elite born out of the dictatorship must be investigated. Decision making driven by the African elite must end. Unofficial affirmative action urged on by the PPP-Civic's need to de-Indianize to bolster a multicultural image, and thereby favoring Africans and other non-Indian ethnicity must cease. Failure to execute these measures will continue to constrain Guyana's development beyond the shackles of the dictatorship.

The Indian and African working class

In imperialist times, the skin color of Indians and Africans were irrelevant; they were brought from their homelands because they were the best and cheapest workers available to further the economic interests of the capitalist class. The British plantocracy's search for cheap labor produced a system of racial subordination, and as Cox put it, racial prejudice evolved into an ideology, rationalizing the subordination of Indian and African workers. The British at the time of their departure established rules for the racial game. Unfortunately, both working-class Indians and Africans have complied with these rules over the last several decades, albeit from different masters. The PNC regime generated victims of both Indian and African workers through the medium of party paramountcy and cultural fragmentation in the same way in which the imperialist did. The PPP-Civic by utilizing an arrangement from yesterday's dictatorship in the making of decisions, has weakened the economic status and undernined the social consciousness of the Indian and African working class.