The establishment of one's racial identity does not preclude friendship with all groups

Stabroek News
June 29, 2001

Dear Editor,

I apologise to Mr. Freddie Kissoon for not having read his earlier criticism [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] of Mr. Rickey Singh's methodology and therefore for wrongly attributing the omission of Mr. Singh's name from his S.N. June 14th letter to group solidarity behaviour. Given Mr. Kissoon's expressed commitment to multi?racialism, I understand perfectly his hurt at my attribution to him of behaviour to which he is passionately opposed. I better understand now his faith in "making allowances for individual initiatives." I would like also to praise him for saving the life of the Afro Guyanese youth off the Kingston jetty, an act which called for courage and selflessness.

But Mr. Kissoon should be aware of the depth of the distortions that affect thoughts on how to solve social problems. Stabroek News, for example, gave higher priority to his letter than to one by Dr. Kenrick Hunte on the ill?advisability of handing over Guyana's patrimony (to use Dr. Walter Ramsahoye's phrase) to Alcoa. Dr. Hunte's letter is on Dr. David Hinds's website, Mr. Kissoon's letter was given priority over two letters of mine?one on the issue (which I consider very important) of drainage of an inundated Georgetown and the other, subsequently published but abbreviated, on the poverty strategy. That a highly rated newspaper which writes marvellously majestic editorials on extra judicial killings by the police can give higher priority to Mr. Kissoon's letter than to letters on momentous political economic and infrastructural issues speaks volumes of the values generated by the social struggles in our society.

The complexities of these struggles have trapped individual initiatives in repressive structures. Mr. Kissoon did not take up my invitation to comment on the likelihood that the President will hire young PNC adherents as economists in the Ministry of Finance as he was hired in the State Planning Secretariat under the PNC. If any individual can break from the prison of his organisation, it is the President. Nor did Mr. Kissoon say a word about why erstwhile WPA members leave an environment where multiculturalism is stressed to go to the PPP where race has not been eschewed when the doors are closed.

Racial differences in a racially polarised society cannot be wished away. Racial tensions have destroyed social trust. At this very time, a peace brokered by the European Union in Macedonia is falling apart in a country where the ruling majority appears to have been caught by surprise at the intensity of the anger felt by the minority. If social relations are to be sustainable, individuals must know who they are and be guaranteed a future that protects that identity.

That establishment of one's racial identity does not preclude "extremely close and warm friendships" across racial groups. In fact, it bases those friendships on individual and racial self respect. Neither are inter?racial marriages precluded. In those most delicate of relationships, it is important to be protected by mutual personal and racial self respect.

It is because of the importance of racial self esteem for the confused minds of our young people that I paraphrased Randall Robinson , the exact words of whose quote are: "Though it is no longer fashionable to say it, I am obsessively black. Race is an over?arching aspect of my identity." Frank Fyffe in a recent letter to Stabroek News quotes Walter Rodney as saying:" The black intellectual , the black academic must attach himself to the black masses."

No one should feel ashamed of his race nor should anyone defend indiscretions committed in the name of race. This is the message of Eusi Kwayana's Guyana: No Guilty Race. Ex?slaves saved to buy villages and even offered in one instance to support a planter with loans to save his estate. Ex?indentured immigrants used their savings to buy estates and start businesses. There is a lot of to be proud about in the achievements of our races.

On the basis of people who are confident about who they are, national reconciliation can be achieved in several ways. One approach requires high mindedness from the Government to establish its legitimacy by working hard to achieve racial equality. That is the Singapore solution. Dr. David Hinds, in a modification of that approach , suggests that the Government "tailor IMF/ World Bank conditionalities to cater to the historical racial compartmentalisation of the economy, or implement alternative programmes aimed at changing the balance of power between the two races in terms of equality of opportunity." In this approach , black entrepreneurship will be encouraged. Instead of stifling the BERMINE workers' initiative to participate in the ownership of the bauxite operation , a highminded Government and press would seek to support it. It is the absence of that enlightenment in the Government and in the press that has stalled progress and that generates such insecurity. It is the absence of that enlightenment that does not perceive of entrepreneurship similarly in the sugar industry. A broader vision such as here set out will do wonders to transform the thinking of all our people and show them that there is space for our growth in the reformation of our economic and political structures.

A second approach to national reconciliation embraces the first and aims at democratizing the authoritarian structures that govern the state, the political parties and the trade unions. The built in reflex in authoritarianism is to dominate and not to emancipate. Thus when Mr. Odaipaul Singh (SN letter, June 20, "Rodney was not an Afrocentric intellectual") considers Dr. Hinds an Afrocentric intellectual, he under estimates the focus that Dr. Hinds places on changing those structures and persons and thinking that give rise to authoritarianism in the organisations serving both races. It is that focus that insists on power sharing as the means of removing the "I" and the "my" when conceiving of the functioning of the organs of the state.

Mr. Singh says that "Rodney was equally a hero for Indian youth as he was for African youth." The context of the struggle against authoritarianism was different and Rodney had extra?ordinary charisma. But he sought nonetheless to channel his initiative in the WPA.

An extremely insightful comment indicates why the context is different. In Guyana: No Guilty Race, on page 46, Eusi Kwayana makes reference to "mental dictatorship. It goes before actual dictatorship, as thought goes before action." Whether as organisations or as individuals, "mental dictatorship" is an "ailment" to void.

Yours faithfully,
Clarence F. Ellis

Editor's note
Mr Ellis's letter on drainage of the city has not been published as we are trying to get a copy of the draft plan or to speak to the planner to check some of the allegations made. As for the other letter, we deleted the last paragraph, largely due to length.