Too many people are searching for a systemic solution which does not involve an adjustment of their own attitudes
July 23, 2001
The WPA-sponsored event at the Tower Hotel on Power- sharing and Race on Thurs-day, July 19 laid down several markers on the retrogression rather than advance of power- sharing discussions. The case for power-sharing was argued in historical and academic terms but nothing was offered with respect to specific options.
Two years ago, during the constitutional reform process discussions on the issue were more focused and specific. Groups such as ACDA, ROAR, Club Friday and younger elements of the PNC, as well as the WPA itself, produced detailed options on how the power-sharing concept could be operationalised. One three-part series of discussions examined many of these proposals in detail. They generated no momentum because, in my view, they failed to engage the two major parties in the discussion process.
For all its flaws and ultimate disappointments, the constitutional reform process generated genuine popular participation in the form of such proposals, whose legitimacy was in no way undermined by the obtuseness of the major parties. The way forward is surely not, as was suggested at the symposium, to go to the highway and by-ways convincing people of the need for power-sharing, which inevitably focuses on failures of the past. The starting point for the WPA, if it wishes to advance the debate - which would be most welcome - is to pick up on those proposals, all of which are positive and available - and generate some practical options as the basis for mobilizing popular opinion.
An appeal from a member of the audience who worried about the growing separateness of Guyanese culture and the need for a commitment to move against this tendency, provoked a response from the panel that this was a sentimental view of our cultural past. Building on a collective past was misconceived, they commented, since the deep roots of our culture showed more separateness than we realize. This negativity is comforting stuff for ethnic cleansers on TV. It is not encouraging for those whose concern is how to build an inclusive future in which people of all backgrounds can live, work and feel at home. Recognising and respecting difference is one thing, explaining them in quasi-biological terms, thereby watering down responsibility for our own future, is quite another.
We cannot hope to resolve the racial problem by appropriate political systems alone, we also have to deal with the everyday personal manifestations of racism in terms of exclusion, avoidance, preference and verbal abuse. This requires drawing lines about what is acceptable behaviour and what is not, it involved some personal courage in terms of appearing unpopular and risking challenges to one's ethnic loyalties. Far too many people are searching for a systemic solution which does not involve any adjustment in their own attitudes or behaviour. In John Henry Newman's phrase, "searching for a system so perfect, no one needs to be good".
Moreover, it was disappointing the WPA could not have provided a greater diversity of opinion than the members of its own Executive, stimulating and committed though they are, to launch such a venture.