his November 24, 2019 column in the Kaieteur News, Freddie Kissoon wrote on the topic “Lesser of two evils.” Here is a quotation from that column: “Recently, two African Guyanese known for their adumbration of African culture and the need for a strong African presence in Guyana’s economy wrote that they support the present government over the PPP in the forthcoming election because it is the lesser of two evils. They are Dr. Kean Gibson and Dr. David Hinds”
A quick perusal of my two columns on the matter shows that I never used that characterisation to describe my electoral support for the Coalition. I deliberately avoided it, because I know that is not what I am doing.
It was Mr. Timothy Jonas who, in a response to my initial column, said my stance was akin to supporting the lesser of two evils. I replied to Mr. Jonas by questioning his characterisation. The headline of my reply was” The lesser of two evils? I stand by my choice.” The question mark in the headline clearly suggests that I question Mr. Jonas’ characterisation.
Yet Freddie puts those words in my mouth—he said Dr. Gibson and I wrote that we are supporting the lesser of two evils. Had Freddie like Mr. Jonas said that he interprets my stance as support for the lesser of two evils, I would have no quarrel with him. He is free to interpret my position. But to falsely say what he wants me to say is unacceptable.
There is a reason Freddie wants me to say that I am supporting the lesser of two evils—he lets the cat out of the bag when he says Dr. Gibson and I are two African Guyanese “known for their adumbration of African culture and the need for a strong African presence in Guyana’s economy.”
He doesn’t say it, but it can be easily inferred that he is suggesting that our support for the Coalition is based on race. This is a very popular view among Indian Guyanese commentators and politicians, and is picked up by sections of the wider Indian Guyanese community. It is the basis for a lot of the criticism that is heaped on the WPA for its membership of the Coalition. And it is used partly to scare African Guyanese critics of the PNC away from the Coalition.
The problem seems to be this—while scholars and activists of other ethnic groups can afford to ignore or downplay race and racism, Blacks cannot. The question of race is central to Black people’s experience. From the middle passage to the present, we have had to confront the reality and consequences of racism, a socio-economic and political construct which was created to justify our enslavement. So, no serious Black scholar or leader can avoid addressing that phenomenon. Of course, there are some who have avoided it. But I have decided that I would confront race and racism as an active part of my scholarship and activism. I make no apologies for doing what I consider to be part of my responsibility to Black people.
Unfortunately, many Indian Guyanese have not taken the time to try to understand why Black scholars and leaders have a duty to centralize our racial experience. They don’t fully appreciate what it is for a people to be permanently involved in reclaiming their history, identity and culture—their humanity—and the role that those of us in whom they have invested must play in that process. Yes, there are some Black leaders who play around with and manipulate race for cheap political ends. But to lump all of us in that basket is the unkindest cut.
Despite my commitment to Black Uplift and liberation, my political choices have not been driven solely by race. I grew up in a home where the head of the household, my Aunty Cecelia, a regular village woman, had sided with Bro Eusi Kwayana when he broke with Burnham in 1971. When I asked her why she didn’t choose Burnham, she answered in typical Buxton black-pudding woman fashion, “Nah because he Black and powerful and can talk nice, mean dat he always right. He can’t be wrong and strong.”
That powerful piece of philosophical advice has guided me to this day.
It guided my activism against the Black-led PNC regime. I was part of a cadre of proud Black people concerned about and committed to the liberation of Black people, but prepared to confront a Black government because we felt it had lost its way. Led by Kwayana’s example, we continued to do our Black Power work even as we struggled against a Black government.
We stood with Jagan against Burnham. Was that racially driven? Was it the lesser of two evils? Was it a betrayal of Walter Rodney’s Black Nationalism and Pan Africanism as articulated in his “Groundings with my Brothers,” and for which he was expelled from Jamaica? No, it was a principled decision, aimed at what we saw as struggling to ensure freedom for all races.
To this day we are scorned by some Black people in high and low places who have never forgiven us for undermining the Burnhamite government. It is something we have to live with. I hope younger people who are searching for ways to overcome our racial divide can see our example as a potent way to beat back racism. Multiracialism is not just about African and Indian Guyanese coming together, it is also about standing up to wrongs by the leaders and followers of your own race groups.
This brings me to my support for the Coalition at the 2020 elections. I supported the APNU in 2011 and the Coalition in 2015. I was part of the WPA leadership that together with Robert Corbin and a section of the PNC leadership conceived and birthed APNU.
It was at one level a difficult decision, as we were entering into a partnership with partisan enemies. But at another level, it was a principled decision driven by the inhumanity of the PPP regime. The PPP, like the PNC before it, had closed the door on democratic transformation. We were not alone—many Indian Guyanese felt the same way as they showed at the 2011 and 2015 elections.
When the Coalition attained power in 2015, I applied the same standards to them as I did in relation to the previous governments. In fact, I held them to an even higher standard because unlike the PNC and the PPP regimes, this was a Coalition government—a plural government.
They made some of the same mistakes as the previous government and some new ones, but they have not crossed the line of political brutality and barbarism. I have concluded that this has to do with the multiparty nature of the government.
I have no doubt in my mind that had this been a one-party government, Guyana would be sliding right back to where we were in 2015. There has been a qualitative shift towards a more humanistic form of governance by this government, which I think is the basis for socio-economic and political transformation. Not anywhere near perfect, but much better than before.
And so, I declare that my support for its return to power has to do with the Coalition’s promise of transformation. I am supporting a Coalition, however lopsided and imperfect, over a stubborn one-party arrangement that is still bent on domination.
Even as recently as this past week, the PPP has said that it has no interest in power sharing. My choice has nothing to do with race. In fact, I would not be true to Black uplift and liberation if I encourage Black People to vote for the Coalition because it is black dominated. I would be dishonouring the example of my Aunty Cecelia.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
More of Dr. Hinds’ writings and commentaries can be found on his YouTube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr. David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.news. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org