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OPINION: Indian or Black first, Guyanese second or last

By GHK Lall

I came across something that I just had to share with any section of Guyana that cares enough to desire fervently something different, and then to be willing to work tirelessly to contribute to making that difference a reality.

In view of the stormy history and even more combustible undertones of current elections struggles, I risk sanction for perilously stretching the edge of copyright violation, as I quote at length from the inimitable Theodore H. White in his masterpiece titled, Breach of faith: the fall of Richard Nixon. I simply felt that it is worth sharing the handiwork of an illustrious past countryman with current raging ones. It is an instructive cautionary note that Mr. White’s book is about power at all costs, maintenance of power, and misuse of power.

To extrapolate from Mr. White, America is neither Russia nor France nor England. For when all is said and done, and after all has receded into muted echoes, Russians will continue to be Russians, Frenchmen stay irreversibly as Frenchmen, and Englishmen immutably as Englishmen. I agree with that, and think it is undeniable.

What stopped me and left a profound impression is this extensive extract, which I quote in full from this book for the edification of my fellow Guyanese:

But America is different. It is the only peaceful multi-racial civilization in the world. Its people come of such diverse heritages of religion, tongue, habit, fatherhood, color and folk song that if America did not exist it would be impossible to imagine that such a gathering of alien strains could ever behave like a nation. Such a stewpot civilization might be possible for city-states—a Tangier, a Singapore, a Trieste. But for so mixed a society to extend over a continent, to master the most complicated industrial structure the world has ever known to create a state that has spread its power all over the globe—that would be impossible unless its people were bound by a common faith. Take away that faith and America would be a sad geographical expression where white killed blacks, and blacks killed whites; where Protestants, Catholics, Jews, made of their cities a constellation of Belfasts; where each community within the whole harden into jangling, clashing contentions of prejudices and interests that could be governed only by police.

I am tempted to offer my two-bit interpretations, but on this one occasion will stand aside and let the magnitude of this register with locals. I have an advantage: having lived in America for decades, I can attest to the stirring truths articulated by author White, inclusive of the idea and ideal that is America, flawed to be sure and still magnificently imperfect and incomplete. And having returned thus armed, and lived here long enough, I can further say with much conviction how distant men and mentalities are from that ideal, how resistant that we, Guyanese all, are towards expending a single sinew to drawing anywhere close to that “common faith.” We think of it, like it, want it, but are not moved to make it happen. To make the reciprocal sacrifices that are the hallmarks of greatness; or at bottom representative of the beginnings of something resembling an entity, any kind of entity besides boundary lines on a map drawn by others. For we see ourselves as Indian or Black first, and Guyanese last. Just ask.

Now I seek indulgence to continue with Ted White:

Politics in America is the binding secular religion; and that religion begins with the founding faith of the Declaration of Independence. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

There is much to agree with; that has been possible for me. There is much with which to disagree; and which evidences a slow, tortured, work-in-progress. But it is a work of art and as agonizing as Michelangelo and his struggles with the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. That, too, is an integral aspect of the faith that binds. Ask the downtrodden and discriminated against and those who still have not made it, not had their slices from the banquet of Homer (Aeschylus), which is a longed-for infinitesimal fragment of the American Dream, and there is nowhere else where they would want to be, but America. Ever.

It is time to close on a high note. “Such language was almost incomprehensible to the non-English speaking peoples who were drawn to America in ever growing numbers seeking the promise. But the ideas were compelling and still compel.” And, “Though the millions of strangers who came here to become Americans could not read the notes, the melody of the phrases gripped them.” They did for me and still do.

This is the faraway standard to which I do not foresee that Guyanese can get to in several lifetimes from today. Perhaps never, once there is persistence with what has devastated. There is joy and pride in that which does not bind but brutalizes, in that which reduces to weeping and on knees before all watchers and almsgivers. I think that the men and women in this country are few and far apart, who aspire to great heights, and then configure will to make possible. Just not there. There is only the ugliness of the spiritually destitute, the morally depraved, and the nationally unsalvageable. We continue blindly, uncaringly, as Black or Indian first, and Guyanese second. Perhaps last, or maybe, even not at all anymore.