By David Hinds
THIS weekend Guyana joins the African Guyanese community in observing yet another Emancipation anniversary. This year’s observances come as the country nervously awaits the outcome of the March 2 elections. It is difficult, then, to avoid speaking about Emancipation outside of the larger political context. What then are the linkages between Emancipation and the current political situation?
Emancipation in 1838 brought a formal end to plantation slavery in Guyana and the wider Anglophone Caribbean society. The moment was pregnant with a sense of both triumph and anxiety. The now free people had triumphed over a system of socio-economic, political and cultural domination that was steeped in the inhumanity of mankind against mankind. The profound story of Emancipation was and is the spirit of overcoming—no other group of people had undergone that level of inhumanity and for so long before and after. The institution of slavery had profound implications for global developments during the period it was practiced and for the post-Emancipation era.
I am arguing that one cannot grasp the reality of Guyana from 1838 to the present outside of the institution of slavery. I know that there is a reluctance by some people, high and low, to explain the present as a consequence of the past. Such presentism conveys a flawed understanding of the challenges Guyana has continued to face as we advance deep into the twenty first century. If we downplay or silence slavery and its consequences from the national consciousness, we erase the true character of the African Guyanese contribution to Guyana and distorts those of other ethnic groups that came before and after them.
It is not that African Guyanese should be elevated to a special status; it is that the scars of the long and sordid bondage they experienced must inform not only an African Guyanese praxis, but the larger Guyanese and African diaspora praxis. It was the overcoming of enslavement that triggered another wave of migration in the form of indentureship. But that migration was not forced in the same manner as Africans were, nor was it grounded in the notion of the inhumanity of its victims. That is a most important and central observation that must form the starting point of any analysis of the present.
The coming of the oil and gas economy to Guyana has to be linked to Emancipation and beyond. For African Guyanese the possibilities are greatly significant. The ailments that have afflicted African Guyanese in the post-Emancipation era and for which they are sometimes blamed stand the best chance of being erased with the coming of the expected oil and gas wealth. The African Guyanese condition relative to that of other ethnic groups has been a source of concern, debate and political acrimony.
Some have urged the group to alter its condition through a spirit of “Black Uplift” that ignores the role of broad governmental emancipatory policy. Others, like this writer have argued that that model is inadequate to meet the demands of a condition that is directly and indirectly the consequence of centuries of dehumanisation and de-empowerment. The African Guyanese condition is not the consequence of any inherent flaw in the collective psyche—it is the consequence of deliberate policies aimed at exploiting their labor for the enrichment of others and the perpetuation of underdevelopment of the African.
So, if grand overarching policies are responsible for the present condition of the group, then it would take overarching policies to alter that condition. I am clear about that and I want African Guyanese who present themselves as leaders to grasp that truism. The African Guyanese condition cannot be overcome by sermonisation and demonisation as some of us have been swayed to do, but by the use of institutions, including the government to advance emancipatory policies. That is my Emancipation plea.
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