Henry Jeffrey brings Naipaul and Fanon alive for the wrong reasons

Dear Editor,
In a recent letter in Kaieteur News (5/21/2023), Dr. Henry Jeffrey fired off a long and emotional outburst about oppression, a performance that in my view, brings to life V.S. Naipaul’s essay on power (in the Overcrowded Barracoon). It also begs the psychoanalytic work of Frantz Fanon.
Although the piece begins by invoking Aristotle, there is little evidence of “political science” in it. Instead, readers are subjected to a litany of predictable talking points associated with that electoral deadbeat, the WPA.

Instead of Aristotle, the one-time ardent supporter of the PPP, should have more properly begun his remonstrations with Tacuma Ogunseye. It should also be noted that Fanon had rejected Aristotle as useful in the analysis of colonial domination.
V.S. Naipaul was critical of Afro-Caribbean political rhetoric because of the tendency towards style and performance. Grand performance that is! Performance such as the speeches delivered by L.F.S. Burnham.

Like Mr. Burnham, the letter under consideration here is built around idiomatic expressions of historical suffering, all the while ignoring the author’s own highly active participation in government, the latter now offered up as a sacrificial lamb.
I have always insisted that slavery was more than an economic crime. It was also a crime against humanity, and worse, a crime that denied humanity. It was a systematically organised and executed machinery of racial power that obliterated peoples, communities, selves, and a great deal of the future.

Yes, I agree. But one must also be mindful of Frantz Fanon’s warning, if indeed that is what it was. Fanon wrote: “I will not make myself the man of the past. I do not want to sing the past to the detriment of my present and my future” (Black Skin: White Masks, 1952).

Fanon, the revolutionary psychiatrist, obviously knew well the temptations of power he had found in many, an aspiring leader. And one way or another, all of us in this land need to talk about Fanon’s construction of personal identity outside of the guarantee of absolution embodied in narratives of oppression.
He put it thus – “in no way does my basic vocation have to be drawn from the past of peoples of color” (1952, 201).

These must have been incredibly difficult words for Fanon. These were words that must have allowed him to break free from a consciousness, a state of mind, which had “hemmed” him in for so long. It would be wrong to universalise Fanon’s own “deliverance.”

But unlike Fanon’s courageous exit from the past in service of his own renewal, the letter under consideration here is a perfect illustration of a refusal to take history in your own hands. Instead, history is simply a permanent alibi, always available, always there to be used and abused whenever the occasion demands it.
The following quotation from that letter highlights how past oppression (through colonisation and slavery) is used symbolically in the present, to serve the politics of the present.
Here is the quote: “[t]he colonialists may have felt the moral compulsion to behave secretly but today, more entrenched than ever in our ethnic quarrel, the PPP has thrown such caution to the wind: ‘good life’ for all is a forlorn hope.”

And again “[i]t is most unlikely that nearly 200 years after the abolition of slavery, the successors of those free men will in any substantial number allow the PPP’s blatant attempt at vote buying to cause them to relinquish that freedom that was so dearly won.”

Well, Dr Jeffrey himself did more than vote for the PPP/C. He was a PPP/C man for 16 years! He ran more than one ministry and had the power to bring about change.
The social forces that he now supports had state power for five years recently and if they were successful at their grand rigging attempt they would still been there. Before 1992, the ones that Dr Jeffrey claims are oppressed, had state power for 28 years.

In other words, the comrades that are being represented as oppressed had power for 33 years, and when they didn’t, they had Dr. Henry Jeffrey in office, at the highest level, for 16 years. I doubt that 200 years after slavery, Afro-Guyanese in Georgetown would not see the utter absurdity offered to them.

There is a lot in the letter about the distribution of contracts. Two things are important here. Firstly, no one should be surprised that there is a shortage of Afro-Guyanese contractors. The shortage is in part due to intellectuals in that community, and especially from the WPA and the old PNC, which have for decades raged against business.
They associate business with exploitation of economic accumulation. They tell young people that business is evil that they should instead aim for a decent job in the public service, or the professions.

Secondly, it is necessary here to repeat what I said to Mr. Nigel Hughes in a previous letter. If you know of any cases of discrimination against Afro-Guyanese contractors then take the matter to court.

We have a good judicial system and relief can be sought. I would further like to know what Dr Jeffrey did during his 16 years in high office to solve any of the problems he think exists. For those who do not know, Dr Jeffrey’s performance was such that he was no longer entertained in the Jagdeo administration.
I close with some words from Naipaul that seem relevant to the letter I have engaged – “Opportunism or borrowed jargon may [be used to] define phantom enemies…”
Dr. Randolph Persaud

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