After decades of focusing on an economistic notion of equality, there is still not an appreciation of the need for cultural equality also. So much for the politics of ‘identity’ and ‘recognition’ in Guyana.
There are some who posited that if we had (or have) economic equality among the various ethnic groups, our troubles would be over. But history has proven that man is not homo economicus, but more like homo culturalicus.
Part and parcel of the existent ‘power relations’ is who gets to define what is the national culture to which all groups have to genuflect.
And it is the differential incorporation of the various cultural groups in this equation that our policies on “multiculturalism” have to address. “Multiculturalism” demands that society presents a full range of prospects, membership, and respect to all its members, regardless of cultural and religious differences; while also creatively accommodating them in a fashion that is both morally persuasive and practically effective for the majority of society.
We have to start with the “Ministry of Culture”, which is now a subset of “Social Cohesion”. The name itself – Culture – suggests a singular, monolithic, overarching “culture” that is being promoted. We can do worse than begin by changing the name of this ministry forthwith to “Ministry of Multiculturalism”. Its mission would be much clearer.
While we have not bothered to come up with a programme on multiculturalism, there is the ritualistic incantation by the authorities that Guyana is “multi-ethnic”. And while maintaining the “One People, One Nation, One Destiny” goal of the national motto, they just as ritualistically chant, “Unity in Diversity”.
The question is: how do we make this aspiration more concrete, when “Unity” is so ambiguous and amorphous? How do we measure this ‘unity’? And how do we ensure that it does not become a stalking horse for assimilation through the back door – as in Britain, the US and Europe?
We suggest that our motto be “Unity in Diversity through Equality in Diversity”.
One definition of ‘multiculturalism’ suggests that it is ‘A systematic and comprehensive response to cultural and ethnic diversity with educational, linguistic, economic and social components and specific institutional mechanisms”. This suggests areas in which we initially pursue equality.
Now, we want to emphasise that we are not emphasising any ‘separatist ideal’, in which each group lives in a hermetically sealed enclave; we are suggesting that the “equal treatment in culture’s imperative, if implemented and become real, would eliminate the barriers of hauteur and exclusion that set off their inevitable reactions of resistance. We believe that when we deal with each other as equals, there would be the inevitable cross-cultural fertilisation (in all directions), and not one-way, which is seen as top down.
With the state out of the ‘culture’, it could engender and promote a feeling of “Guyanese-ness” among our people through the conscious construction of a democratic state; the creation of conditions wherein we are all treated as one, equally, by the state; equality of opportunity; human rights; encouragement of diversities; due process. Justice and fair play and rule of law may seem dry compared to the warmth of the blood ties of “nationhood”, but they can engender the unity of public purpose and the recognition of individual worth, wherein we can be proud of our common citizenship. Citizenship of Guyana has to become something that has concrete meaning to all of us.
For Guyana then, our ethnicities would be defined outside our “Guyanese-ness”, and to be African Guyanese or Indian Guyanese would not be contradictory in any sense. The first part of our identity would be specific, while the latter would be universalistic. The “national” will now be a space where ethnically imagined communities can live and share. To be Guyanese would be to share moral precepts – norms, values and attitudes – rather than shared cultural experience and practice. A “good Guyanese” would be one who is loyal to this country and strives to practice the secular universalistic ideological values it extols.