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OPINION: A response to Dr Randolph Persaud

by Nigel Westmaas

Professor Nigel Westmaas

In his latest missive on the Demerara Waves website (October 22), ‘Patriotism should go beyond Venezuelan issues,’ Adviser to the Office of the President Dr. Randolph Persaud left me utterly taken aback in his concluding paragraph where there is a sudden and unexplained caution to Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton that he should “distance himself from those like Dr Henry Jeffrey and Dr Nigel Westmaas who dwell on racial ideology, and who have long given up on constructive political or intellectual participation.”

Dr. Persaud should presumably know better than to present terms like ‘racial ideology’ as careless and lazy characterizations without evidence.

Perplexed about the source of his conclusion, I decided to review my recent public interventions, which included an article on the 200th anniversary of the Demerara Enslaved Revolt, and more recently, an essay on the historical relationship between Guyana and Ghana, both of which were published in the Stabroek News. The latter article sought to highlight specific aspects of cultural and political relations between two societies. If this is the problem piece in Dr Persaud’s imagination, where is this ‘racial ideology’ with which I am apparently consumed?

Further scrutiny of my opinion pieces in Demerara Waves revealed a critical evaluation of the current government, including one article – ‘Where is the race and class analysis of the PPP-State?’ (September 4, 2023) – to which the usually pugnacious Dr. Persaud surprisingly did not respond. I can only speculate that it was the specific Demerara Waves piece written weeks ago that has provoked his apparent and current ire. Is this where my obsession with ‘racial ideology’ is apparently detected?

Regarding the notion of “racial ideology,” then, I can only presume it implies a prohibition on discussions of issues of race within the context of the ‘One Guyana’ narrative, a narrative that is connected in no small measure with an uncritical, starry eyed view of ExxonMobil (bad contract included) and painting a rosy picture of its impact on Guyana. Perhaps Dr. Persaud might reflect on his own extensive background in academia (prior to him becoming a spokesperson for the current administration), where the concept of “racial ideology” (assuming this is what he refers to) encompasses a multitude of complex aspects. Way more than mere “statements” or personal viewpoints, it delves into structural issues such as uneven land distribution, the assimilation of the “other” to project an image of racial unity, and other indicators that do not necessarily hinge on explicit declarations to signify bias or related concerns.

Furthermore, “racial ideology” may not solely pertain to racism but can encompass the dynamics of “race relations.” Dr. Persaud’s framework of “racial ideology” implicit in his vigorous defense of “one Guyana” would therefore align seamlessly with the very “racial ideology” he denounces.

I have dedicated a substantial amount of time to compiling a document titled “A Bibliography of Race and Race Relations in Guyana.” Currently spanning approximately 120 pages, I have not even reached halfway in locating relevant items.  In essence, Dr. Persaud should understand, for better or worse, the specter of race has played a significant role in both the history and contemporary landscape of Guyana.

I understand the urgency driving Dr. Persaud’s efforts to justify the current regime, and I acknowledge the dedication he invests in his mission and viewpoints. Furthermore, I wholeheartedly endorse the united national response (from both the government and opposition, as well as the people) in addressing the broader and specific threats from Venezuela, considering the latest events.

However, I disagree with Dr. Persaud’s attempt to conflate “patriotism” with unreserved support for the state. It would also be advisable for him to consider the counsel provided by public relations guidelines. Continuously toeing the line that a government or ruling party is infallible will ultimately, like the fable of the “emperor’s new clothes,” lead to a situation where he might find himself vehemently defending the actions of a state even when it undermines the welfare of the people, while feigning admiration alongside the court and courtiers (and the dear leader) for an indefensible situation.

Finally, Dr Persaud asks whether the foes of the government have given up on constructive political or intellectual participation. My question to Dr. Persaud is whether he has given up on “constructive political criticism” which by any standard can be counted as ‘participation’? As Mark Twain once wrote, “patriotism means supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it.”