Equality in Diversity

Equality in Diversity
Photo : Ravi Dev

ROAR of Ravi Dev Ravi Dev

Key to moving out of our political morass is to deal with the imperatives of our plural society. Back in the 1970’s when I was first studying the ethnic question in the Caribbean, the anthropologist MG Smith was criticized on the ground that the ‘cultural plural society’ model he applied to several Caribbean societies was too ‘static’. It merely described what existed and did not suggest a mechanism of change. He retorted tartly that he’d always pointed out that invariably the different cultural segments were ‘differentially incorporated’ into the power relations of their societies and this fact, in and of itself, initiated change.

               I’ve always felt that the political scientists and economists who pontificated on our national policies, ignored MG’s insight at our general peril. As citizens of polities that promised equality (via the state) their lived experiences inevitably would determine how they felt about the attainment (or not) of that egalitarian promise. Their experiences were filtered through their cultural lenses and it should not have surprised any, if the several groups (defined culturally) were differentially into the power structure, political consciousness would cleave along cultural (read ethnic) lines.

               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 that posited if we had (or have) economic equality among the various ethnic groups, our troubles would be over. I’d like to vehemently disagree. We are not homo economicus...but more like homo culturalicus. Each group in Guyana has an economic elite but we have not seen this elite making common cause over the past half century.

               Part and parcel of the ‘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 present 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.

I would suggest that we have to start from the very top: the Ministry of Culture. 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 program on multiculturalism, there is the ritualistic incantation of Guyana being “multi ethnic” by the authorities. And, maintaining the “One Nation; One People; 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? “Unity” is so ambiguous and amorphous – not to mention qualitative. How do we measure this ‘unity’ and how do we ensure that what it does is not a stalking horse for assimilation through the back door? We suggest that our motto be “Unity in Diversity through Equality in Diversity”.

Now we want to emphasize we are not emphasizing any ‘separatist ideal’ in which each group live in hermetically sealed enclaves. We are suggesting that the ‘equal treatment in culture’ imperative is implemented and becomes real. It will eliminate the barriers of hauteur and exclusion that set off their inevitable reactions of resistance. We believe when we deal with each other as equals there would be the inevitable cross-cultural fertilization (in all directions) and not one-way that is seen as top down.

With the state out of the ‘culture’ business, it could engender and promote a feeling of “Guyaneseness” among our people through the conscious construction of a democratic state - the creation of conditions where we are all treated as one, equally, by the state. For Guyana then, our ethnicities would be defined outside our “Guyaneseness” 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 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.