Equitably distributed power provides ideological value to the individual rooted in the culture
I believe that the government’s call for a “One Guyana” is to remind us, the citizens of this country, Guyana, that we must see it as a “joint enterprise”. And no one can argue with that, even if we must reject conceptions of “oneness” that are oppressive to our existing diversity. The representation of our “six peoples” on the $2,000 bill that has just been published signals to me that the ideal is the unity of a “One Guyana” state with the diversity of its nation in six ethnicities. . That “nation” and “state” are not identical, and must be disarticulated, while creating a community of vision as “Guyanese”, is recognized.
Whether we like it or not, the modern state is a reality: it is the unit within which we act, and it has sovereignty on the international scene. At independence, the reality of our rapprochement meant that we did not have a common culture “emerging from an immemorial past” as certain other countries had done. People identify with the state to the extent that they see themselves reflected in it – and that’s partly why some continue to honor their ethnicities. The challenge is how we, within our Guyanese state, build a “unity” of our peoples that accepts our diversities.
We propose to delineate our cultural sphere as a private sphere, with minimal state intervention, and to build the global unity we need in the public sphere. What we suggest is moving from the idea of a unitary “national culture” as the site of identification to the shared practice of a political ideology as the basis for engendering such identification with the Guyanese state. Rather than those, like Rex Nettleford for example, who demand that all ethnic groups assimilate into Creole culture to become “one nation”, we propose that a sense of “we the people” – of “Guyanism” – can be generated in the process of our conscious construction of a democratic state.
We situate this building of a national perspective in what we call the “Democracy Project” – the creation of conditions in which we are all treated as one, equally, by the state. Equal opportunities ; human rights, encouragement, diversities, due process; justice, fair play and the rule of law may seem dry compared to the warmth of the blood ties of “one nation”, but they can engender unity of public purpose and recognition of individual value, in which we can be proud of our community citizenship. Guyanese citizenship must become something that has concrete meaning for all of us.
Universalism is never neutral to power; its defenders still have a certain interest in it. Contrary to the proponents of the universalism of Creole culture for the Caribbean and Guyana, we must not repeat here the American error (they privileged European culture) and privilege the culture of a group. Likewise, since the state itself must justify its legitimacy through the goals of all its citizens living by the principles and values of its ideology, the status quo will inevitably be challenged by the excluded. The movement allowing citizens to authenticate themselves constantly, ideologically, is still active: multiculturalism is becoming an integral part of the “nation by design”. The current Ministry of Culture signals a singular culture, but a “Ministry of Multiculturalism” that focuses on practices that empower all cultures is more appropriate to our reality.
For Guyana, then, our ethnicities would be defined outside of our “Guyaneseness” and be Afro-Guyanese, Amerindian-Guyanese or Indo-Guyanese etc. would in no way be contradictory. The first part of our identity would be specific, while the second would be universalist. The “nation” would henceforth be a heterogeneous space in which ethnically imagined communities could live and even share voluntarily, as we increasingly do with food. To be Guyanese would mean sharing moral precepts – norms, values and attitudes – rather than sharing cultural experience and practices.
Guyana is therefore at a critical moment, where we are trying to ensure that the power of the state is fairly distributed even as we face a deluge of foreigners. Multiculturalism is not only a matter of cultural practices; it is also a signifier of the power relations of society. It is only when power is distributed equitably that ideological values mean anything to the individual rooted in the culture.
This is, I believe, the content of a national identity for One Guyana.