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On the Constitution of Privilege
by Walter H. Persaud
Guyana Journal, November 2006


Freddie Kissoon’s October 11 response to me is a demonstration of so much that is wrong with the academic/intellectual culture in Guyana. Not only is it plagued with an exclusionary discursive tactic, conceptual inconsistencies and obfuscation of facts but it is also peppered with the invectives of an intellectual ‘cuss bud’ as one can expect from Mr. Kissoon. It is time we begin to understand how these are related.

After responding to an invitation to debate what Kissoon calls ‘East Indian racism’, Kissoon, as host, became violently offensive in his response to my contribution. At an empirical level, he mocks my location. For example he writes: “he [meaning me] settled in, of all places, Thailand, “and asks, “where is Thailand anyway?” and “When are you coming back to live in Guyana”? Since I doubt that Freddie Kissoon is as ignorant of geography as these remarks suggest, their purpose demand interpretation.

I want to argue that behind the apparent harmless rhetorical and polemical appearance of these remarks is a preoccupation with privilege and power. The enjoyment and abuse of these, I want to show, are at the center of Freddie Kissoon’s world. Briefly, they are erected around a special logic of identity and difference. Let me explain.

Kissoon’s response to me turns on the well known nativist discursive tactic of exclusion. Like other nativist arguments, he deploys this tactic by first opening a space between ‘true’ Guyanese who are located inside (Georgetown? Wortmanville? AFC?), and Others, whom he positions outside.

This is done in two ways. First, those in Guyana whose opinions do not fit Kissoon’s are represented as racists and as lesser Guyanese than himself and his small coterie of friends and associates. Thus, in Kissoon’s discourse, almost all East Indians are positioned as less Guyanese than those in his circle on the grounds that they voted for a political party of their choice, the PPP. According to Freddie Kissoon, these folks are not Guyanese: they are East Indians and racists. Likewise, the IAC and the PPP are represented as the cultural and political institutions of this berated, unpatriotic Other.

The second way in which Mr. Kissoon deploys nativism is to establish a rigid binary of ‘home’ and ‘abroad’. Conveniently ignoring that this distinction is increasingly untenable on both empirical (overseas Guyanese hold dual nationality) and epistemological grounds (overseas Guyanese are often more in touch with Guyana than some residents in Guyana and many Guyanese move frequently between both locations), Kissoon seeks to deny overseas Guyanese equal citizenship status by making this distinction rigid.

Based on this double spacing, Freddie Kissoon erects a violent moral and political hierarchy and accords himself and his circle privileged status: Freddie Kissoon and his circle is the privileged center in the cartography of Guyaneseness. Based on its putative purity, this center thus arrogates to itself the right to measure and pronounce on the ‘Guyaneseness’ of the Others outside the center.

However, this cartography of identity/difference does not only become the basis to measure Others, to set them in a relationship of ratio to the center, but also to accord the center the permission and right to name others. This is what explains the name calling in Freddie Kissoon’s discourse. And, like those movers and shakers in business and politics who see themselves as the center of the Guyanese world and wantonly abuse people, Freddie Kissoon indulges in an abuse of power.

One of the interesting things about this cartography of power is that it leads to a constitution of people’s identities as it subjects them to positions which they are subsequently identified with, and with which they themselves often identify. Perhaps this explains the vehemence in the response of many East Indians and Africans to each other, as well as to those like Freddie Kissoon who try to fix and confine them to these marginalized identity spaces.

As a frequent commentator of Guyana, Freddie Kissoon, in his own reckoning as a column-ist, belongs to the powerful center, is a pillar of this unjust cartographic ordering of power and privilege. Like Fanon’s lumpen proletariat, the burden is therefore on those of us on the margins to disturb the uneasy tranquility of this unjust order of things, that is to say, to work towards a more just Constitution of Guyaneseness.

The second point I wish to make about Kissoon’s response to me is simpler. It concerns several glaring conceptual inconsistencies. In July, amidst a spate of murders and other violent acts in Guyana, Kissoon asked me about the concept of violence I was using when I denounced the violence as having a racial dimension. In the context, I offered what was an example which I felt would be clear to Kissoon: like when someone slaps someone, or threatens to slap him.

All who read this knew who the two “someones” in my example were: Freddie Kissoon himself and Joey Jagan. I thought that that example was enough to send a clear message to Kissoon and other readers: physical force leading to injury and death is unacceptable in a civilized society. Kissoon seems to have a problem with that. He feels that my ‘definition’ is “pathetically foolish”.

Kissoon then proceeds to inform us that “German and French philosophy students would chase Walter Persaud out of their classroom if…,” and to lecture me that in American sociology, violence has long been given new interpretations. Then to fill me in with these new interpretations, he offered “some examples to ponder.” Of these, none concerns the American sociological or German and French philosophical traditions. They are all about events and issues in Guyana, such as “when a cane-cutter drinks out his pay…” and “when a man carries on his affairs in front of his wife’s eyes.”

So, in the end, Kissoon did less than me: he offered what he considered examples of violence, but no definition, concept, approach, explanation or interpretation, all the things Kissoon felt he had asked me for. Actually, he hadn’t asked for any of these, nor did I offer any except an illustrative example, so how he came up with these words is interesting. One way to explain why he used these words so interchangeably is to conclude that Kissoon is simply unaware that these are not the same intellectual processes.

However, strange as this kind of elementary conceptual confusion may appear, we should expect Freddie Kissson to know that they are not the same. In fact, the confusion makes sense when we realize that, in Kissoon’s cartography, his location at the center places him beyond reproach.

Thus, he doesn’t believe that he has to take responsibility for such intellectual inconsistencies and mediocrity. Discourse begins and ends with the column of Freddie Kissoon, and if someone dares interrupt or interrogate it, then the power and privilege of the center can be wantonly deployed to silence them. That, anyway, is one dimension of the logic of the will to power.

My final point is simpler. After I corrected Kissoon that Burnham’s ‘free water’ was not free for everyone, he returned louder about UG being free. This is Kissoon: “let me say unapologetically to Walter Persaud and this entire nation that under Burnham UG was free…” Amazing that Kissoon got even this simple fact wrong. UG was not free under Burnham!

For whom was UG free? Does Freddie Kissoon know what the costs were for people from Essequibo to travel to and attend UG? Does he count the losses incurred from pickpockets as soon as people stepped off the boat and made their way to the car park? Does he count the inequalities in the educational system which offered people from QC, Bishops and other ‘town schools’ a disproportionate number of the places at UG?

What is amazing is that a person who demands a broadening of the definition of violence seems myopic when it comes to counting the costs of educational privilege. But then, on the other hand, it is not so strange because this, after all, is the privileged center representing its privileges.

This is the world of Freddie Kissoon.
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