Was there anything national about the ceremony to honour high achieving women of African descent?

Admittedly, I could not justify my apprehension about attending the ceremony billed to be held at the National Cultural Centre at 14:00hrs on Saturday August 27, 2011, ostensibly to honour high achieving women of African descent in a year identified internationally as special to all persons of African ‘descent.’ Possibly it was because of having to grapple with my connotation of ‘descent.’ Somehow (without checking the dictionary) the word ‘heritage’ seemed to have a better, nobler fit. But who was I to dissent.

I was accompanying an awardee, one of the guests she was permitted to invite. Having scrambled to arrive on time for an untimely fixture of 14:30hrs on a Saturday, it turned out that we were too early for the actual, and unexplained, start-up nearly one hour after.

Many of the awardees were already seated in a relatively gloomy area for that time of day.  As only a small portion of the forward auditorium was filled, leaving a vacuum that seemed too naturally accepted by the organisers, one wondered whether the indicated commencement time was a misprint. It occurred to me that perhaps I was too hypersensitive! I was conscious of a peculiar admixture of non-involvement in what should have been a celebratory mood, and an inexplicable sense of isolation, if not insulation.

Just shortly before the ‘prideful’ announcements by the occasion’s ‘Hostess’ the forward seats of the auditorium were occupied by the manly presence of Boy Scouts, complemented by Girl Guides, who served as attentive escorts to the ‘gifted’ awardees.

There was no question of the remarkable talents, determination and record of achievements embodied in the women who traversed the stage to receive their ‘tokens’ from the lonely Government Minister of African descent, and from an overwhelmed Amerin-dian PNCR Member of Parliament. (It was obviously inappropriate for a presenter to be a female (or male) PNCR MP of African descent?)

But then again committed to my hypersensitivity, I observed the carefully orchestrated balance in that the Chair-peson of the organising commission was Indo-Guyanese, with the Deputy Chairperson being Guyanese of African descent.

One next had to seek out the purported national flavour of the event. The administration’s high level distance from its own contrivance was palpable; setting the example for the rest of this multi-racial Guyanese society to ignore the observance, if perchance they were at all aware of it. Significantly the ministry with whom this ‘tapestry’ could most likely be ‘weaved’ was not represented by its ‘woman’ incumbent.

At the end of the programme (copies of which incidentally were not circulated to its witnesses) someone amongst the unexcited procession exiting the National Cultural Centre observed (as if in confirmation): “There was certainly nothing national about this.“  Another unkind remark overheard was: “So many of those women are greater achievers than some of the organisers,“ or words to that effect. I pondered the spontaneity of those observations and prayed that they were not too deeply felt; then reflected again, and realised that it would be dishonest of me if I did not come to grips with the fact that what had been experienced, and observed, was profound evidence of the isolation/insulation of a substantial group of Guyanese from their no less illustrious counterparts. When one considered all those honourable women (like so many sisters) who had dedicated their lives’ efforts to health, education, arts and culture, community development and in other professional fields, did not select out whom they served. (That was unthinkable). They served whole communities, all Guyanese peoples, an entire nation.

Did Saturday’s event therefore truly represent the appreciation of these beneficiaries? Was the Year of The Peoples of African Descent intended to be celebrated in such ‘insulation’? Were they not deserving of wider applause – where were the rest of us? How is it possible that in 2011 (or any other year) within our society ‘Indo-’ and ‘Afro-’ would not seize the opportunity to embrace one another as Guyanese?

What a chimera is the acclaimed ‘inclusivity,’ in which it has become possible for ‘one hand to clap’? On the other hand, the ‘exclusivity’ from the celebration was extended even to the known active institutions representing Peoples of African descent.

Is it then that a shared vision has been replaced by a blind alley, through which we move forward, with one collective eye closed? How, in the final analysis, is it possible to ‘weave a tapestry of (one) colour’? Or is the rest of our multi-racial society colourless?

Perhaps it is now up to ACDA to host a ($10M) party and introduce these celebrities to the rest of the state! Certainly the fare offered should surpass the crunchy plastic package disdainfully offered as the climactic item of the evening’s menu.

Yours faithfully,
E B John

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