A woman of African descent wrote on social media this week, “Amerindians are animals and should go back to the bush.” The post resulted in people of all ethnicities condemning her and the condemnation in part saw her being subjected to racial slurs. People are imperfect, often judgmental and hypocritical and, once again, those assumptions and beliefs that many harbour about each other surfaced.
Every week, there is some occurrence that disturbs the healing of the nation or causes further fragmentation. There are those who definitely have an agenda and part of that is the thirst for power. Much of it results in hurtful words being hurled around but thankfully there are not many incidences where physical harm occurs.
How do we move forward from those offensive epithets many use to describe others? How is it acceptable to sometimes refer to an Indigenous person as ‘Buck’ but then at other times offensive? How is it sometimes acceptable to say ‘Coolie’ but then unacceptable at other times? And the same goes for the use of ‘Nigger’ or ‘Nigga,’ which has long been debated in places like the US.
Do the meaning of those words change depending on context? Does the history change? Why is it that when you belong to a specific group it is acceptable if you use the ‘derogatory’ term specified for your group but when others use it is offensive?
Who made the rules? Are these just words many have grown to love? Is it that we do not respect ourselves or others to consciously use uplifting words in our descriptions? Is it that we can take the words to mean whatever we want them to mean? After all, the world is ever changing and so is language.
About a day after the post about our Indigenous peoples, President Granger’s Press Officer Lloyda Nicholas-Garrett came under scrutiny for something she said in a Facebook messenger group that was compromised, when an outsider logged into a member’s account and made several screenshots of the private conversations, which were later shared on Facebook. She used the word ‘Coolie’ in reference to her staff and as a result there have since been a few calls for her firing. Not because she incited violence or threatened anyone, but because of the use of that particular word.
This story reminds us that we must all take time for introspection, and be clear on what our objective is, especially in the work we do. It also exposes how we often avoid tackling the core issues but give much life to what are the symptoms. It also reminds us of the dangers of social media. Sadly, it seems that privacy can become public knowledge at any time when relationships fail. While what was said was never intended to be public information, many have since questioned if Nicholas-Garrett has disdain for those of Indian descent who work with her. It is a fair question and what was said is in no way acceptable even though it was said in private, but many, including myself can corroborate that she is no racist. I asked several persons about their thoughts and the consensus was that she should not be fired based on that blunder, but perhaps be made to issue an apology or suspended.
Absurdly, termination of her services was first proposed by a Member of Parliament from the opposition, Nigel Dharamlall, who a plethora of evidence indicates is not opposed to racism. He has been found offending over and over again, has often allowed his Facebook page to be used as a platform for racist threats. Recently, he talked about new school buses and said that two buses are assigned to South Georgetown, which he said is a stronghold of the PNC and dominated by one ethnic group. He went on the say that the bus policy is racist and that only APNU supporters would benefit. He further stated that the PPP was never so divisive or racist. There is no doubt that Dharamlall is fixated on creating division rather than unity and the fact that he is a Member of Parliament exposes how troubled we are as a country.
The hypocrisy from a person like him is staggering and we need not mention other characters, such as his fellow parliamentarian Anil Nandlall. In this case, is it okay to throw stones though one may be living in a glass house and has a political agenda?
The story has brought to light again the urgent need to have honest conversations about race relations. We cannot wait on the politicians to do this because many of them use race to divide us and their only objective is to have power. Meetings are kept where fear is driven into those vulnerable enough to believe untruths, those who cannot or refuse to think for themselves.
The APNU+AFC ran on the platform of national unity, which was encouraging for what turned out to be the majority, but the events of this week raise a number of questions. Have we moved forward or have we regressed? Is social cohesion a joke? Many people throw around words in reference to each other in private without really thinking about what they are saying. If many private conversations were to leak, many of us would be embarrassed and would never want to show our faces in public. I do not believe that most Guyanese are racist. I witness social cohesion every day that has nothing to do with politicians, but Guyanese being loving and respectful to each other. I will not delude myself, however, into thinking that we all get along. Some people hate others for no reason other than the fact that they may be from a different ethnic background and that is because of ignorance. In this modern age, there is enough information that informs how race is used as a social construct for the gains of those who dream to and rule the world.
Growing up in Buxton, I always heard about the unity between Afro and Indo-Guyanese in that village before the racial disturbances in 1964, which stemmed from issues surrounding strikes by sugar workers who mostly supported the PPP and supporters of the PNC being hired in an effort to break the strike. This escalated into racial disturbances where both Indo- and Afro-Guyanese suffered.
We have to talk honestly about our history as a nation if we are going to move forward. The grandchildren of those who suffered because they belonged to one group or another must make peace with each other. We cannot wait for the older generation or politicians to do this because things may never change. We must build on those positive and progressive relationships already established and not just talk social cohesion, but live it.