‘Big Blow to Racism’ the headline read in the Guyana Chronicle after it was announced that the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ruled to uphold the presidential term-limit. But was it really a big blow to racism? Are prejudiced Guyanese still not comfortable in the heat of racial tensions and contented with watching the situation simmer?
Many have managed to look beyond the falsehoods and discord that have cultivated our racial problems. Still, notions are embedded in some of our minds and with them there are voices that feed separation, hate and the misperceptions we harbour about each other. This is based largely on our historical experiences, much of which would have stemmed from our suppression and the fight for power.
We humans are said to be some of the smartest lifeforms on this planet. We are labeled rulers of the animal kingdom, yet many of us lack the sagacity to see each other as equals. One would have imagined that by now, after we would have been existing for what is estimated to be over three million years that we would have evolved past judging each other based on racial identity.
For us, one need not travel all the way back to the plantation when we were enslaved or indentured. The racial tensions of the 1960s, which stemmed from strikes among sugar workers and disagreements on strike actions between the two major racial groups, resulted in civil unrest. Women are said to have been raped, businesses were burned, and people were killed. Most assuredly these are the reasons why some members of the older generation harbour distrust for each other.
The split in the People’s Progressive Party, where Cheddi Jagan emerged as the hero for a majority of Indian descent and Burnham the hero for a majority of African descent no doubt also feeds into this.
The Rupununi rebellion in 1969, when ranch owners, supported by Indigenous Peoples, openly rebelled against the PNC government, is also a part of our history.
Maybe we have never honestly dealt with our history. We have had conversations, but we have never comprehensively and honestly acknowledged how much we hurt each other. We have never generally apologised to each other or put in a genuine effort to heal ourselves. Such healing cannot take place through the course of one or two days set aside by those in charge of social cohesion, but it can happen over time once the efforts are made and the work is done.
I recently observed two men arguing fervently. One appeared to be of Indian descent and other of African descent. News about the CCJ ruling to uphold the two-term limit seemed to be the source of the argument. Despite the debates on social media, I didn’t imagine that there would be any similar contentions among the ‘man-on-the-street.’ Two key players who represent both major political parties were the actors in this pointless drama that was taking place. It was pointless because their argument was not presenting solutions and was not adding to social cohesion, but instead it was adding to the contempt they held for each other. One praised Jagdeo and his leadership. He was the man to guide us into the future, he bellowed. Life is worse now under the current government, he insisted. Maybe he prospered under Jagdeo, I thought. The other man? He is a supporter of the current government. He might have felt victimised and like his needs were not met during the former administration—even though I do not know, if he is honest with himself, whether he thinks that all his needs are being met now. But he might have been or known someone who was denied a job because of their racial identity or where they lived during the previous administration. He might have lost a son or other relative to the gangs or by means of extrajudicial killings. It was evident that he felt a sense of security in having leaders who look like him and who he may think are his brothers and sisters because they share similarities. That should not be a motivating factor for who we choose as our leaders, but it is often the truth of why some make the choices that they do.
For those who are staunch supporters of the PPP/C or the APNU+AFC, such arguments achieve nothing. And, sadly, for the benighted, they often resort to name-calling like “Blackman” and “Coolie.”
“I am no racist!” one of the men shouted.
“Racial… dog… thief….,” the other responded.
When such words are said in the heat of such arguments, they seek to diminish a person. They achieve nothing but hurt in cases where people are fragile enough to be hurt by words said with the intent of hate.
For peace of mind, it is best to walk away. There is little chance for a successful intervention when men are sweating and raising their voices drowning in bigotry and defending the political players in this country; both who have failed the people in many aspects and are yet to prove that the people are first in all decisions regarding our future.
The words “I am no racist” kept repeating itself in my head, however. The words “Big blow to racism” persisted.
And I asked: What will save us?
As individuals, we must first save ourselves. It is those who make decisions based on the issues who will make the change; the ones who will be the majority, I hope, eventually. With a rising new generation, which seems less concerned with race, we might have that dream realised at some point in the future. It is those people who will continue to hold politicians accountable and who have the power to ultimately save this country.
Sometime last week, I had a conversation with an older taxi driver.
“We do not have a race problem,” he said, “we are not nationalistic as a people.”
It was a conversation that was inspired by the current football world cup and his admiration of how the football nations rallied around their teams. We have no team, he reiterated. We do not live and breathe sports.
“Cricket?” I questioned him.
In this game for power, is there a strong team we can cheer for who we know will take us to a sure victory? Or, instead, are the different players often selfishly seeking the glory while the pawns struggle for a little light?
Maybe the driver was right. Maybe it is more that we are not nationalistic. After all, many have left, are on their way out and many have never looked back. But with arguments like the one between the two men and words that often expose the ignorance on platforms like social media, we cannot say that we have no racial tension problems.
There will be a big blow to racism when we stop pretending that our problems do not exist, when we stop lying about voting race and when we stop allowing politicians to play us in this nasty game for power.