‘I am not a racist’

Dear Editor,

I have always found fascinating, even disturbing, that claim, that forced defensive utterance, “I am not a racist.”  Is that possible?  Babies, definitely yes; the blank, blind, and challenged -maybe. How do circumstances and history testify through one’s own words, attitudes, and postures?

I am not a racist could well depend on the definition, subjective to be sure; and hence flawed, or at least questionable.  I would contend that to be assertive, perhaps aggressive about one’s own identity does not rise to the level of naked racism. But to do so to the point of being obnoxiously so, and divisively so introduces elements and degrees of the demeaning and destructive that contradict any statement that I am not so; particularly when another group is targeted.  Sometimes no individual or group need be targeted.  Does one error, one slip have to be fatal and forever, too? And how about serial offensives?

My biggest discomfort is what is really inside that was so infuriating, so pent-up that ugly eruption had to occur; could no longer be managed.  It was only a matter of time and occasion for the spleen to be vented, true self displayed in uncontrolled wantonness.  Once just might be enough.  Once also might be more than enough to hurry underground and to be more careful henceforth.  Take note: careful not corrective.  The poisons may very well fester there, never again to exhibit public countenance, or draw public attention. Is this the new silent majority?  Thoughtfully cautious?  Secretly unreconstructed (apologies notwithstanding -more on this later)?  Burning a high fever internally?

According to my way of thinking, racism is a crime of character and environment.  It is for the most part a character overflowing with strident animosity, explosive malice, and a heaving inner core lacking in content and security.  Thus, there are the usual objects at which to lash out in real fashion and true form.  I also think it is acceptable to articulate justified anger; but there is a thin line between articulating and ventilating.  The former is intended to condemn, the latter is determined to damn, maybe even destroy.  In the United States, I would argue that though there is intense competition for power, jobs, contracts, and the like; it does not deteriorate to the life and death nature and reality of Guyana.  And yet over there, there are these verbal barbarisms, these oral outbursts indicative of settled nativists fears that are about space: the real estate of neighbourhoods, transportation, dining and all those other human interfaces and commerce that tighten the circle.  Convictions stir fears; fears settle and harden; there is the impatient belief of shrinking hegemony, losing ground, and being overwhelmed, and in time overpowered.

In Guyana, it is reflexive and stock-in-trade to lacerate and demonize a whole race for the shortcomings of one; the differences with one; many times, it is other people’s differences.  That is interwoven in the national pathos.  Nowadays, very few here care to offer the pallid cosmetic of, “I am not a racist.”  If that simple unambiguous statement holds true locally, then it houses the biggest lie of all.  It is how far matters have progressed; or degraded.  To be real blunt, whereas in the more civilized climes the failed and fallen evade or scramble for protective apologetic covering, the opposite holds here.  In this society, men and women (of all ages and from most strata) are proud to announce: I don’t like them people.  I hate those (slurs).  I am a racist is worn as a badge of honor in Guyana, through familiar handshake, comforting fellowship, and the whispered passwords of tribal supremacy.  On occasion, it is public; these days, there is more clever concealment.  This enables the smart and slick to shelter easily, though not persuasively under the leaky umbrella of “I am not a racist.”

Personally speaking, though there is discomfort and anger over the said slur, does anyone wish to be near the un-spewed venoms that hide many unsaid slurs?  I don’t.  Better be heard and felt than exist in the fraud of fronts and tones to match.  I know where I stand.  And with whom I don’t want to.

To complete the circle, there is that strange beast: the reverse racist.  The self-loathing, public denouncer of all that is deficient with one’s own kind.  It is found deficient for failing to conform with personal outlook, for rejecting the insistent tyranny that things must be one way and one way only.  If I cannot accept my own (scars and all), then how can I stand in advocacy on behalf of another?  If there is blanket detesting of my own, then what regard can there be for the common people or the commonweal? 

When all is said and done, it comes down to one’s words and works.  The former is fluid and can fool; the latter is infallible and stand as unerring witness.

Yours faithfully,

GHK Lall

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