(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 15 Dec 2005)
This is the first of many columns I plan to write between now and the elections on why race should not be a deciding factor in the vote next year. I do not know how many of these columns will be written or how often, but my goal is to make a case as to why Guyanese should do away with their racial voting blocs and make the next election decision based on issues like economic stability, crime reduction, judicial system reform, foreign policy, human rights, women’s rights, educational reform and renovating the national infrastructure.
As I write this column, racial violence stirs in Australia, a country many thought of as being immune to such occurrences. In fact, there are some who are blaming Prime Minister John Howard for the unrest, claiming his use of racially instigating language has created a new generation of ethnically wary Australians.
Howard denies these accusations and says the reasons for the recent riots have to do with how people feel about 9/11 and other terrorist acts. I find this a bit hard to believe since not even the Anglo-American youth are picking fights with Arab-Americans, so why would the Australian youth want to fight over 9/11?
The one thing (and possibly the only thing) the Bush administration has done right since 9/11 has been to calm the racial fears of various groups to keep America from going into civil unrest. There was an immediate move on several fronts to assure Americans that the majority of the Arab community does not share the same extremist views as those who are a part of this radical group.
So why on earth would Australia’s youth be so offended at 9/11 and other terrorist acts? A sampling from the letters to the editor published in The Sydney Morning Herald this week might shed some light on this question.
One letter said, “The Howard Government and its media cheer squad have been blowing a racist dog whistle for at least five years. Why were they so surprised when the pack eventually turned up?”
Another letter said, “What incited the mob at Cronulla? All mobs follow a leader. Forget the text message call to arms. It has been through 10 years of coded rhetoric and dog whistle messages that John Howard has given tacit approval for Anglo-Aussies to fear and loathe different races and religions.”
It does seem that a valid argument can be made against Australia’s PM for provoking racial fears. How sad is it that a country that to this point in history has lived in racial harmony is now in unrest? How sadder still that this racial unrest was provoked by one of its trusted leaders?
Guyana has never known what it feels like to live in racial harmony. However, it has had its share of divisive politicians and racist leaders. There are only two primary parties in Guyana, both of which garner their support from the two primary races. Is it that these two races are so different that their political and governmental expectations never coincide?
Are the economic, social and medical needs of these two groups so dissimilar that they can never agree on even one point? No, this is not the case at all. As a people, most Guyanese share the same flooded streets, the same poverty and the same ill-equipped medical facilities. So the lack of sharing the same needs cannot be the problem.
What about culture? Most Guyanese wear the same types of clothes, listen to the same types of music and hold similar religious views. Many Guyanese eat the same kind of food, shop at the same stores and speak the same language. With so much in common, why is the division still so apparent?
Is it just race? Colonisation was not a friend to Guyana, yet the people stood together to demand independence – and got it. Forty years later those same people live their everyday lives without issue – until it comes to politics. When the PNC was in power, the Indo-Guyanese felt they were being marginalised. With the PPP in power now, the Afro-Guyanese feel they are being marginalised.
So it seems that although there is a sweet diversity that should be appreciated in this nation, Guyanese have almost everything in common except their political party. This one point of separation has caused nothing but heartache and death for Guyana, so why is it allowed to remain a part of this society?
That is not to say that racial issues are not important, but that such issues should only play a small part of the many issues Guyanese face in life that can and should be worked out.
Where there is diversity, there is a natural tendency to fear something or someone who is different. However, we should not allow that fear to rule our lives, our government or our nation. Guyana has allow something that should be a small issue get out of hand and grow out of control. Now, this one issue controls the nation.
Further, Guyana has been so focused on racial issues that other important facets of the nation have been totally neglected, like economic stability, crime reduction, judicial reform, foreign policy, human rights, women’s rights, educational reform and renovating the national infrastructure.
Ethnic diversity is an attribute that makes Guyana beautiful. It should be celebrated instead of despised. A new approach should be implemented to incorporate the voices of both races in political and social issues. The current divisive situation is not acceptable and has been the downfall of this beautiful nation.
Therefore, my #1 reason against racial voting is that Guyana can no longer afford to allow this one issue to so engulf the nation and thereby neglect all the other important aspects of a young nation. The nation is falling apart at the seams and it is time for all Guyanese to work together, across racial lines, to demand that the leaders and politicians switch their focus to the other issues that have long been neglected.