by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 28 November 2006)
I have been meaning to write a column in response to Hamilton Green’s letter to the Editor from November 22 entitled, “Preserving special racial identities is not development.” Since last Thursday was a holiday in the U.S., this is the first chance I have been afforded to give this topic the attention it deserves.
Having read about Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s plan to establish racially mixed communities in Trinidad, Mayor Green said in his letter, “I think with my knowledge of the ethnic divide in Trinidad and Tobago, Prime Minister Manning ought to be complimented and supported. It is my conviction that Indian and African descendants have always wanted to live peacefully together.”
Green also said, “There are some, however, both in Trinidad and Guyana, who believe they must preserve as sacrosanct, their specific racial identities. This is not development and what is instructive, is the fact that organisations in Trinidad and other groups elsewhere, have criticised Mr. Manning's initiative.”
I have long been sorrowed by the racial divide in Guyana. I must confess that when my Guyanese husband first explained the situation to me, when I was 15, I simply could not make sense of it. I lived in the middle of America where repulsive racism was between White and Black, so I could not comprehend the thought that Black and Indian would also behave in such a manner toward each other.
I am not sure if it is true or not, but from talk around the Diaspora, I gather that Mayor Green has a racially diverse family. So was my family while growing up, which is why I never fell prey to the deep-seated hate of racism. The tradition of racial diversity carried on when I started my own family despite the protests of racist religious people from my church who could not believe I would marry outside of my race.
After having two absolutely beautiful mixed children (White and Indian), my husband and I continued to expand our diversity to include a little boy from Haiti (Black) and a little girl from Panama (Hispanic). In my estimation, this is how the world should be – a beautiful mix of colours living together as one family.
As I watch the initial stages of an “African Renaissance” in Guyana and the continued propagation of what Mayor Green termed “Indian hegemony,” I cannot help but to be saddened that others do not share my view of what constitutes a beautiful family.
Inevitably, when I write columns about race, I get emails offering justifications for personal racism – as if I do not understand Guyana’s racist history. However, I do understand it and have seen it first hand more times than I care to talk about, I just adamantly refuse to succumb to it.
Moreover, I agree with Mayor Green on this issue. Drawing more distinct lines within each race will do nothing but further exacerbate an already hypersensitive issue. Calling for an African Renaissance is not the way to help the disenfranchised Afro-Guyanese. Such action will only cause further national division. Help will only come by racial unity.
I do understand the difficulties of being stereotyped and marginalised; I am a woman after all. I spend so much time trying to help women established themselves as equals in a world predominantly led by men.
However, it would not serve my gender any good to be told they are better than another gender or that we should be the ones to rule. I do not fight to bring men down; I fight to raise women up. When men and women are on equal footing in every aspect of life, that is when I will rest.
Likewise, an African Renaissance only serves the Afro-Guyanese community if it’s aim is to unite with Indo-Guyanese to bring racial unity and promote national progress. If this renaissance creates further division, then it brings nothing but more harm to the Afro-Guyanese community and the nation as a whole.
The same concept applies to the Indo-Guyanese community. Any movement to band together with the goal of further alienating fellow Guyanese of African decent is counter-productive for the nation.
I am not suggesting that each community sacrifice its cultural heritage. This would be a sad affair. Instead, there is a way to maintain each community’s cultural distinction without further dividing the nation.
When both races can appreciate the heritage of the other race and at the same time embrace unity as one nationality without regard to race, this is when Guyana will begin to heal from its past and move toward a promising future.
As I have mentioned before, the dominant political parties in Guyana have exploited the racial fears of the people for their own selfish ambitions, which is probably the single most prevalent reason the nation remains racially divided today.
This type of behaviour should sicken the voters, but it seems as if every time the nation falls for the schemes of these divisive politicians and in the process tears the country apart one more time. These leaders have always been bad for Guyana, which is why racial unity needs to start with the people first.
Indeed, Douglarization is a damn good thing. I would rather embrace an encompassing racial diversity any day over the racist hate that has crippled this nation for decades. Instead of promoting African pride or Indian pride, how about working toward Guyanese pride for a change?