Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dysfunctional Opposition Parties and Political Schizophrenics

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 29 August 2010)

It gives me a headache whenever I ponder the condition of the opposition parties in Guyana. The frustrating political impotence, hodgepodge antics, head-spinning personality eccentricity and all around nerve-wracking extravaganza are enough to give anyone a permanent migraine.

It is difficult to put a finger on exactly what it is that causes the opposition parties to seem so dysfunctional. Perhaps it is because they appear to be so very out of sorts a majority of the time. Sometimes it is like watching a circus and one cannot even guess as to what will happen next.

It certainly is not unheard of to have an opposition party make a decision one day that changes the very next day. For example, will the AFC join an alliance with other parties for the upcoming elections? Yes, no, maybe…down the road…it cannot be ruled out. How can anyone know what to think about the AFC when those in charge do not even know what they think?

I can say this much, I would find it very difficult to cast my vote for a party when they might decide tomorrow on a whim to change their stance – again. I am not even a voter in Guyana, but I still have strong feelings about whether the AFC decides to join an alliance that would include the PNC. If it matters that much to me, it matters even more to voters. I would be very put out if midway through the campaign season the AFC changes its mind again. For goodness sake, just make a decision and stick to it so the voters know where the party stands.

Yet still, on the subject of dysfunctional political parties, perhaps it is the lack of a unified front that makes Guyana’s opposition parties seem eccentric. Sure democracy within the party is vital, and I am certainly not one to toe the party line, but once a decision is democratically determined, present a unified front to the voters, or they will think the party is politically schizophrenic. This executive member says one thing, another leader says something else and the spectacle goes on and on. Really, it’s just embarrassing to watch.

When announcing that decision, own it. If you are a leader, then lead. Pussyfooting around undermines voter confidence. For example, the PPP struts around like it is the best thing since the invention of roti. You don’t see them dragging their heels (not in public anyway). So when the PPP goes into a flooded village (even one that has flooded multiple times) and tells the people that it cares about their plight, the villagers believe the words they are told and even marvel at the compassion of their leaders.

True, the PPP has all the money, all the power and, obviously, all the self-confidence – but it really is tough to follow a leader who doesn’t seem to know where she or he is going. I am not suggesting for one second that the opposition parties should pretend to know where they are leading their constituents. I am saying they should already know – and if they do not know, then move out of the way and make room for leaders who do know. Voters want leaders who have the capacity to take action.

Hmm, that makes me wonder if it could be complacency that makes the opposition parties appear so dysfunctional. Nary a word is heard from the PNC – in every day life, or in Parliament – and sometimes one has to wonder if the party has curtsied to the PPP for so long that it has become a lapdog. I do understand that to get a little, the PNC might have had to give up a lot – but it is the voice of their constituency that gets lost in the process.

On the other hand, we have the PPP. The opposition parties (and Freddie) can fool themselves and say the PPP has done nothing to improve the life of the Guyanese. However, all a person has to do is take an honest look around to see how much development has taken place since the last election. The ruling party has been working hard while the leaders of the opposition parties still cannot even sing the same tune with others in their own party.

Sure, the advancements might be lopsided and favour the constituency of the ruling party, but PPP voters will not even be looking far enough to see that – and might not even care if they did. The PPP constituency can see the improvements around them with their own two eyes and could care less about the relentlessly bumbling opposition circus.

It is no wonder the ruling party is so cocky. The PPP knows full well that it will not lose even one of its faithful votes – no matter how much they embarrass the nation with their unseemly behaviour – as long as the opposition parties run around looking more like uncoordinated, unsure, awkward teenagers than mature, intelligent adults who can rule the country.

Election time is upon us and Guyana’s opposition parties should already be running like a well-oiled machine. All of the kinks should have been worked out before the start of this year, yet we have spent most of the year watching the circus and trying not to shake our heads in utter frustration as opposition leaders fumble one step after another.

My headache worsens. I have only one very small, but very important, piece of advice for the opposition parties – get it together.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Stabbed Nine Times

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 22 August 2010)

The scourge of domestic violence continues unabated. The bodies of Guyana’s women continue to pile up. What is yet to be seen is a real, feasible solution to this dire situation. What is it that makes men think they have a right to beat and kill women? Domestic violence has not been stamped out; instead it has grown to staggering proportions.

The week is only half over and already the headlines blaze crimson with the news of more women dying at the hands of men who were supposed to care about them.
One woman was stabbed nine times by her husband. Nine times! The stabbing came after years of tortured beatings and abuse. What type of human can do this to another person?

Moreover, passing out mere eight-year sentences for killing a pregnant wife, as was the case just this past week, is absolutely ridiculous. Any infidelity on the wife’s part is simply a non-issue. What if women went around killing husbands for being unfaithful? This cane cutter should have been put away for life to replace the life he viciously stole.

I recently wrote on the alleged wrongs done to the former First Lady, Varshnie Singh, by the President, Bharrat Jagdeo. I maintained that given the allegations made by the former First Lady (allegations not disputed by the President), the President has set a poor example for the men of Guyana – and it is obvious that the women are paying for it with their lives.

I received many email responses on this topic, most in support of the column, but there were also a few supporting the President. Of the handful in support of the President, more than half were of the “blame the victim because she was crazy” type. These I dismissed out of hand because there is always plenty of “crazy” to go around during a divorce.

There was one email that said my column was one-sided, and clearly it was since the President did not offer his side. However, I did encounter one direct statement that was recorded by the President, “I wish her well in the future and I just want to go on with my life.” This one sentence shows how dismissive and aloof the President acted toward his wife. As if by waving his hand he could make his marriage disappear.

There was no love in the President’s remark, no respect, no obvious desire to ensure the ongoing wellbeing of the woman who was his wife. He simply wanted to be done with her. I wish with my whole being that I had been well enough to write on this issue while it was actually happening.

After reading my article concerning the former First Lady, Freddie Kissoon wanted to know how I perceive “…the role of the parliamentary opposition, given that they are finished with the Singh/Jagdeo confrontation and continue to sit in Parliament.” The answer is quite simple, I see the opposition parties as part of the overall problem.

I have been trying desperately to determine if there is one sure way to curb the domestic violence about which I write so often. I have come to the conclusion that there is not one reason it exists, and not one solution that will halt it. The willingness of the opposition parties to duck and run on the “Singh/Jagdeo” issue is one of the many reasons domestic violence continues unabated.

Those who maintain that the Singh/Jagdeo matter is a personal affair could not be more wrong. Nor is the abuse and murder of any fellow countrywoman a personal affair. The beatings and murders of Guyanese women are at epidemic proportions today because everyone decided to look the other way instead of protecting the victims. The opposition parties failed the country by dismissing the President’s repugnant behaviour toward his wife. And society followed suit when they saw the everyday Joe displaying the same disregard toward women.

Freddie is right that there is no way in hell any president in other countries would have been allowed to continue in office after such a scandal. I dare say that in the U.S. and many other nations, that scandalous president’s own party would have demanded a resignation to save face with the public. But in Guyana, the ruling party does not really care about the public’s opinion.

As such, it would have been upon the opposition parties to demand that the sullied seat of the highest office in the land be purged of the ill repute lapped upon it and restored to a place of esteem. Alas, some other sparkly object must have caught their attention, as often happens with my little niece, and a very important matter slipped by, all but forgotten.

When leaders in the ruling party, as well as the opposition parties, discharged the Singh/Jagdeo issue, they essentially condoned it. And now all of the nation’s leaders are shrugging their shoulders and wondering why domestic violence is so rampant. They have no clue how to stop it. Let me help to clue them in, start by renouncing the disrespectful relationship the President had with his former wife and do not get sidetracked on this important stance.

This is the position that should have been taken from the start and consistently maintained as a matter of principle. It should not have been swept under the rug and forgotten about. Moreover, the issue of domestic violence should be foremost on any campaign platform for the coming election. If leaders want to see society respect women, those leaders need to prove they respect women themselves.

Author’s Note: I would love to hear from others on the issue of domestic violence. Write to me and tell me why you think women suffer so much at the hands of abusers and what can be done to put a halt to the violence.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I support the separation of church and hate

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 22 August 2010)

On July 28, famed author Anne Rice, who wrote “Interview With the Vampire” and “The Queen of the Damned,” posted the following on her Facebook page. “For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

It was in the last line of Anne Rice’s statement that I found camaraderie because my conscience will not allow me to belong to any religion either. In fact, it has been years since I walked away from Christianity. I read her Facebook status only minutes after she posted it and sent it to people immediately because I knew it was going to be big news.

After a Catholic upbringing, Rice became an atheist as a young adult and lived many years as such until a conversion experience restored her faith ten years ago and she became a devout Catholic. Anne Rice has long been one of my favourite authors and I have read all the books in her “Vampire Chronicles” and “Mayfair Witches” series. Coincidentally, when I read them, I was a believer and found her books to be searching and longing for something. She found that for which she had been searching.

After her conversion experience, Rice started writing books with a Christian theme and was very successful. Yet, try as she might, Rice has said she could not reconcile her conscience with the behaviour of her religion. Been there, done that. What is one to do when common sense and your conscience tell you something is wrong, but your religion insists it is right?

For thousands of years, religions have taught that women are to be subjugated to men and that it is moral to kill another person as long as it is done in the name of a God. We now know – many of us, anyhow – these hateful teachings to be evil. However, as long as religion continues to teach any type of evil in the name of their Gods, right thinking humans will continue to reject that evil in the name of their Gods – as Anne Rice has done.

Personally, I quit religion because of the hate it has incessantly dealt to women. In her own words, Anne Rice quit religion because, “In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life.”

Depending on each person’s interpretation of their holy scriptures, one can hold to a belief that is on either side of those issues as scriptures give equal weight to the message of love and the message of hate. Sadly, many religious people side on the side of hate versus love. They choose to judge because their scriptures encourage them to do so, while it is also admonishing them not to judge. They choose to discriminate because their scriptures teaches them to do so, while it is also teaching them that all humans are created by their creator, loved by their creator and cherished by their creator.

I believe that at some point in their lives, all religious people are faced with the decision to side with one aspect of these contradictory teachings or the other. Too often, they choose the path of judgment, hate and intolerance. Those who do not, either choose to walk away from their church while maintaining the “love” aspects of their belief or some, like me, choose to walk away from faith completely.

How can a woman believe there is a God who loves her and has a good plan for her life when scripture teaches that women are cursed (Genesis 3:16), are subjected to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:18, 1 Peter 3:1), that men should control women (1 Corinthians 11:3), that women are not permitted to speak in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35), or that we should not fix our hair, wear gold or pearls or costly clothing (1 Timothy 2:9)? Why should I be willing to sacrifice all for a God who permits a husband to scourge or beat his wife (Qur’an 4:34)?

As the group Black Eye Peas sings, “Where is the love?” Many may see their God as love, but it is difficult for countless in society to accept and believe this view. It is difficult for a gay person to see that professed love when they are told they are an “abomination.” It is difficult for women to feel the love when being labelled as second-class citizens disgraces them. It is difficult for certain races to feel the love when, according to scripture, God himself refers to them as “dogs.”

My hope is that more religious people will make a stand like Anne Rice to leave religion and embrace the love teachings of their faith. Perhaps then organized religion would be forced to rid itself of the hate teachings and embrace love, equality and tolerance. In the words of a bumper sticker I glimpsed a few days ago, “I support the separation of church and hate.”

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I Can See Clearly Now: The Case of the Former First Lady

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 18 August 2010)

As I read through the various articles on my chosen topic, I was so upset that I was physically trembling. The anger, frustration and sense of betrayal on behalf of another were overwhelming. It was difficult to get a firm grasp on the depth of the ramifications of what I was reading.

Since I started writing this column again, Freddie Kissoon has made several inferences in his column about the treatment of the former First Lady, Varshnie Singh, by her husband and President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo. So I decided to sit down and do some research of my own into this subject.

During the time when the former First Lady was basically put out of her home, I was at my worst health. In fact, just two weeks after Varshnie Singh went to the press about her situation, I was in an emergency room with a collapsed lung. Shortly after that, the doctors told me I was allergic to wheat, gluten, dairy and eggs – among other foods – as well as environmental allergies. Needless to say, I was not in touch with even my own little world right around me, much less what was going on in Guyana.

Once I had my wits about me again, I heard about the situation between the president and his wife from here and there, but I never really sat down to research the circumstances in full. It was only because Freddie dutifully and consistently brought this revolting situation to light that my inquisitiveness got the best of me and I decided to find out for myself what really happened.

When I read about the sad life the First Lady lived while married to the President, my heart hurt and my stomach lurched. Her day-to-day life was hell and it went from bad to worse.

I read phrases like, “Singh went public yesterday, a day after she was barred from entering State House, the official residence of the President. She told reporters at the mid-morning news conference that she had no clothing apart from what she was wearing at the time.” And the First Lady continued, “This is the first country I have heard of where the First Lady is proactive, doing good for the nation but gets penalised because her husband is President and finds her work to help the same people he swore to defend and represent ‘showing up the inadequacies of his government’ and therefore made me his enemy.”

But it was this statement by the former First Lady that had me shaking as I read it, “It is shameful at this stage of my life to regress to having my parents support me,” she said. “It is funny and sad to hear the politicians talk about the campaign against domestic violence, investing millions to stamp it out etc., when what I am experiencing is hi-tech domestic violence and persecution. Our president is using his office and state resources including Ministers unprofessionally to disadvantage a woman.”

After reading this, everything clicked in my head. I now know the reason there was not more excitement in general about the passage of the Sexual Offences legislation earlier this year – because it was a mockery. It was something to laugh at because the very man who signed the legislation into law, from all appearances, did not esteem one word of it.

It became very clear to me in just a matter of seconds why the women of Guyana suffer at the hands of the men. I finally understood why no amount of laws or police involvement would ever bring change to the situation of women in this country. It is because the ultimate example of leadership a nation can have, provided a blueprint of disdain and contempt toward his wife – and subsequently every single woman in the nation.

I can see clearly now and it all makes sense when I see young Guyanese men, who otherwise seem like decent people, post a status on Facebook that says, “come on ladys i can smell you curry aah bun pon de stove, get off pon de dam facebook before de curry burn and you all man put you out from de kiss me ass house….ha ha ha ha.” [sic]

After all, if the President of the country can treat his own wife with so little respect and put her out “from de kiss me ass house” then why shouldn’t all the men in the whole country be able to do the same?

I now understand why the headlines of women being beaten and murdered continue to fill the pages of the newspapers every single day. I now see why that legislation signed by the President has done nothing to keep the women of Guyana safe and alive.

A few years back when I realised what religions have done to women in the name of their gods, I turned my back on all religions and all gods. If no god is deserving of my praise because of the ill treatment of women, then certainly no mere man will ever get my praise when he mistreats a woman.

Whatever respect I had for Jagdeo and the good things he may have done for Guyana during his time in office is now exhausted. I cannot ever respect a man who does not respect women. Moreover, I will now rethink everything on this issue, starting with whether women have been tormented more under the Jagdeo regime than previous administrations.

There is so much more I would like to say on this subject, but I fear my editor would not be too happy with the words I would use. It is suffice to say that I see clearly now. I understand.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The PPP should find a way to govern all the people justly

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 15 August 2010)

While studying journalism in college, would-be reporters are taught to look at an issue from every possible side. This is drilled into our heads. If I turned in an article that did not approach every side of an issue, I was given a failing grade. Semester after semester of this training forces journalism students to search long and hard to question all aspects of a matter.

I have to admit that although I have always been one to question authority, before my journalism training I did not personally have the capacity to objectively approach any given matter. I saw issues as black and white, with very little or no grey area left for the ideas of others. When I approach an issue now, I have the capacity to step outside of the matter and objectively view it from every side possible.

In my opinion, politicians should be forced to undergo this same type of training to teach them to objectively approach matters in need of conflict resolution. Governing is all about people. Democracy is government of the people, by the people, for the people. And whenever people are involved – conflict is bound to arise.

Life is full of conflicts, these conflicts can be found in our personal relationships, business relationships, in politics or even on an international level between countries. As such we have no other choice than to learn how to resolve conflict, so it does not turn into an all-out fight – or in national issues, a revolt or war – which can at the very least ruin relationships or worse, destroy lives.

For example, the health and well-being of thousands upon thousands of people is at risk when trash piles up in the streets. However, the relationship between the Georgetown City Council and the central government is such that the two groups are beyond establishing any talks that could have resolved the issue earlier.

In mulling over this topic of conflict resolution for the last couple of weeks, I have found it interesting to see the opinions of government agents on this issue. In his column on August 6, Freddie Kissoon touched on President Jagdeo’s response to a Stabroek News reporter’s question on political compromise. Jagdeo said in part, “The people in opposition want to get in government and the people in government want to stay in government. So you will always have conflicts and one side needs to make the other side look bad and the other side needs to talk about what they are doing.” This response is as far from the concept of conflict resolution as the sun is from the moon.

In an article on power-sharing published in this newspaper last Friday, General Secretary of the PPP, Donald Ramotar, “explained that the PPP can only partner with political parties that it could trust, and the opposition have consistently said as well as done different things, consequently, the PPP did not partner with them. He said that it would be to the detriment of the nation should his party place power in the hands of people who would abuse it.”

In other words, Jagdeo maintains that trust is not to be had between what he views as rival political parties and Ramotar says no power-sharing can happen where there is no trust. This philosophy effectively puts all opposition parties at a dead end. In short, only those who have voted for the PPP have viable representation in Guyana and the representatives of the rest are indefinitely impotent.

This causes a very big problem. According to “The Third Side” by William Ury (a book on how to resolve conflict), the single biggest reason people fight is the lack of an alternative to coercion when conflict turns serious. When the PPP shuts out all opposition groups in the governing process, it gives them no recourse by which to operate in their roles as representatives of the people who voted for those in the opposition parties.

This philosophy of exclusion by the government not only shuts out all opposition groups, but their electorate as well, leaving a very large portion of the people of the nation feeling frustrated and desperate. No good can ever come of such a state of affairs. Good governance of the people, by the people, for the people cannot happen when such a sizable segment of the people are silenced.
The government puts civil discourse at risk by employing this philosophy of exclusion.

The governing party, while blindly believing itself and its electorate to be above the day-to-day political ruckus as long as it holds the balance of power, has instead frustrated the rest of its fellow countrymen to the point that the harmony of the entire nation is quickly becoming an issue.

Moreover, those who do not see the value of cooperative mediation concerning conflict are short-sighted because power is fluid, never staying in the hands of one person or group indefinitely. There will always come a day when power shifts hands and when it does, if those who previously possessed the power were obstinate and unmoving in addressing conflict – they can expect the same type of treatment in return.

The writing is on the wall and it says the PPP should find a way to govern all the people of the nation justly.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Where are the female voices on national issues?

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 11 August 2010)

Nearly every time I sit down to pen this column, I cannot help but reflect on the fact that there are very few public female voices in Guyana who speak on political and social issues. I do not believe this void is for lack of desire, because Guyanese women have told me they would like their voices to be heard.

The numbers of women who have told me they would like to do what I am doing are not dramatic in the least, maybe only a handful over the years. Yet those are just the ones who have spoken their minds to me on the issue. I believe there are many more who would like to join the national conversation on issues that impact Guyana.

In fact, there are women in Guyana who are far more qualified than I am to speak on Guyana’s politics, government and social issues. When I am asked why I was chosen for this column, I do not have a proper response. I suppose the reason probably included a combination of ingredients like my cheeky attitude, my obvious interest in important issues, the fact that I have an opinion on almost everything, and I suppose being able to form a coherent sentence helps as well.

However, let us be honest, there are plenty of women in Guyana who fit that same list of ingredients. Therefore, why are there not more female voices in the column pages speaking about the national interests? I do not begrudge Freddie his column, of course. That is not my point. I do not always agree with Freddie, but he has my utmost respect. Though I cannot help but consider how much better the column pages of Kaieteur News would be if there were a female version of Freddie.

Imagine the level of national discourse that could be accomplished by the sprinkling of a few more female voices throughout the commentary pages of the national newspapers, as well as the radio and television shows. I am not speaking of pretty faces to gaze upon so as to appease the obviously insatiable desire for attractive distractions. What is truly needed are women who know the issues at stake in Guyana and can intelligently speak on those issues.

It is important to have both male and female voices working in unison toward the common goal – a better Guyana. I am not attempting to work myself out of a job. I thoroughly enjoy writing my column and hope to be doing so for a long time. However, common sense tells us that a woman from Guyana could speak on issues about Guyana far more effectively than I could ever hope to speak.

I envision a chorus of diverse voices that could forever change the landscape of political and social dialogue. For those whose knee-jerk response was to imply that women would change the conversation into something akin to a cat fight, it is exactly because of this archaic and misogynistic viewpoint that more female voices are needed.

To presume that only male voices can speak on critical issues is to negate the involvement of the many women whose contributions have helped to shape and fashion Guyana – for better or worse. I continue to maintain that until men and women stand on equal footing in all areas, balance cannot come to the human race.

Guyana is further advanced in the area of gender equality than many other countries, yet there are still very obvious disparities that permeate the society at large. These disparities are in bold type in the headlines of the newspapers all too often, but they can also be seen in the column pages and sports pages. These inequalities are a reflection of society at large and should be rectified.

Some of my favourite columnists are women. They are hard-hitters, unafraid to speak the truth and do not shrink from outside pressure to toe the line. These are women who walked right into the boys club – of journalists, politicians and businessmen – and planted themselves with a reporter’s notebook ready to get the story.

It is time for Guyana’s women to step up and take their rightful place on the commentary platform. I have always been of the opinion that if there is no road to get where I need to go, then I must make the road myself. Should it be found that the women of Guyana attempt to make their voices known and are shut down, then perhaps it will be necessary for women to create a forum for women to speak.
Women in Afghanistan are struggling to hold on to the very minimal rights they have accumulated in the last few years.

They just want to be able to get an education, to walk on the street without a male escort and to leave the house without permission. All of this could be lost if their government makes concessions with the Taliban. There are Afghan women who have lost their lives trying to maintain these rights – the ultimate sacrifice.

For women in Guyana, the struggle is of a different type altogether, but it is just as important. To make the female voice ring proudly on the national commentary platform is to finally achieve what men received as simple birthright as a male – the right to be heard.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The difference between Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 08 August 2010)

Whatever the cultural and social influences that create a racist, I seemed to have been immune to them during my developmental years. It was not as if I did not interact with racists. I grew up in Middle America where racial ignorance abounds. Yet, somehow race hate never took hold in me.

A few years ago, I read something about race that has long stuck with me. It was a passage from “When God Was A Woman” by Merlin Stone. The book is not about race, of course, but this one sentence caught me and I’ve always remembered it. Speaking of the aggressive northern Aryan invaders, who felt themselves superior to the more civil and developed Near East inhabitants, the author said, “But historical, mythological and archaeological evidence suggest that it was these northern people who brought with them the concepts of light as good and dark as evil (very possibly the symbolism of their racial attitudes toward the darker people of the southern areas) and of a supreme male deity.”

When I read that passage, I stopped reading and chewed over the notion that perhaps it was at that point in history when racism started and continued spreading to the extent that in much of the world, a person’s skin colour became a determining factor in how much respect and freedom that person should be afforded.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, this racist ideology pervaded and money hungry individuals ripped whole groups of people away from their homes in other lands and made them live in conditions that even animals were not forced to endure. People with dark skin lost their culture, freedom and dignity to men who insisted they were superior because their skin was lighter.

Those men were wrong. Colour of skin is nothing more than one of many physical attributes found in humans. I recently watched a documentary, “Race – The Power of an Illusion,” (it can be found on YouTube) that explained that humans are the most similar of all species. For example, according to this film, look-alike penguins have twice the amount of genetic difference – one from another – than humans. Fruit flies have ten times more genetic differences from one fruit fly to the next. In fact, any two fruit flies may be as different genetically from each other as a human is from a chimpanzee.

Even more important to the “race” conversation, the documentary went on to say there is as much, or more, genetic difference within any racial group as there is between people of different racial groups. The film showed DNA tests done on a group of college students who were certain their genetic make-up would be most similar to others in the group of the same race, and they were wrong every time. The students had more genetic similarities with students from other races than with students of their own race.

So what is the difference between Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese?
Nothing. In fact, a DNA test may well show any Afro-Guyanese to have more genetically in common with any Indo-Guyanese than with another Afro-Guyanese, and vice versa.

So if we are so similar, what does cause one human to look so different from another? According to the Statement on Biological Aspects of Race by The American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA), “Biological differences between human beings reflect both hereditary factors and the influence of natural and social environments. In most cases, these differences are due to the interaction of both.”
The third point in the AAPA’s Statement maintains, “There is great genetic diversity within all human populations. Pure races, in the sense of genetically homogenous populations, do not exist in the human species today, nor is there any evidence that they have ever existed in the past.” In other words, we have always shared the same genes.

The Statement continues in the sixth point, “The human features which have universal biological value for the survival of the species are not known to occur more frequently in one population than in any other. Therefore it is meaningless from the biological point of view to attribute a general inferiority or superiority to this or to that race.”

The last point in the Statement concludes, “The genetic capacity for intellectual development is one of the biological traits of our species essential for its survival. This genetic capacity is known to differ among individuals. The peoples of the world today appear to possess equal biological potential for assimilating any human culture. Racist political doctrines find no foundation in scientific knowledge concerning modern or past human populations.”

Therefore, any biological rationalisation you have ever heard to justify racist behaviour has been pure nonsense. It has no scientific foundation.

I have said all of this to make one point, it is time we stop focusing on our differences and focus on what we have in common. Which, as I have shown, is very much. The only difference left to cause trepidation in one group of humans concerning another is cultural. However, although Guyana has many diverse cultures, it also brings all of these cultures together as one cohesive Guyanese culture.

I am not suggesting that any group should allow its ancestral traditions to die away. Those traditions are part of the beauty of humanity. However, adhering to those cultural traditions does not have to stop progress as a national people.

Guyana has its own beautiful culture. Afro-Guyanese, Indo-Guyanese, Amerindians and all the other groups of people in Guyana share genetic connections, cultural connections and historical connections. The only divisions that actually exist are those created by fear.

I mentioned in my column last week that my mother was abusive, but I could never thank her enough for raising me to reject racial fear and to embrace cultural differences. I wish everyone in Guyana that same immunity against meaningless racist fear. In fact, I wish this for the whole world.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Playing Fair

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 04 August 2010)

When I was a child, I thought as a child, but even then I knew and understood the principles of playing fair. I knew that each person should get their turn and that if I brought candy into a group of playmates, I was to share with the others.

Sometimes there are children who do not live by these simple rules. For example, my youngest daughter – who is now 17 years old – is very stingy. What makes this so ironic is that she has three older siblings who always share everything they have with her.

In fact, I have seen her brothers and sister sacrifice the last of whatever they had and give it to her. Yet she will not share with others, not even her siblings. When I force her to share, she feels she is being dealt a blow of injustice. Since she is the youngest and the others are grown and have lives of their own now, she has more than all of them. Yet she finds it difficult to share. It seems at times that the more a person has, the least likely they are to share.

In fact, the older my daughter gets, the less she likes to share with others. I suppose that is typical of all of us though. The older we get, the less likely we are to share what is ours with others. How is it that we understand and abide by these principles when we are children and lose sight of them as we get older?

There are some very strong insinuations from various places that the PPP does not share. It has been suggested that the current administration only gives contracts to their own supporters and that government officials (and their friends and family) live in the lap of luxury while portions of the country struggle to acquire the most basic of life’s needs – like water, electricity and food.

Of course, if this is in fact the case, it will not be the first time politicians got rich while governing a country. George W. Bush and his administration gave contracts to cronies and they are all fat and happy now. Some of the poorest of countries have politicians who, using aid money from other countries, indulge in extravagance while right outside their doors people die from starvation.

However, just because other leaders do not know how to share, it does not give pardon to those in the government of Guyana who have forgotten the childhood rules of playing fair. Moreover, I really must point out that some of this greediness has produced self-destructive behaviour.

For example, why on earth would the head-of-state of any country deride the top two hotels in the country? It is not guaranteed that the Marriott will in fact be built and President Jagdeo has cut off his nose in spite of his face. He needlessly and self-destructively scorned the top two hotels in Guyana in pursuit of a possible third hotel of more grandeur.

Did the president not think that his words could impact the tourist industry between now and the time the Marriott opens (if it does open)? Did he think about how those from outside Guyana must have thought, “Well, if the president himself does not like the hotels in his country then they must be very bad?” Who wants to stay in what the president claims are sub-par hotels?

In essence, he has negated all previous and future promotions for the entire national tourist industry just to make two hotels look inferior so he can justify his desire to build another. It would seem that greed (and possibly revenge) has coloured the current administration’s common sense in a way that will damage itself more than the source of its anger.

Sometimes it is difficult to share. I admit that I am not a sharing person. I am often floored when others are generous to me and it seems to come naturally for them. I grew up with very little and as a result I still hold on tight to what comes my way. I have to make a conscious decision to be generous and sharing – and even then it is not as easy and enjoyable as I wish it was. But I do try.

However, I have to wonder if I was a leader of a country and the money with which I governed came from the people of that country (and as foreign aid), would I be a stingy politician, too? Greed can rear its ugly head in even the best of us. Regardless of what I would do, greed is one of the reasons I think it is important to rotate leadership as often as possible.

I can chastise my daughter for being stingy and explain why it is important to share with others. However, when it comes to chastising a government that has become stingy and greedy, the best way to reprimand them is in the voting booth.

I suppose there is still time for the current government to show the nation it has changed its ways. It can start playing fair with others. It can give contracts to bidders who are not PPP supporters. It can even sacrifice some personal luxury to funnel more money into villages that need water and electricity.

Of course, a generous spirit is something that has to come from the heart. Here’s hoping there are still some hearts in the government that are not as hard as rock.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Mental and Emotional Abuse; wounds that will not heal

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 01 August 2010)

One of the reasons I have no tolerance at all for domestic abuse – whether physical, mental or emotional – is because I suffered terribly from all these forms of abuse for years while I was a child.

My father was nowhere to be found and my mother was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One moment she would be smiling and happy, the next one I would be flying through the air or my head would be slammed into a doorknob. The physical wounds all healed – eventually. However, the mental and emotional abuse took years to heal.

In fact, I’d say there are still parts of me that have yet to heal. I can easily talk about the physical abuse now, but still 25 years after leaving my mother’s house I cannot think of the details of the psychological and emotional abuse without breaking down in tears.

Those wounds run so deep that I often wonder if they will ever heal. The mental and emotional abuse from my mother has affected every single relationship I have ever had with another person – including my husband and children. I find it difficult to trust even the best of hearts and keep friends at arm’s length to protect myself from potential dangers.

One of the reasons I can read people so well today is because I spent all of my formative years carefully assessing minute actions to better prepare myself for the next onslaught of torture. The slightest facial movement or a quick intake of breath could be an early indicator for me to shield my body, my mind, my soul.

I have said all of this to explain why it infuriates me so when I hear people make light of the mental and emotional abuse to which women are subjected. When my husband, Paul, showed up when I was 15 years old, he was the first person in my life to care enough about my situation to help me deal with it in a meaningful way.
Those in my church turned their eyes the other way, family members would only speak up when they could no longer handle hearing the verbal abuse themselves and the rest of the world was just beginning to understand how important it was to intervene for the sake of the child.

There were so many days when I would be awakened with the torture in the early morn, bear it all day long and fall asleep from the exhaustion of it at night. Some days my nerves would have me physically shaking in fear and anxiety and I would try my best to hide it dreading more torture. Worst of all were the feelings of abandonment and rejection that never once in all those years left me.

How much is this exactly like what women go through each and every day? How many women live this life of torture? How many times a day is a neighbour’s head turned to pretend it is not happening? And when the woman finally decides she has to find help or she will die (I had those thoughts so many times), society mocks her, scoffs at her and casts her aside – validating what her abuser has said all along…she is worth nothing.

Do not mistake aggressiveness for authority. Just because a man brazenly hits a woman, yells at her, threatens her and demeans her, that does not indicate that he has the authority to do so. No man ever has the right to abuse a woman. Ever. A fact backed up by the law – a true authority.

There is also the assumption that women can be treated like slaves. They are expected to clean the house, do the laundry (wash, dry, press and fold), cook all of the meals and service the man’s sexual desires whenever he so demands.

When a woman does these things of her own volition, that is one matter, but when she is expected to do it regardless of her own desires – that is slavery. Women are not slaves. Slavery was outlawed decades ago and a relationship between a man and woman should be one of equal standing and mutual respect.

In modern society we finally understand that all humans are equal regardless of race, gender, creed or any other “differences” previously used to belittle varying sections of humanity. Therefore, domestic abuse is not a man’s right or privilege; it is barbarism. He is not acting as king of his house; he is just being a bully.
I cannot understand what causes people to abuse others – and believe me; I have spent years of my life trying to understand.

I know they do need help. But that is for someone else because my passion, understandably, is to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
I wish someone had told me that my mother was wrong and had no right to abuse her child, which is why I am writing this column today. I am here to let women know that it is not okay for a man to hit, to threaten or to demean you. It is not right. It is wrong. It is wrong. It is wrong.

Consider the impact abuse has had on my life, on all of my relationships, on how I see the world. The longer a woman stays in an abusive relationship – whether physically, mentally or emotionally abusive – the more wounds there will be. Who knows if all of them will ever heal?

What should a woman do if she is in an abusive relationship? Escape as quickly as you can. Get away. Run away. If you need protection, make the police (who are sometimes just as abusive to women) understand. It is their job and it is the law.
If you need help starting over, there are churches and/or organizations that can help. Most times, family and friends will help, too. But most importantly, run far, far away.