Friday, August 31, 2012

Why race doesn’t matter

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 11 August 2012)

I am writing on racism today because I have seen it in all its cruelty and ugliness too often in recent weeks. Some of the comments I have seen Guyanese make about other Guyanese are so abominable that it makes my stomach lurch. I have never had a tolerance for racism and quickly remove racists from my life if even one sentence of race hate is muttered.
What purpose does race hate serve in a society? No good purpose, that is for sure. It highlights an insignificant difference in the population in an attempt to make one race appear superior or inferior to another – much like sexism does with gender. I am writing this column to show that such differences are irrelevant to humanity and that racism is counterproductive to the positive development of the nation.
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, but 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 subsequently continued to spread 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.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The female Olympians

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 4 August 2012)

I have been in sports heaven this past week. I look forward to the Olympics for one reason only:  to see women athletes perform on an international stage while the world watches intently. Let’s face it; there are very few other venues by which we can watch female athletes perform.
Throughout the world on a national level, sports enthusiasts can watch male cricket, male football, male basketball, American male “football,” male baseball, male hockey, male rugby, male wrestling…male everything! I cannot think of even one example of female sports to watch at all on a national level.
Men like to think they alone are interested in sports. Like education, politics and religious leadership, they want it to be a man thing (insert caveman growl here). It seems they like the idea of being able to own this part of the human experience, too. But those men who believe women are not interested in sports are as wrong on that assumption as they were about women not being interested in education, politics, technology, religious leadership and so much more.
For example, I love sports. I love to watch sports, though not all sports. I am not a fan of any sport that involves violence. Because of my abusive childhood, I cannot watch violence of any sort without flinching. As such, sports such as American football are not appealing to me at all.
However, I am an avid baseball fan (in spite of fact that US national teams are all male). I keep up with the stats of my favourite team and love to go to games. Likewise, I have also been so excited for weeks in anticipation of the Olympics and I’ve been up at 4 am many days this past week watching the games with enthusiasm.

You shouldn’t blame domestic violence for the breakdown of the family

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 28 July 2012)

I have seen it stated over and over that the breakdown of the family structure is the cause of domestic violence. I have never seen it this way. In fact, I have always seen it as the exact opposite – that domestic violence is the cause of the breakdown of the traditional family structure.
The continued scourge of domestic violence has also been blamed on the loss of morals and values. Still, I cannot see this as a cause for abuse because domestic violence has existed for thousands of years. There has been no loss of morals regarding this issue, as it has been a moral issue for millennia. Even in Guyana’s brief history there is evidence of domestic violence.
Although this quote from the online Guyana Journal is focused on female Indian indentured servants, the domestic abuse issue applies to all Guyanese. The essay entitled, “Indian Women of Guyana; reflections of their existence, survival and representation,” by Janet A. Naidu, said the following:
“While Indian men suffered because of the scarcity of women and were even killed as a result of British overseers’ sexual exploitation of women, Indian women suffered even more, not only by British overseers on the estates but also by their husbands at home.
The scarcity also led to the perpetuation of child marriage, with many young women forced to have older husbands and this, in some cases, leading to domestic violence and murder of women. In 1896, 11-year old Etwarea’s marriage was arranged by her parents to the wealthy Seecharan, age 50, who paid her parents ‘a cow and calf and $50 and made a Will leaving his property to his wife.’ He later suspected her at around age 16 of being unfaithful and ‘sharpened his cutlass and completely severed [her] right arm’ after which she died.”
Sounds like how some of Guyana’s women still die even today. My point is that domestic violence has been around for a very long time. It existed long before the recent so-called “breakdown of the family.” As such, we cannot say domestic violence is caused by the breakdown of the family.

For the Linden mothers

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 21 July 2012)

I had intended to write about Jackie Hanover’s great new song this week. However, the sad events of the past week made writing about a song–regardless of how awesome it may be–seem inappropriate.
Death is no time to sing and dance. So, I will write about Jackie’s song another time. This week I will talk about my son. Whatever else they may have been in the community,the three men killed earlier this week were sons from their first breath on this earth.
This week, I saw my eldest son for the first time in three and a half years. I cannot even begin to explain how much I have missed him. He followed the love of his life to Australia and is now a permanent resident in that country, leaving his mom and the rest of his family back home and missing him incredibly.
It is quite expensive to travel between Australia and the US, so this is the first time since he left that we have seen his face. There were days when I missed him so much that it physically hurt in my chest to think about it. Still, I did not know just how much I missed him until I was at the airport looking for him.
Uncontrollable tears started streaming down my face as I looked for him. When I found him, I ran to him and threw my arms around his neck crying without restraint at this point and trembling from the joyful emotions of it all.
I have been able to hug him anytime I wanted for a couple days now. I’ve been able to kiss his face. I’ve cheerfully told his fiancée all kinds of stories about his childhood and teenage days. I have him for a few more days to spoil and hug and kiss. I am one very happy momma.
As he woke me up playing a guitar in the other room this morning, I smiled at his inconsideration because his fiancée told me he does this to her early in the morning while she is still sleeping. My wry smile did not last long as the realisation of this week’s deaths was the next thought to cross my mind.

How to build a beautiful life

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 14 July 2012)

Recently, a friend posted on Facebook that she loved her life. I commented on her post, “You’ve made a good life for yourself. The life you love is a direct consequence of the fact that you made good decisions for yourself.”
Creating a good life is no easy thing. Life seems to throw all kinds of obstacles in the way until sometimes it is easier to just give up or to self-medicate to forget about how hard life can be.
We all want a beautiful life, but we do not think about what it takes to create such a great life. A beautiful life does not just happen and is not reserved only for lucky people. A beautiful and fulfilling life is crafted and carefully implemented through years of planning and good decision-making.
For example, my friend has created a beautiful life for herself, but it was not always this way. She has gone through some tough times and had to make some very difficult decisions. However, she faced her problems head on and found the strength to pave a path that would lead to a better life.
We have all made bad choices at some point in our lives. Who hasn’t been there? It could be as simple as doing something without thinking that casts a reputation that does not truly reflect the person inside. Or it could be an unwise choice, like deciding to date a “bad boy” instead of a guy with a good heart that comes from a stable home.
In the end, that bad boy could cause physical, emotional and mental harm that will stick around for years – maybe even the rest of you life. Such decisions not only effect you, Sister, but if you get caught in a long-term abusive relationship, it can effect your children, your extended family and your friends.
All because you thought it would be cool to date a “bad boy.” Bad choice. Bad choices never create beautiful lives. If you choose badly, bad things will be the result. No one is immune to this pattern. Our choices determine the course of our lives.

Corporal punishment is ineffective and counterproductive

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 7 July 2012)

The ongoing conversation on corporal punishment is of particular interest to me because I am a survivor of domestic violence at the hands of my own mother. I comprehend that in some minds there is a difference between spanking your child and beating your child, but because of my abusive background I see things a bit differently.
Though it was years ago, I have written before on the abuse I suffered at the hands of my mother who abused me verbally, emotionally and physically, day after day, year after year, until I moved out of her house and married. In fact, the fervour that burns deep inside me against violence of any sort is ensconced in the brutal memories of a defenceless little girl.
Growing up in my mother’s house, there was not a time when I do not remember being abused. There was a time when I must have been around three or four years old and my mother, angry at something other than me, grabbed me and knocked my head into the knob of a door until my white-blonde hair turned red. This was not discipline – it was abuse.
Likewise, although packaged a bit differently, it was also abuse when a father recently told his wayward 14-year-old daughter “…to pack her clothes but as she was doing so, he dealt her several cuffs about her body. He then beat her with a belt and thereafter an electric wire, telling her ‘the belt isn’t working.’ After the thrashing, he then ordered her to take a bath.”
Thanks to a magistrate, the father will serve six weeks in jail for what he did to his daughter. I wish someone had given my mother six weeks in jail when I was young so she would have understood that beating her daughter was wrong.
How on earth can anyone think that using violence against a child will give her/him the necessary tools to make rational decisions about his/her life? Yes, that young girl was looking in all the wrong places for love and acceptance already. But how could any sane parent believe that beating her would solve the problem?

Our justice system is turning victims into criminals

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 30 June 2012)

I have lamented time and time again about how victims of domestic violence have nowhere to turn for protection in Guyana. When they finally get the nerve to go to law enforcement for help, they are told it is a private matter and to go back to their abusers, where the violence continues and where some even die.
Even when law enforcement does do something about the abuser, getting a conviction is another story. Far too often, files are “lost” and money is exchanged for justice. Moreover, the government remains impotent on this issue as long as they cannot find the will to ensure the enforcement of the laws it created to make domestic violence a crime.
It was only a matter of time before women started to do whatever it took to protect themselves. However, it seems that as victims of abuse start defending themselves, they are being arrested, charged and fined for trying to stay alive and safe from harm.
This week, a victim of domestic violence for 17 years was in court for hitting her husband with a rolling pin, after he twisted her arm, which was just out of a cast. He also threatened to twist it more when she would not give him the cell phone that belonged to their son. (Is anyone else wondering how her arm was broken in the first place?)
Here is what the Stabroek News article from June 26 said:
“She explained that the reason why she hit her reputed husband with the rolling pin was because he held on to her hand which was broken. She explained that the cast had been taken off her arm only two days before the incident and the only means to get the virtual complainant (VC) to let go of her arm was to hit him with the rolling pin…
“She said she pleaded with the man to stop holding on to her arm as he might cause it to break again but he responded by saying that he would ‘break all two.’ The defendant, who said the man hits her, then broke down in tears saying: ‘I put up with he for 17 years and this is how he repaying me.’ She said she has suffered blows at the hands of the man on many occasions.”
According to the article, the magistrate asked the woman if she had ever reported the abuse and the woman said she had not, at which point the magistrate pointed out that the man had “no hesitation in reporting the matter against her.”
The woman admitted that she had assaulted her husband, but in my opinion, this was an act of defending oneself. He is clearly the one who inflicted violence upon the woman first, she asked him to stop, he did not stop and instead threatened additional violence, she then took defensive measures to ensure her safety. I do not see any criminal act on her part at all.