IN the year 2015 we are still discussing the fundamental idea that there should be tolerance and respect for every group within our society, including ethnic and cultural groups.Because our race relations have erupted into violence, there is a fear of diversity. There is the notion that it breeds separateness and divisiveness. The argument is that if we take away the labels the problem will go away. So which labels should disappear and who decides, anyway? Muslims can no longer be Muslims? Or Rastafarians? The Wai-Wais must give up their tribal identity? ACDA and the APA, too, must disband?
I am proposing these examples while hoping that it is not the Indian identity alone that is the issue with all the letter writers proposing racelessness, Guyaneseness, maya, DNA traps, and even the absurdity that race relations are some sort of culinary tourism where everyone delights in everyone else’s food.
Diversity is a celebration of life and any fear of it is driven by suspicion and, almost always, by a lack of knowledge and information about those feared.
I want to believe that most of us have the individual maturity, self-assurance, and knowledge that it takes to be respectful of every other citizen no matter their colour, creed, gender, race, etc. This is the Guyana we all want to live in.
However, since my own words seem insufficient to the discussion, I would like everyone who subscribes to the idea that Guyanese citizens should be raceless, or that Indians, in particular, have no right to their heritage and culture, to ponder the following quotes:
Marcus Garvey: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
Elie Wiesel: “Without memory there is no culture. Without memory there would be no civilisation, no society, no future.”
Actress Salma Hayek: “I have never denied my background or my culture. I have taught my child to embrace her Mexican heritage, to love my first language, Spanish, to learn about Mexican history, music, folk art, food, and even the Mexican candy I grew up with.”
William Shakespeare: “This above all; to thine own self be true.”
Queen Latifah: “Be bold, be brave enough to be your true self.”
Writer Milan Kundera: “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
V.S. Naipaul: “To be converted you have to destroy your past, destroy your history. You have to stamp on it, you have to say ‘my ancestral culture does not exist, it doesn’t matter.’ ”
V.S. Naipaul: “Men need history; it helps them to have an idea of who they are.”
V.S. Naipaul: “But we go back and back, forever; we go back all of us to the very beginning; in our blood and bone and brain we carry the memories of thousands of beings.”
Mahatma Gandhi: “Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.”
Mahatma Gandhi: “Intolerance betrays want of faith in one’s cause.”
Catholic priest Henri J. Nouwen: “Over the years, I have come to realise that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity or power but self-rejection….Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contravenes the sacred voice that calls us ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”
I agree with the sentiments and views expressed in these statements and feel, as Father Nouwen does, that self-hatred is the worst form of racism in that it is directed inwardly at the self and outwardly to the very group to which the self belongs. It is the only racism that is two-pronged in its attack.
I have memory, history and a great heritage bequeathed to me by my ancestors. It is the greatest gift we receive from our foreparents and we should never dishonour or squander it. For these reasons, I am a very proud Indian Guyanese. I count myself among the billions around the world who are the Beloved.
We could each commit, at an individual and personal level, to practising tolerance, such as Gandhi teaches; respect for everyone’s history and culture as stated by Marcus Garvey; and to see self-rejection as the enemy, as preached by Father Nouwen.
I would like us all to ponder also two subsections of two of the articles from the UN Declaration of Human Rights which were agreed on by most of the nations of the world after WWII and the defeat of Hitler and Nazism. They were written to protect all the world’s peoples, including us here in Guyana whether we are Indians, Africans, Amerindians, Chinese, etc.
Article 1: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
Article 5: “Nothing in the present Covenant may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms recognized herein or at their limitation to a greater extent than is provided for in the present Covenant.”
This brings me to the statements made, as reported on page 27 of Kaieteur News of May 15, 2015, by UN Resident Coordinator Khadija Musa that Guyanese citizens are to view themselves “as Guyanese without divisive racial identities”. She expanded that we are to “market” a “full identity” as Guyanese.
The UN views no racial identity, or any other identity of the world’s peoples, as divisive. Nor does the UN ever suggest to any people what they should have as their “full identity”. Nor does the UN ever propose or promote any such idea as “one national identity” for any nation.
It is not the role of the UN to tell any nation or people who or what they should be. Any such role would contradict its own covenant on the right of self-determination. Ms Musa’s statements also contravene Article 5 in that it is aimed at destroying rights and freedoms.
I have had interactions with past UN representatives on the issue of race and identity and, as far as I am aware, all UN personnel promote peace and reconciliation through understanding and tolerance among peoples and groups of people.
I was then President of GIHA (Guyana Indian Heritage Association) and every UN official we met with respected and supported our right to our ethnic and cultural identity.
Ms Musa’s statements directly contravene every single covenant and tenet sanctioned and upheld by the UN. By her own words, she shows herself unfit to hold the office of a UN representative.
She can retract her statements fully and apologise to the peoples of Guyana. Failing this, a formal petition citing Ms Musa for human rights violations will be drawn up and circulated for signatures, then sent to the UN Secretary General. The petition will demand her removal from office.