When the ugly head of racism shows itself 

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ONE of the most pervasive problems that plague our country is racism that is fuelled by ethnic parochialism and only recently, this ugly head of racism revealed itself to many of us in no small way with the circulation of a video of a young University of Guyana (UG) student making racist remarks about Afro-Guyanese.

In the video, the young man placed money on the floor and posited that only an Afro-Guyanese would pick it up since he believed that an Indo-Guyanese would not do that. Not only did he make those filthy remarks, but he subsequently posted another video, purportedly an apology of some sort, where he trivialised the severity of what he did. By the time I saw the videos circulating on my social media feeds, I had already submitted my column for last week and I felt as though it was a missed opportunity for me to use this space to add my two cents to the conversation. Afterwards, as I continued reading the news articles on the matter and then letters to the editors with persons proffering their judgements and suggestions for sanctions, it dawned on me that I did not miss this opportunity. It is my opinion that this specific incidence is a manifestation of those microcosmic tensions in our society. And I think we can agree that until this nasty characteristic of racism stops showing itself (if it ever will!), there is always scope to continue this conversation.

From what I’ve discerned, two broad schools of thought emerged specifically with this situation. On one hand, some contend that it is only through punitive actions will an example be made and a precedent is set. Lest this occurs, it seems as though the matter will become trivialised and opens the floodgates for this to happen again, given that there are no serious consequences. On the other hand, some contend that while the young man was outright and blatantly racist in a supposedly tolerant society, efforts should be made to edify him. In essence, those proposing this are emphasising that you cannot ‘fight fire with fire’.

I don’t know what the correct approach is if there is any at all. But, what I do know is that when these incidents occur (because yes, they do occur), we have to talk about it. We cannot continue to ignore these sentiments because they will continue to fester. We have to question, why is ethnic parochialism still a major feature in a society that prides itself on being “multicultural”?
Why do we still have these ugly stereotypes in our everyday lives?

I’ve spent much of the past three years dedicating my time to learning about Guyana’s and the Caribbean’s history because I believe there are lessons to be learnt from the past. One of those lessons is that there are tensions that exist in our region because of the varying experiences our fore-parents had on the plantations and through colonialism. Ethnic parochialism was a tool that was used to keep our people apart and create strife among us, and it helped to enforce social stratification within the society. This has only been to the detriment of our own development, and years later, if we are to engage in holistic development, we have to break away from these structures we have been put into.

Another dimension I’d like to factor in is consideration for who this young man is. This young man is a student of the University of Guyana (UG), Guyana’s premier tertiary educational institution and an extensively diverse space. That being said, it seems logical to advance that this young man belongs to the relatively small pool of tertiary educated citizens in this country, and has, in no small way, been exposed to the tenets of a plural society through his educational pursuits.

I have been one to say that I am confident that the ethnic parochialism that envelopes Guyana will fade away at least by the time my generation has aged to maturity. And the reason behind my belief was that we have wider access to educational opportunities and we would have been able to understand racism has, literally, split our country into two.

At this point in our country’s development, I don’t believe that racism is a foreign concept; we know of it, we know how it has stymied our collective development, and we know that it is something that we have to fight off. Now, what baffles me is that if education is the solution to the woes of our society, how did this young man even begin to think about making those insensitive remarks? We have to do better, man.