OVER the past week Guyana was plunged into horror as young boys were killed gruesomely and senselessly. The racism and ethnic insecurities that have been more and more pronounced throughout this year of campaigning and electioneering have gotten worse. What else needs to happen before we can seriously commit to tangible national healing?
I began writing this column about the painful, painful loss of Isaiah Henry and Joel Henry. These two young Afro-Guyanese boys were taken away most horrifically. It pains me to think about what happened to them, much less what their families are feeling right now and much less what they felt. There is absolutely nothing that could ever justify what was done to these two young boys. There is nothing they could ever do to deserve this — nothing.
Afterwards, a young Indo-Guyanese boy, Haresh Singh was also killed senselessly. There is speculation that he was killed in retaliation and there is speculation that he was killed to stir up further strife. I do not know which it is, but I do know that no matter the reason, his death cannot be justified either.
There is no silver lining here — none. There is nothing that could provide enough justice for the loss of their lives. Nothing can compare. But, we can dig deep and try to find some amount of humanity and attempt to create a better, safer Guyana. We have to. It is the only way we can properly honour them.
If there was ever a time for a national-healing agenda to be a top priority, it is now. If the protracted elections, exacerbated by racist overtones and strife, were not reason enough, this should be.
We cannot take for granted the years of fragile ethnic insecurities tied to our ethnopolitics, neither can we take for granted that Guyanese will continue feeling like victims of the “other” race(s). Healing has to provide spaces for persons to engage and learn about the racial dynamics in this country; it has to involve Guyanese recognising the prejudices and stereotypes they have consciously and unconsciously perpetuated; and it has to include opportunities for us to unlearn the bad, learn the truth and reconcile with each other. Only then could we begin to think about healing and progressing.
As I write this, our national budget is being presented. This is necessary, no doubt, particularly since we are living through a pandemic and fiscal relief and monetary policies are crucial at this point. But, I cannot emphasise just how much we NEED our leaders to come together and lead us out of this scourge of racism, hatred, and violence.
On our own, there is still much that we can do as well. A young Guyanese woman, Jamicia Mc Calman, wrote on Facebook: “Dear Guyana, If dancing is your thing, DANCE. If singing is your thing, SING. If poetry is your thing, SPEAK. If chanting is your thing, CHANT. If writing is your thing, WRITE. If organising is your thing, ORGANISE. But don’t just be silent.” I agree with her. We are speaking up and speaking out, we are protesting, we are trying every conceivable option we know to push for a tolerant and safe Guyana for all.
We also have to be willing to do these things– to learn from each other and about each other, to respect each other regardless of our differences, and to stand up for each other when we see injustice being perpetrated. Fighting for justice for the Henry boys and for Afro-Guyanese should never be equated to a repudiation of any other group, just as rallying around the injustice meted out to Haresh Singh should not mean similar repudiation either. Why do we feel we could ever equate the two actions?
Yesterday, as I worked along with my colleagues to get them home on a repatriation flight, I saw my colleagues do what needed to be done to look out for one another, without even thinking twice. Students gave up their spot on the repatriation flight– their chance to finally get back home, while others paid to upgrade to business-class seats, just so that students who could barely afford it would have a chance to get home. This is humanity and camaraderie I genuinely believe are at the core of who we are. We cannot continue like this; we cannot let our differences divide us.
I beg, please speak with your families and friends and encourage them to think about the society they live in and whether they want to continue living like this. Ask yourself if you want to continue living like this. And then, please, let’s do better. We have to be willing to engage and commit to healing, it is the only way we would be able to do better.