Dialogue on ethnic matters must be frank but based on mutual respect

Stabroek News
August 4, 2001

Dear Editor,

I refer to R.Sooklall's letter titled "Ethnic factor can't be ignored" (3l.7.200l). Mr.Sooklall should be reminded that Mr.Jagdeo reportedly opined that Afro-Guyanese went to Globe Trust based on a call by television personalities to boycott businesses and institutions not owned and operated by Afro-Guyanese.Mr.Sooklall took umbrage with my letter which merely indicated that Mr.Jagdeo in making a public statement of this nature should be required to confirm that Afro-Guyanese invested in Globe Trust because of a call by TV personalities.

Simply put, without evidence of an increase in Globe Trust's customer base as result of the "support your own" call by local TV personalities, Mr.Jagdeo's comments are ill?timed, subjective, politically irresponsible, immature and implicitly racist. Mr.Sooklall in the same letter establishes a tortuous and convoluted linkage between my letter about Mr.Jagdeo and his views about Globe Trust and Dr.Lee Garnett's letter condemning extra-judicial killings by the Black Clothes Police. Readers can draw their own conclusions about Mr.Sooklall's perspectives but suffice it to say that this very linkage illustrates that while frank dialogue on all social issues including race is essential in pluralistic, democratic societies, this dialogue can only occur in an environment which has its foundations in mutual respect. It is not a question of tiptoeing around

direct references to race, to paraphrase Mr.Sooklall, but rather ensuring that intellectual honesty and integrity dominate said discourse as opposed to crude generalizations which are inherently insulting and deceitful and are usually manifestations of some hidden and unpleasant agenda.

It is impossible to establish any framework for genuine dialogue on sensitive and divisive issues such as race when racial stereotyping and arrogant generalizations as contained in Mr.Sooklall's contribution are allowed to be considered as objective and rational inputs. I am sure that Dr.Garnett will address the obviously explosive consequences for a society which confuses support of tough crime prevention with unacceptable murderous, criminal and brutal behaviour of a consistent group of police officers who apparently are sanctioned to routinely bypass all legal norms of policing and display the very characteristics of the "wanted men" that seem to be executed nonchalantly. Mr.Sooklall should note that this contributor does not support violent criminal behaviour perpetrated by anyone.

In closing, it is indeed interesting that these issues are being ventilated as Emancipation Day is being observed and it is hoped that the festivities do not obscure the requirement for somber reflection of the historical sacrifices made in Guyana to achieve the objective namely, elimination of the slave labour industry. The lessons learned are very relevant in Guyana today.

Yours faithfully,
Allan Blackman