We need a race relations committee
Stabroek News
September 8, 2001

Dear Editor,

I read Mr David Hinds' letter published in the Stabroek News on 6.9.2001, with much pain. Mr Hinds recounted the experience of an Afro-Guyanese trying to rent a house owned by an Indo-Guyanese, and being told that the owners did not want to rent to Black people. Mr Hinds used this incident to show where race relations were in Guyana. I commend him for bringing this incident into the open.

A few comments, however. I am sure that there are cases where Afro-Guyanese will not rent to Indians in Guyana. I know full well of cases during the Burnham era when hard-to-get, imported goods were routed to Afro-Guyanese party members, to be sold only to Blacks. I know of this first-hand. I am not using this to justify the above case pointed out by Mr Hinds. I only refer to it to show that this type of behaviour is not new, and not only applies to Indians discriminating against a Black person. And we all know of the physical and psychological violence perpetrated against Indians come election time and after by Black people in Guyana.

What we need is an effective race relations committee. Such a committee might investigate through public fora, anonymous surveys, etc, the reason for the above-mentioned cases of discrimination based on ethnicity. If we don't try to find out the real reasons, if we don't try to identify the stereotypes and fears, then all we'll be doing is dealing with symptoms and not the actual disease.

We need laws that would prevent discrimination, in this case in housing, based on ethnicity. We cannot dictate to people how to feel about people of other ethnic groups. What we can do is make discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc, illegal. And such laws must be enforced rigorously.

Yours faithfully,

Rohan Sooklall