Racism – a most deadly social disease

Barbados Nation
July 9, 1999

by Tennyson Beckles The vast majority of white people with whom I have come into contact both here in Barbados and in Britain where I lived for 14 years, overtly express disdain for racism and sincerity to the commitment of justice for black people. In addition, black people abhor the predicament in which racism has placed them, and are therefore anxious to rid society of it and to relieve themselves from its shackles.

Why then has racism and its tendency to deny black people the degree of decency and fairplay attributable to people living in a modern democratic system continue to pervade our society? Is it because we have managed to delude ourselves and somehow nationalised the evil content of this most deadly social disease or do we believe that by ignoring it, it will dissipate into the atmosphere? I surmise that unless we change our approach to racism now and tackle this social evil head on, there is a real cost that will have to be paid up ahead that may well impoverish us all.

Sir Conrad Hunte recently emphasised the strategy for solution as white people’s repentance and black people’s forgiveness. That sounds as ideal as anyone can conceptualise. Not even the great utopian Thomas Moore could have put it better. But how do we get from where we are today to Sir Conrad’s ideal?

It is understandable that white people like C.O. Williams, David Seale, Sir John Stanley Goddard and David Frost are all making extremely valuable contributions to our society not because they are white, but because of their ability and business acumen. They do not need racism, and would be among the first to abhor the thought that they support it or benefit from its insidiousness. They successfully utilised the opportunity that life afforded them. It is for this reason that I find it difficult to accept the practice of not naming white achievers on the pantheon of national heroes. However, what about black persons with similar characteristics who are held back from using their latent talents to the fullest for the benefit of themselves and the society as a result of racism.

This is the aspect of racism that concerns me. That aspect which asserts that no matter what other characteristics he may have, a person of one race is not worthy of an opportunity equal to a person of another race. He must be contented with an inferior status. This demeans mankind. In the case of Barbados, it implies that over 90 per cent of the citizens deserve to be kept in an inferior state of existence because the personality is defective. What an indictment on the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God who made us all in His image. Fifty years ago, the West Indies cricket team was a bastion of white racism. It never rose above mediocrity.

During the late 1950s to early 1960s, the breakthrough was accomplished and all citizens participated fully according to merit. The rest is pleasant history. What justification if any is needed, to end the practice of racism in the pursuance of excellence? The entire sporting world was so much wealthier as a result of sidelining racism in West Indian cricket. Racism is an unnecessary evil force of which we must rid ourselves.

Imagine a Barbados in which the best persons are chosen based on merit to conduct the affairs of the country in politics, commerce and industry. Yes, it is time for all of us to face each other and tell the truth about who and what is responsible for racism and the damage that it is causing to our society. The code against racism must be expressed so clearly and enforced so rigidly and the consequences of violating the code so punitive, that it is worth no one anything but shame who desires to practise it.

Like all other social factors that motivate lawless acts like crime, violence, anarchy and so on - racism has its core believers. As Dr. George Kelsey puts it in his book entitled Racism And The Christian Understanding: ‘Racism is a faith. It is a form of idolatry.” In this regard, it is more damaging to civilised society than most of the other crimes for which we incarcerate their perpetrators.

•Tennyson Beckles is a social commentator.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples