Race hate is learned behaviour
--Dr Westford tells GPSU workshop by Chamanlall Naipaul
Guyana Chronicle
December 11, 2001

MINISTER of Public Service Dr. Jennifer Westford yesterday commended the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) for hosting a forum on such a pertinent issue as race relations.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of a four-day workshop on trade union unity, at the GPSU Sports Complex, Dr. Westford said that no one is born with race hate.

“It has to be learned,” she said.

The Minister stated that race hate has to be instilled and nurtured, and in many instances, it is used for partisan interests. She added: "No politician who indulges in the nurturing of race hate is worth his/her salt. The policy of divide and rule has been evident in Guyana,” she asserted.

"We should learn from the children at the nursery school level. If you observe them as they play, you will notice that they are colour blind, having no prejudices based on race,” Dr. Westford exhorted.

The Minister said while it is not impossible to change the attitudes of the adult population, it is essential that the younger generation is imbued with the values that will develop an attitude free from racial antagonisms in order to ensure the harmonious development of the Guyanese society in its thrust to provide a decent living for all its people.

Dr. Westford said that she would not “bury her head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich” and deny that race-oriented problems in the Public Service do not exist. She alluded that a perception exists that there is racial preference within the Public Service. Such perceptions can have dangerous repercussions, if remedial measures are not taken to dispel them, she offered. The whole purpose of making the Public Service function more efficiently and effectively will be defeated if perceptions of racial preference persist, she added.

Minister of Labour, Human Services and Social Security, Dr. Dale Bisnauth, who also delivered an address at the opening ceremony, said the policy of the Government is based on the principle of 'unity in diversity' where everyone enjoys fundamental dignity, equality and justice.

A section of the participants at the opening ceremony of the GPSU workshop on race relations yesterday. (Picture by Cullen Bess Nelson)

The Minister reminded the gathering that it was this Government, which in 1997, promulgated the Act in Parliament outlawing discrimination on the grounds of race, religion or gender.

He said racial problems in Guyana have their historical origins in the plantation system, where people were manipulated to serve the interests of those who benefited from the system.

The positives of racial interaction should be promoted, while the negatives should be eschewed, Dr. Bisnauth suggested.

The task of building harmony in a plural society is a difficult one. Therefore, such a situation demands wise, sensible and charismatic leadership, which rises above personality and partisan considerations, Dr. Bisnauth exhorted.

President of the GPSU Mr. Patrick Yarde said the members are patriots interested in moving Guyana forward, and in that process are prepared to cooperate and support the Government, provided the interests of the workers are not compromised.

He also expressed what he termed "cautious optimism" in the professional relations between Dr. Westford and the GPSU. He said he has always recognised the Minister as one who is professional in her approach, but he cautioned that experience has shown how involvement in politics can change people.

Mr. Hans Engelberts, General Secretary of Public Service International, which has public service affiliates in 147 countries, said racial problems today are manifestations of the historical exploitation, brought about by colonialism and imperialism.

Engelberts told the gathering that racism and xenophobia undermine the struggle for better living conditions and equality.

The theme of the workshop is " Preserving Trade Union Unity in a Multi-cultural, Multi-ethnic Environment". Its opening coincided with the observance of International Human Rights Day.

Ms. Chandrawattie Persaud, Education Officer of the GPSU, said the objective of the seminar is to impart knowledge of race relations to preserve the commitment to a cohesive and unified race relations to bring about harmonious relationships among the ethnic groups of the GPSU.