Celebrating cultural diversity along the road to nationhood Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
May 27, 2002

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THROUGH a remarkable juxtaposition of the western calendar and religious and cultural seasons, Guyana has witnessed a strange convergence of Public Holidays.

The first two holidays to clash were Mashramani and Eid-Ul-Adha on February 23. Then there were the Christian holy day of Good Friday and the Hindu festival of Phagwah, This weekend, the nation is observing a Public Holiday for the 36th anniversary of Independence, which fell yesterday, and the Muslim holy day of Youman Nabi, which was observed on Saturday, May 25. We are certain that there is a mathematical explanation for all of these convergences. Yet, the more romantically-minded among us could be forgiven for believing that the cosmos and the Supreme Being that controls it are sending us a message about the way peoples of various cultures must interface and learn to appreciate one another.

Last Saturday, we recalled the reverence, hopes and aspirations of the Guyanese people as they witnessed the lowering of the British Union Jack and the hoisting of the Golden Arrowhead at the Queen Elizabeth Park on May 25, 1966. Three and a half decades after that grand patriotic experience, the nation is deeply troubled by political and racial divisions, and the goal of national unity continues to elude leaders as well as populace.

Over the years, several leaders and organisations have proposed in one form or another that a national conversation on race be held with the primary objective of bringing to light, and, in the process, resolving some of the tensions in the society. And while most stakeholders would agree that the racial-political divide is responsible for the tensions and uneasiness that exist, there seems to be no consensus on the method that should be adopted to bridge the rift.

Another call for a national conversation on race in this country came from an American in December 1998. That personage was Dr Michael Dyson, Professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Columbia in the United States. An author of several tomes on the issues of race and colour, Professor Dyson was in Georgetown to participate in the ‘Conference on Race, Politics and Discrimination’, organised by the then Empowerment Agency of the Ministry of Labour and Health.

That caucus can be recalled for the quality of its discussions, which ranged from the brusque, angry and confrontational rhetoric to the all-embracing paeans of survival that celebrate humanity and are the best symbols of hope for greater healing and understanding.

In his presentation, Dr Dyson, who is also a Baptist preacher, painted in broad brush strokes a mural of the historical realities of the New World with its terrors of exploitation and slavery. He narrated the various nuances of perceptions based on colour and race in the United States, and he even touched on the then recent revelation that a revered American President had fathered a child by a black slave woman. The Professor also offered glimpses of the antagonism and perceived distinctions that exist between blacks of the Caribbean and native-born Afro-Americans.

Dr Dyson urged Guyanese to celebrate their cultural diversity while being wary of its potential to divide. He then proposed that the nation as a whole undergo a process of introspection, and then seek healing and togetherness through a national conversation on race. He recommended that Guyanese honestly acknowledge the mistakes of the past and then move to the point of repentance and mutual forgiveness.

Such a process, the Professor believed, would indicate “a transformative commitment to be dedicated to the principle that until ‘we get it right, we will not cease in our efforts to transform ourselves, and each other’”.

It is our view that the mechanism of a national conversation on race would be invaluable in resolving some of the vexing tensions that inhere in this society. This process would ventilate fears, suspicions and anxieties of people, and in the end place the populace on a committed path of healing, greater understanding and tolerance.