Prejudices can do harm to our society By Hydar Ally
Guyana Chronicle
July 4, 2003

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In this viewpoint, I propose to focus on the concept of prejudice, defined here to mean an inability to view issues in a balanced and objective manner because of preconceived ideas held with respect to an individual or some groups of individuals.

Prejudice must be distinguished from beliefs that are rooted in some philosophy or ideology. There is nothing inherently wrong with such beliefs. Indeed, it is such firmly held convictions that propelled men and women into greatness. People such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King and our own Cheddi Jagan were all at some point in their lives fired by ideas - ideas of a just society in which there is equality of opportunity for all and where the fruits of human labour are fairly distributed.

There are some people, however, who are blinded by prejudice that they simply cannot view things in an unbiased and objective manner.

For people like these, everything can be “explained”. The success of the students at examinations for example, is “explained” not in terms of initiatives and interventions by the government, but by “extra lessons” administered to students after official school hours. Credit is hardly given, or if at all, sparingly and grudgingly. Yes, the argument goes, government is building schools, but what about qualified teachers to staff the school adequately? There is a ‘but’ in everything. They fail to recognize the growth and development is incremental and progressive. They often ask questions for which they already have the answers.

People like these cannot be convinced. They fall victim to what can be described as “the blind syndrome”. As the saying goes, none so blind as those who cannot and have no desire to see. Such prejudices can do harm to our society, especially when it is couched in racist terms. This is what sociologists refer to as ethnocentrism, which in effect is viewing reality through one’s own looking glass. While there is nothing wrong in preserving and celebrating our ancestral values and culture, there is everything wrong in trying to label ethnic groups as being mainly responsible for some pathological disorder in our society as some individuals and groups are attempting to do.

It is the time that we bring mud-slinging and blame game to the end forthwith. There are much bigger things in life that require out attention and action than to engage in name-calling and sterile arguments as to who is responsible for this or that. We need to emphasize our commonality rather than our differences. The true sign of greatness is the ability to conquer prejudice. This means the ability to rise above race and religion and to see people for what they are and not for how they look. Small minds, as the saying goes, discuss people, great minds discuss ideas.

Let us think big. Let us put our collective energies to work on how to make this country of ours a better place to live. The truth is that vast majority of Guyanese are desirous of living in peace with their fellow Guyanese, regardless of their skin colour. I do not know of any person who is attacked in the streets in Georgetown or for that matter in any part of the country because they happen to look different. I am still to see evidence of institutionalized racism in Guyana as is often peddled in some quarters. I do not know of a single Indian or Black who refuse to be attended by a physician or nurse because they belong to a different ethnic group. Mini-bus drivers do not refuse to pick up passengers on the basis of their skin colour. Nor have I seen any schoolteacher who treats a child in a differentiated way because he or she happens to belong to another ethnic group.

My own view is that the issue of race is being exaggerated by people from both sides of the ethnic divide in order to promote their own selfish agendas. These are people who seek to capitalize on people’s emotions and sensitivities with the hope of winning their support. Invariably, the aim is to discredit the government for failing to promote sectional interests.

Indian extremists, for instance, blame the government for not doing enough to protect Indians from attacks, which they claim, are ethnically motivated. Black extremists blame the government for targeting only one ethnic group for criminal actions in the society. The government, it seems, cannot do anything right. It comes under attack from extremist elements from both sides of the ethnic divide.

The fact that attacks are leveled from both sides is an indication that no one side is being favoured. It speaks to some semblance of balance and evenhandedness in the way the Government has been handling the matter.

Only those with blinkers can fail to see the tremendous achievement of the government over the past years. In every facet of life, there has been substantial progress - education, health, water, electricity, housing, roads, bridges, dams - you name it - and it has shown vast improvement from what it was. These benefits have touched the lives of all Guyanese, regardless of race and ethnicity.

These are all facts and not statements based on prejudice. Facts are verifiable, unlike prejudice, which are based on opinions, which are more often than not biased. Facts, it is said, are stubborn things. It simply cannot be wished away, as some people have come to learn.