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by Wil Campbell
“It is important to judge people based on their merits, and the content of their character” not on their ethnicity.
This view was espoused by University of Guyana (UG) Lecturer and Psychologist Wil Campbell, during the first part of the Department of Social Cohesion’s programme focusing on understanding racism in the context of Guyana.
Campbell noted that racism occurs wherever you have discrimination, antagonism and prejudice against a particular group based on their race or ethnicity. However, he clarified that while race is a function of biology, ethnicity is a function of culture.
“For example, there are Black Latinos; these are persons who grew up in that culture. They speak the language, cook the dishes, perform the dances, however, they are in fact of African origin,” Campbell explained.
Division weakens societies
Turning to the question of division and partiality within societies, Campbell said it could be damaging particularly in a multi-ethnic, multi-culture country such as Guyana.
The psychologist noted the development of any country will suffer if only half of the country benefits.
“We all know the common adage ‘united we stand divided we fall.’ So, if one group feels only what they feel is right or only what they think is valuable or valid and marginalises others who are helping to build the country with them; then the country is going to be weaker.”
Referring to tourism Campbell cited an example of how division could affect the country.
Guyana has a diverse society and “if we only advance one group and ignore the other cultural contributions this could adversely affect the tourism sector because we will deny ourselves the opportunity to attract visitors who are looking to experience the multiplicity of cultures we have.”
Noting that some strengths are more pronounced in one group than another, Campbell said it is important to combine those strengths to develop the country.
Diversity as a strength
Having different perspectives, opening ourselves to varying viewpoints Campbell noted, empowers and benefits our decision-making.
“When people of different origins come together, combine their economic ideas, their perspectives, their cultures, we get an experience that is so much richer,” he remarked.
According to Campbell, connecting with people of different ethnicities allows for the gaining of other perspectives that one would otherwise not be able to see because realistically most persons form viewpoints from “where they stand.”
He also emphasised that while people have different views essentially, they want the same things in life.
“If one was to take a poll in any community and ask them what are the things that are most important to them as individuals you will find regardless of their geographic location, or race there are certain things that matter to them. Things such as health, education, access to resources, religion and family.”
The lesson here, he said, is, to work together we must first acknowledge that underneath all our differences we all want the same things.
Leadership and responsibility
Finally, the psychologist noted that citizens often take their cues on how to relate to others from leaders. Therefore, leaders have a responsibility to ensure they speak to inclusion, acceptance, tolerance and cohesion.
Also, at the policy-making level leaders have to look at the question of equity and ensure those groups who have been left behind are provided with the resources to help bring them on par with others.
“Leaders need to encourage these conversations to bring people together to understand our sameness,” Campbell advised.