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On the popular programme ‘Voice of the People,’ last Saturday, the question of what seemed to be the harassment of Trevor Benn, the recently dismissed Commissioner of Lands and Survey, and similar matters surfaced.
One caller accused Lincoln Lewis and Aubrey Norton of being racist.
This charge is a serious matter but it is not new. This accusation is a serious one in the western world and Guyana in particular. Sections of the Police Force that appear to ignore the history of the lands in question. Did they study or understand the sequence of events after Independence, which changed the whole concept of DHBA, i.e. Lands held during Her Majesty’s pleasure.
Did the eager Police examine the question of a Lessee’s failure to pay the agreed Lease to the State or utilise the Land as agreed?
In this case, the Lessee was GUYSUCO who has been cash-strapped for some time and the land in question was not utilised as agreed. Then there was the legal issue surrounding the era of NICIL.
I am confident that if this matter is allowed a fair resolution, it will expose severe weaknesses at several levels. As I understand it, when NICIL was established, the original legislation proposed as part of the Economic Recovery Programme (ERP) that NICIL should be the clearing house and not custodian of state lands and property.
I was in Parliament at that time.
Further, I am advised that sometime in 2016, GUYSUCO returned these lands to the State, but these are matters that were not properly researched but one gets the impression that Benn’s incarceration and embarrassment were part of a deliberate plan by certain persons. For now, Dear Editor, allow me to deal with the wider question of racism.
The accusation of racism against well-meaning and concerned members of the Afro-Guyanese community is a serious matter and cannot be swept under the carpet. First, unless this matter of race is openly and rationally discussed, we will remain ill-equipped as a people to deal and understand the genesis of this matter.
Even on the programme, referred to above, some folks plead that this matter of race must not be discussed. This has been a monumental mistake which has left ignorance and deep-seated prejudices in our country alive and well. The majority of Guyanese, particularly the majority of the younger generation wish to get on with their lives and put this boogeyman of race in the burial ground.
My next sentences will seek to draw a nexus between race and our history in Guyana, the Caribbean and the United States. First, it is time we put to rest this old inaccurate contention that slavery and indentureship are the same. The fact is that no other ethnic group in the west and Guyana suffered the brutality and inhumanity of the slaves who were not regarded as human beings.
By the time, as is the case of Guyana, the Indentured Labourers arrived here, thanks to the Englishmen such as John Newton and Powell Buxton, substantial improvements in plantation life were put in place.
Conditions on the plantations were vastly improved and the labourers, both the Manumitted Africans and the immigrants were at least treated as human beings and not animals, to be mercilessly beaten and when they dared to protest or stage an uprising, were sentenced by kangaroo courts to more beatings, hanging and as we saw in 1823, have their heads cut off and placed on stakes as a warning to others to be of ‘good’ behaviour. As far as the European Masters and the local plantocracy, this meant accepting merciless inhumanity as a norm and the churches in their prayers and procedures as Christians saw nothing was wrong. So intrusive was this relationship that generations after Emancipation, there exists among the Afro-Guyanese, an unwillingness to deal with their plight as a result of centuries of dehumanization.
This was imbedded.
One result is that some Afro-Guyanese in colonial times, once they emerged beyond the environment of the slave quarters seem anxious to ignore the plight of those left behind. We also have the philosophy of the house slave who were made to believe that they are special. Mind you, in each case out of the preferred group emerged champions for the rest who were left behind.
I recall when I was a young teenager, having secured a place at Queens College, that some of my fellow students felt themselves superior with little concern to those who were left behind. I recall, a group of us, stopping to pick up a fellow QC boy on Regent Street. His parents lived in the top flat over a business place, and the father was an official of the then Electricity Company. All the QC boys had bicycles and when we stopped for this friend, who may still be alive, let’s call him ORD for the time being, a group of boys from Albouystown hailed out to me and I crossed the road to chat with them. On my return to the group, ORD and some of the boys criticised me for mixing with those ordinary boys, saying that we are QC boys.
The above demonstrates a problem that some members of the Afro-Guyanese community and have lived with for generations. My parents were members of the popular League of Coloured People (LCP). They were all well-meaning Afro-Guyanese, but their programmes did not seek to pull up the ordinary working class by their boot-straps or in a meaningful way.
There were of course some exceptions.
Many Afro-Guyanese and other members of the other Ethnic groups unto this day are still uncomfortable when the descendants of the brutalized and dehumanized slaves seek or speak out for nothing more than a “piece of the pie” and justice; they are accused of being racist. This is a deep-seated problem, which this generation of Guyanese must by research and being true to reality of our history, try to understand to clean up the mess, propaganda and brainwashing of hundreds of years.
This is a herculean task
With all of us who know better, we must not shy away from recording our history for it is this which will lead to a better understanding of who we really are and give us the foundation to achieve our dream of being One People, One Nation with One Destiny.
We must be courageous and for example, tell our friends who make up the other ethnic groups, that when some of us speak out against injustice and demand reparation, we are just being practical and true to the sacrifices of our noble ancestors. This itself is a contributory factor for better understanding in a diverse mixed-society. If we don’t learn to love ourselves and appreciate from whence we came and who we are, we lack the ability to love the other person, so necessary, if we are to live together in peace and harmony.
In a sense, this is part of our problem.
In his powerful address to celebrate 150 years’ anniversary of the freeing of the slaves (physical), Professor Ali. A. Mazrui, while referred to other groups making optimal use of the suffering at the hands of others but black people generally have not. “If one measure of love is what one is willing to give up for it, the measure of humiliation is how low one’s dignity is forced to descend. Black people, therefore represent the most humiliated race in history because slavery is the loss of dignity as well as freedom, and ours was the martyrdom of identity because of what we were, regardless of what we believe in.”
To my friends, who may not understand, nor appreciate the lingering consequences of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, must not accuse those who now speak out as being racists. The truth is, perhaps due to the severity of slavery and subsequent colonial and imperial strategy, freed black Africans in Guyana, neither sacrificed their suffering into a sacred doctrine and a cultural mantra nor exploited it as a social and economic resource. Perhaps of the shame and pain associated by the victims and not the persecutors.
Let the dialogue continue so that the gentleman who accused Lincoln Lewis and Aubrey Norton of being racist will appreciate that these men are simply patriots, interested in making Guyana a safe and solid society. We need more Guyanese who will not be guilty of the sin of silence but will speak up and lean on the side of truth.
I hope that this letter provides an opportunity for us to overcome ignorance and prejudice, the two things that breed and foster racism. If we fail to examine our past, be you African, Amerindian, Chinese, Indian, Portuguese or White, we are unlikely to co-exist peacefully with appreciation for each other. If we are afraid to speak the truth, we will be doing our descendants and ancestors a grave injustice. Let us today, secure the validity of our ancestral heritage, be clear of our identity, enhance our spirituality and above all our personal integrity.