The solution lies in developing the internal capacity to stand up to hate and stop it in its tracks
I refer to the SN Editorial of March 31, 2012 ‘The Travvon Martin shooting’ and the From the Diaspora KN column (March 25, 2012) – ‘Racism is Alive and Well in Good Old USA’. The latter was written by Mr. Ralph Seeram. Both argue the existence of racism and institutional racism against African Americans in the USA and relate aspects of the murder of young Trayvon Martin in Florida. Mr. Seeram related his own personal experience with blatant racism in the USA.
Many of us and our family members have experienced various forms of racism and discrimination and while we know how absolutely senseless, baseless and dehumanising the experience, the difficult issue that I wish to attempt to not only discuss but provide impetus for us to resolve is what do we do about racism and other hate acts and crimes? I do not accept that we are helpless in resolving this issue and that all that we can do is empathize or retaliate. It is time that we show that we can rise above it and take a step beyond the status quo of ineptitude and confusion around it.
What is the appropriate response to racism? What is our role in solving this problem? If one person commits a hate crime, how does his entire race (or nationality or religion) get involved? Surely, this is the height of ignorance. Even worse is an ignorant response where an entire race feels and becomes threatened. This is a lethal cycle of ignorance from which we in Guyana are not immune. What is the bigger picture here?
Clearly, the problem is universal and any local successes in this area are of wider applicability. Indeed, at its very core, solutions to this type of problem in the form of tried and tested ideas and methodologies should be part of the core technology that we offer to the world – each person in this country has to relate on so many different levels to a minimum of at least five other ethnicities, has to relate to self too, has to resolve issues around their own ethnicity and has to relate to multiple religions (including the variations within their own religion,) civilisations, languages, histories not forgetting the multiplicities of perspectives that proliferate. How are we coping with all of this?
President Barack Obama, a politician not a civil rights leader, is not completely focused on wanting to resolve racial problems and his response to the Trayvon Martin shooting compounds a problem rather than diminishes it. How susceptible are we and the world to manipulation? Why do we support double standards (SN editorial final paragraph)?
I recently listened to Hollywood actor Robert Redford speak on BBC about American politics. His opinion was that it was all about winning. In Guyana, it is much the same. A focus on winning is in contrast to viewing the nation as a holistic collection of living beings and entities deserving of maximising their life potential; A focus on winning reduces precious human lives to mere electorate.
What if Barack Obama’s response to the Trayvon Martin murder, instead of personalising the issue in the way that he has and then leaving it to the people of the country to wage war and provide hot air to fuel the racism balloon, had shown some real unambiguous leadership and said instead something with the power of “there is no guilty race.” It would put the first nail on the coffin of racial politics and allow the intelligent concerned people of the USA, of all colours, religions, places of origin, to attempt to deal sensibly with real causes and conditions.
It is my understanding that this term “No Guilty Race” was minted in Guyana by elder Eusi Kwayana in the context of Indian-Guyanese vs. African-Guyanese type conflict. It clearly applies to all races – the white race, Arabs and to inter-racial conflict of any kind. This is something that we need to bring clearly into the forefront of our consciousness. It will liberate us in ways we cannot begin to imagine. It will open the trapdoor to freedom, for it leads us to transcend race to seek a higher deeper level of inquiry. What I do appreciate is the power inherent in this statement in its ability to stop us in our tracks when we reach for the superficial racial or bigoted argument. The universal principle can be extended: there is no guilty religion, no guilty nation.
As a still young nation striving to find stability, prosperity, unity, peace, happiness, joy and a path to a common destiny what we have before us is an opportunity to identify, formulate, articulate or establish those commonly accepted principles or ideals or natural laws upon which a nation’s foundation can be built. This is a philosophical task and it is as challenging a task as the discovery of gravity itself. It’s hard to do. It really is much easier to quarrel and fight and spin in the mud pit of confusion.
‘No Guilty Race’ is one such ideal, however, that we can reach for to pull ourselves up out of the mud pit. If there is No Guilty Race or Religion, at this level of abstraction where we transcend race and religion, we have no racial or religious problems, so what is the real origin or cause of hate crimes? It is clearly hatred. But what instigates the hatred? The answer is multi-dimensional and complex. If it were easy, it would not be a problem and the Earth would be heaven.
Mark Stroman was executed last year in a Texas prison for hate crimes he committed against Asian Americans. He misidentified them as Arab in the aftermath of 9/11. In an interview before his execution, he gave insight into the causes for his tragic actions.
“I had some poor upbringing and I grabbed a hold of some ideas which was ignorance, you know, and hate is pure ignorance. I no longer want to be like hate, I want to be like me.” “I was an uneducated idiot back then and now I’m a more understanding human being,”
But this is all still quite generic – poor upbringing, ignorance, hate, uneducated idiot. He also offered us the real causes: “At that time here in America everybody was saying ‘let’s get them’ – we didn’t know who to get, we were just stereotyping. I stereotyped all Muslims as terrorists and that was wrong.” “No matter what I do or say is going to change the fact that even you are going to view the Muslims as suspect,” “If you get on the airplane and you see one, you might not be wanting to, but you are going to watch that person – we live in different times now, but it’s not right to stereotype them and I’m the first to admit I did that.”
This rotten environment – internal and external – triggered a man into actions that cost the lives of two innocent people, damaged the sight of one survivor and ultimately caused Mark Stroman to lose his own life. What a heavy price to pay for his own ignorance, the ignorance of 9/11 and the ignorance of the response to 9/11. It is another vicious cycle in which humanity traps itself: the self knowledge deficit.
What is the antidote to this type of problem? Understanding is the first key – of our susceptibility. Not ‘education’ in the traditional sense so much as awakened minds and conduct that can only come from the development of self knowledge – this is spiritual development of the heart and mind. We simply cannot rise without the spirit; of love and goodness.
In the case of George Zimmerman, whose own ignorant false mental concoctions (with implicit support of the police by virtue of their inactions of the past) eventually drove him over the edge, the ignorance within the Sanford Police Department and the loopholes in the law are clear indications of the limitations of a purely legal solution. In this scenario, this is the core issue: George Zimmerman wanted to know what Trayvon was doing in his neighbourhood. Trayvon wanted to know why he was being followed.
This communication and this conversation needed to be facilitated before it escalated out of control into what the world has before it today. The conversation is still not happening. We would think that it does not need to happen but clearly it does; until this conversation is facilitated at a community level, it will continue to reoccur as unfinished business and in many different circumstances. For effectiveness, police work needs to be more intelligent, more sensitive to the community and more focused on prevention. The reliance on guns and self-defence and all that is not helpful.
Mark Stroman’s legacy is instructive. He said: “I no longer want to be like hate. I want to be like me.” This is another million-dollar question that we are unconsciously grappling with: How to be Me?
Do we have freedom in Guyana ‘To be Like Me’? On one level I certainly don’t. Indians in Guyana are constantly living under the weight of judgement: maligned as racist and this is a dangerous stereotype that can lead to justification of all manner of atrocities against anyone looking ‘Indian.’
One taxi driver in Georgetown, neither Indo nor Afro, told me that he knows that Indians are racist because he knows personally of one family who was displeased with an inter-racial relationship. So because of that one family, all Indians are racist is the logic and his self righteous urban confidence in this false mental fabrication of his was astounding. Further, the argument is that if we don’t embrace inter-marriages we are racist. It’s not logical.
I told him I know of Indian families with Hindu-Muslim marital disputes also in Guyana. Surely that is not a racial problem. If we encounter the same kind of problems in both scenarios – race and religion – then surely the underlying problem is neither of race or religion. It is about dealing with differences. How many times over in Guyana do we have to confront differences? It is a tremendous challenge and we do not appreciate the difficulty or the delicate nature or the enormous value of the task before us.
We just wing it, not doing too badly most of the time actually. To progress, we need to lift the lid off all kinds of stereotypes to offer people opportunities to dwell in peace, tranquility and complete freedom. We need to be secure and safe at home. The reference to Mashramani as ‘wine down culture’ is deeply, deeply hurtful. Let’s stop shooting arrows into the hearts of others. Let’s try to avoid harming others. Let’s have the conversation we need to have instead.
This pressure of stereotypes and of society is no laughing matter. Michael Jackson is perhaps the most famous example of a genius plagued by a debilitating condition that I will call self-hatred. It is of the worst kind of psychological condition for it grinds spiritual and psychological progress downward in a spiral of self destruction. Of such ignorance he was of the worth of his own ancestral heritage that he failed to connect his genius abilities to the very thing he hated so much. The entire world is imitating Michael Jackson.
Whatever our self perceptions, in the final analysis the world does not care about race. The people of the world and the human spirit respond to genius abilities – just pay attention to the upcoming Olympics. However, self perceptions can often be off-base. How then do we even know what others are thinking? Can we relax with the judgements? How does one respond to what one thinks others think of us? How can we stand rooted and confident and respond with morality, integrity, understanding, compassion to the challenges of life? How to be Me?
Hate crimes occur and reoccur because of many complex reasons. The solution lies in understanding the real nature of the problem and developing the internal capacity to stand up to hate and stop it in its tracks. It will liberate us to unleash our own happiness and creativity.