Having a constructive discourse on race is near impossible in Guyana, even at the intellectual level. It is like trying to eat an ice cream cone on the moon.
The discourse invariably tends to offend one or both side of the ethnic divide. As such, it inevitably descends into a divisive battle in which each side condemns the other.
When criticisms are made about the alleged use of race in politics, those criticisms are turned around and said to be themselves racial in content. So if someone has done something that is considered racial, and you were to say that it is wrong then you can be accused of being racial, and as we have seen, find yourself in front of the court facing charges of inflaming racial passions.
The race card of course can be subtly played. A charge of racism, for example, can be means of mobilizing ethnic support. But what is the charge as merit? What if indeed race is being manipulated, should there not be an examination of the issues?
One politician from one political party once accused another political party of having its supporters using racial slurs in its appeal to voters. The politician making the charge found himself being accused of playing the race card without anyone bothering to check whether the accusation being made was true.
The accuser became the accused. Every time there is a charge that the government is practising racial discrimination, the person making the charge is accused to playing the race card. But interestingly when one opposition politician once said that a Head of State had no right to go into a particular village, this was not considered as inflaming racial passions.
These double standards are a symptom of the racial polarization with the society. And the racial polarization is what is responsible for the absence of any constructive discourse on race in Guyana.
The double standards are exhibited within the media. There are media personalities who are not going to touch the present controversy which has hit the news. They are not going to touch it because the media is not above what is happening in society. It is not above the polarization of the society. This is the saddest thing about Guyana’s democracy. We have a division also within the media.
We live in a country of double standards. People are taking sides and refusing to objectively examine issues which have racial implications. How then can any progress be made in society when this is the sort of reaction which is coming from the public?
There is in the public domain at present, an issue involving social media comments allegedly made by someone who works with the President of Guyana. The issue has become polarized because it was highlighted on social media by someone who is from the opposition. And so the discussion, if it can be called that, has descended into a debate as to which side is holier.
The issue here is not the truthfulness of those charges but the absence of a clearly defined set of standards which should guide conduct in public office. The issue here should not be about bringing anybody down but about raising standards in public life. And once you are a public official, even aspects of your personal life become public business.
So what are the standards by which we are going to hold public officials, from whichever side of the political division to which they belong? What are we going to tolerate in terms of conduct on and off the job? This is really the main issue which needs to be discussed in terms of promoting race relations.
Social cohesion has to exist not just among communities; there has to be social cohesion at all levels of society, including within the government and in order to ensure there is such cohesion, then standards as to what constitutes improper conduct must be established, especially when it comes to the issue of race.
This is where we have to begin. A debate within the public is not going to solve any problem because that debate will end up being a polarized cuss out between the contesting parties.
But if we agree on the standards that would be tolerated and if those standards are breached, within the government, then it matters not who is making the criticism. The breach of the standard should lead to sanctions, regardless of who is involved.
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