By Kemol King
When The Policy Desk held its inaugural session on January 5, their intention was to give young people a platform to bring the youth’s most pressing issues to the helm, so that political parties would have a clear understanding of what is most important to the generation that will eventually take the reins.
I stood around waiting for someone to bring up what is arguably the biggest issue that has plagued our country for decades, but no one brought up racism. Therefore, I took the microphone. I suggested that the young activists, in their quest to take these fora across the country, dedicate their efforts to tackling racism by facilitating continuous national discourse among youth on this issue.
Millenials today are a very frank generation. Where our parents have fostered taboos and boundaries, the younger folks have consistently managed to break down those boundaries, and are actively creating a counterculture where we could have open and honest conversations about topics like religion, sex, gender and drugs. I constantly have to remind myself that many of the progressive ideals I live by, and that I consider favourable trends taken up by young people today, are ideas that were fostered by persons much, much older than I am. Saying that young persons are more frank is not to say that older folks aren’t progressive, but that social change is occurring at a pace that is unprecedented. However, race seems like our blind spot.
It is crystal clear that, when two people have a problem, the mature approach to the problem would be to sit and talk about it; work out the issues in an honest – dare I say, vulnerable – manner. Instead, this country is like a man and a woman who have been through hell together and, instead of talking it through, they carry on the relationship as if nothing ever happened; causing all of that history, all that sadness, trauma, anger and hatred to fester into a cesspool of toxicity, like the polarized political climate that we live in. This is the myth of colour blindness.
Colour blindness is a sociological concept of a society in which a person’s opportunities are in no way delineated by their race, ethnicity or complexion; a society where policies governing the treatment of the individuals in that society are race-neutral; where persons, by virtue of their distaste with overt racism, could absolve themselves of the responsibility to self-criticise.
I can no longer count on my fingers the amount of times I’ve heard young people, after throwing their hands up in exasperation, complain that racism is an issue that is almost entirely perpetrated by the older generations. The common rhetoric bemoans the elders for being insensitive, and wonders why racism has managed to survive until this day.
But we don’t even talk about the issues that matter most to us. Instead, we have those conversations in our homes, or clubs, or bottom-house gatherings, where everyone around is the same colour as we are. We talk about what we think about people who don’t look like us, and we think that we’re not perpetuating toxic behaviour just because we get up and live in the same society with those people.
Being a young, ‘Dougla’ boy could really split you apart when election season comes around, and the people you thought lived in peace and harmony suddenly weren’t saying nice things anymore about people who look like their neighbours. I’ve been around Indo-Guyanese people who’d say insensitive things within their circles, then they’d recoil when they realised that my hair isn’t textured like theirs. They’d say that they didn’t really mean what they said when they didn’t notice that I was mixed. I’ve been around Afro-Guyanese who’d go on and on about their distrust for Indo-Guyanese people. Then they’d look at me and say something along the lines of “You’re half black. You’re cool.”
When Charrandass Persaud voted in support of the No-Confidence motion, an old racist saying started to make the rounds: “Any good c**lie is a dead one”. Suddenly, I started to wonder what they saw me as. Suddenly, I started wondering why I felt that I had to pick a side. I’m not going to. I am biracial, and that identity is very important to me. Similarly, anyone else’s identity should be important to them. The problem is not that we don’t recognize our differences, as Afro-Guyanese, Chinese-Guyanese, or Indigenous Guyanese, etc. The problem is that we tend to pretend as though our consciousness of our differences don’t influence how we socialize with each other. We have pretended to be colour blind for so long that many of us have begun to believe that we are.
Colour blindness allows us to deny uncomfortable cultural differences of which we should be actively aware. Racial issues are often difficult to talk about, if you’re having the conversation with someone who you’re harbouring racially insensitive stereotypes against. Those conversations are rife with stress and controversy.
We should always acknowledge and recognize each other’s differences as valid, because those differences have been shaped by centuries of history that cannot be erased. Those differences have implications for how we style our lives, whether consciously or subconsciously. The colour blind ideology as an approach to the mitigation of racism is not progressive. It is racist. Instead of being colour blind, we need to be socially conscious.
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