Sep 19, 2020 Letters
I am a White North American who had the great good fortune to grow up in Guyana in the 1980s, and I have the Guyanese people to thank for teaching me that the white supremacy woven into the fabric of my North American culture is a bald-faced lie. White supremacy is born of ignorance, but I had first-hand knowledge that my Black and Brown friends and neighbours in Prashad Nagar were—of course—my equals and my betters in every way.
Yet, when it comes to national politics, Guyana becomes a deeply racist society. As I mourn with you the violent deaths of Isaiah Henry, Joel Henry, Haresh Singh, and Prettipaul Hargobin, I also mourn the answer to the question, where does this racism come from?
Racism in Guyana is a remnant shackle on the once enslaved and indentured Guyanese people placed by White supremacist European colonialists and reinforced more recently by White supremacist North American neo-colonialists. The systematic dehumanization of people of a different skin colour made it possible for the British and others in the colonial period to kidnap forced labourers from Africa and India, and the systematic dehumanization of people of a different colour underwrites U.S. American foreign policy and immigration policy to this day. Guyanese learned racism from their white oppressors and have not yet escaped the ongoing enslavement that it brings.
Guyanese have proudly and justly thrown off colonial rule and established an independent republic. You have strongly resisted neo-colonialism in the past—and resist it still as you grapple for a fair deal with the powerful North American oil industry.
My deep and abiding love for the people of Guyana who have been so good to me over the years and my great faith in your strength and resilience give me a lasting hope that you will throw off this shackle of racism that still binds you and claim your common heritage as self-liberated victims of colonial and neo-colonial White supremacy. In the everyday life of Guyana’s multicultural society, from schoolyard to market, you already refuse to dehumanize your fellow Guyanese in the ways that my racial ancestors did. In common celebrations of Easter, Phagwah, Ramadan, and Mother’s Day, you already regularly reject the bald-faced lie that any race—any person—is more deserving of dignity and respect than any other. I believe with all my heart that Guyana has a greater capacity to leave racism in the past than any other country on earth.
If there must be an “us” and a “them” in Guyanese society, let the “us” be all Guyanese of every colour banded together to take on the “them” of foreign oil interests. If there must be an “us” and a “them” in Guyanese society, let the “us” be all peaceful Guyanese working together to bring to justice the “them” who would commit senseless murder.
Guyanese are a wise and peaceful people. May you succeed in this struggle and find the peace and prosperity you richly deserve.
John Paul Rohde MD, FAAEM
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