Aug 01, 2021 Letters
Emancipation Day 2021 marks 187 years since the abolition of slavery, which became effective August 1, 1834. It provides an opportunity for Guyanese of African descent to remember their forefathers who endured the cruel indignities of the Middle Passage and slavery of plantation life at the hands of several European nations. It also provides an opportunity for us to recapture our identity, to take stock of themselves socially, economically, politically, to engage in discussions on the many problems which have engaged us through the decades.
Slavery remains a sensitive topic for many African Guyanese because quite a few of us have not reconciled ourselves with its historical facts. If anything, seeking reparations is best option for seeking accountability and justice. Reconciliation however remains a matter for the individual, but I urge all those still troubled by the events of slavery to put it to rest, to think of the here and now, of yourselves, how you plan to become financially secure, independent and ensure that your children’s future is taken care of.
The three measures identified, social, economic and political, are closely intertwined. The foundation of social progress is the family, the woman/mother, and supporting culture. The ideal family unit characterised by both parents in a stable, productive relationship with the common objective of economic security for the family. It is one where children learn the social skills necessary for success in life, where they come to understand the importance of a stable family as integral for their immediate success as well as that of their future generations.
One of our sad realities is that our society seems to have departed from the idea and virtues of marriage, family, and what little remains of religious guidance on family is ploughed into the ground on a daily basis by some music which is supposed to offer an opportunity for productive social relations, but instead preaches violence and general anti-social behaviours, chief among these being the degradation and debasement of women. Even sadder is that our women who have been socialising with this kind of music over the last few decades, because it is an occasion for relaxing and having fun, have gotten caught up in this ‘fun’ and have paid a tremendous price for it, enduring much of the physical and sexual abuse espoused by this music. This ‘culture’ has also unfortunately resulted in many children being fathered by men who have no long term interest in the mother or parental responsibility, the consequence being children having to survive broken homes in an environment dominated by the anti-social music referred to above. This obviously places them at a disadvantage compared with children in normal families at school, in search of jobs, further educational opportunities and general success in life.
Obvious solutions to these are regulation of these anti-social music out of our society through taxation or other punitive measures. Especially also, our women and young girls need to learn to respect themselves and more importantly, demand respect from men with whom they engage. Casual sexual relations is one of the most dangerous, costly activities in which women can engage, having the potential to get them sick or burdened with unwanted children with men who more often than not have no interest in them beyond liaison. Men on the other hand can do much by being more respectful to girls, women, and disregard all the anti-social urgings of music against women. They need to see their womenfolk as ‘sisters from another mother,’ descendants of enslaved Africans like themselves, who need to be given their rightful place in society, as partners in the security of a stable home. The active involvement of men in treating women with the respect they deserve will significantly improve the condition of women, their children, and the family structure in general. Lastly, both men and women should seriously consider a return to the idea of identifying and assessing suitors as long-term partners for marriage. Thinking twice on this can save a lifetime of short- and long-term distress.
From an economic perspective, progress for Guyanese of African descent has exhibited a marked degree of unevenness exacerbated in no small measure by government policy through the decades. While many have been able to acquire tertiary education and jobs which yield some measure of financial respectability, this appears to be in the minority. Very few African Guyanese can claim to be financially independent, which in this context means owning a business that you do not have to spend much time looking after.
Stepping out of Georgetown into villages and communities in rural areas brings tears to the eyes of someone who is familiar with the lot of Africans before and after slavery, and what occurs in these areas. While there is no question that African Guyanese in these outlying areas are free individuals, even owning their own homes, land, etc., one cannot escape the destitute nature of the general surroundings of many of these villages and communities which results from economic deprivation.
Lack of jobs and those, which provide adequate compensation are undoubtedly the chief causes of this economically depressed state of affairs. Inadequate pensions also contribute to economic insufficiency as many elderly folks have to spend their retirement years trying to stay alive by finding a means to supplement their pensions. What is unsurprising is that many predominantly Indian rural communities have in common many of the problems identified above.
The economic viability of rural communities has been a source of consternation for successive governments since Emancipation and more relevant to us, Independence. The solution is simple. Government needs to create a task force aimed at profiling communities across the country with objective being to identify resource availability, capital strength, and engage with each village/community to source ideas for becoming economically viable. Here ideas for agriculture, agro-processing, manufacturing and industry are cataloged and compiled at the district and regional level, ultimately facilitating the development of a national plan for the entire country. More immediately however, social support mechanisms including pensions could be strengthened to provide much-needed relief to distressed communities.
Politics is a sensitive topic for Guyanese of African descent because there is little question that many African Guyanese feel that they have been betrayed by their political representatives over the decades, even government. This is serious, significant, since it has had an extremely deleterious effect on their welfare, particularly since Independence in 1966. One of the great realities African Guyanese have to come to terms with is the fact that Guyana is a democratic country where political parties are rewarded for their performance in government. Political parties by necessity must have within their leadership the calibre of persons to perform effectively in their respective portfolios in government. This generally obtains from internal elections within political parties. When these internal elections fail to return capable and competent persons to leadership, it is almost a foregone conclusion that such a political party will almost never secure the necessary votes at national elections, or even if they do, will realise more of the same poor policy and bad government.
This said, it is important to observe that political parties in a multi-ethnic society like Guyana must be organised, managed and developed based on professionalism and democratically held internal elections. That is, political parties cannot be underpinned by ethnic prejudices, because this will yield sub-optimal persons to ministerial positions, ultimately creating circumstances for corruption, mismanagement and ultimate failure at national elections if serving in government.
Lastly, Guyanese have for the most part come around to the idea that we cannot survive the ethnic animosity promoted by some political parties. This is heartening, and can be seen in quite a few businesses. Indeed, Guyanese of Indian descent have been made a target in the past, just because they are Indians. This cannot be. African Guyanese need to look no further than their own history to appreciate the wisdom of the vicious, cruel and inhuman nature of ethnic discrimination in any shape or form. Instead of being provoked into acts of discrimination, Guyanese of African descent should be first defenders against discrimination, whether against themselves or our Indian brothers and sisters who not nearly as much suffered the abuse of slavery endured by our African ancestors on the plantations, or as a matter of fact, against any other ethnic group.
This Emancipation 2021, may we spare a moment for our ancestors who endured the indignities of slavery, contemplate our social, economic and political progress through the years, consider some solutions to address our recurring problems, and vow to shun discrimination in whatever shape or form it appears to us, whether as a group or as individuals.
Happy Emancipation Day 2021 to All Guyanese.
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