Looking Beyond Mae’s – Now the Government should have their say! – By Yvonne Sam

Looking Beyond Mae’s – Now the Government should have their say!

By Yvonne Sam

The incident may have served to reveal how some Guyanese towards each other feel.  Social cohesion could well be a delusion.

When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers, an ancient proverb of the Kikuyu people, a tribal group in Kenya, Africa, is as applicable today in the Mae school case as when the words were first spoken, perhaps thousands of years ago. We have all been caught up in the highly controversial incident surrounding a student who was reportedly turned away from the school for being attired in his Indigenous wear, which was deemed “inappropriate.” The outfit was being worn during the school’s Cultural day Celebration.      

Guyanese were quick to express their anger in divers ways—from walking and talking, to mouthing and shouting, demanding an apology,and picketing for all to see rejection of Guyana’s cultural diversity. The school administration proffered an apology that needed immediate resuscitation on arrival. On a more serious note one wonders if the students are being taught what they ought. The behavior of the teaching staff beggars description, and is certainly symbolic of the festering malady that currently ails the land.

Etched deeply in the cranial hall and memory recall of every Guyanese not only in Guyana but throughout the diaspora is the fact that the Amerindians are representative of an entire race of people and above all were the first people of Guyana.  Closer to both truth and reality, historian Vere Daly in his 1974 book “The  Making of Guyana” states that the word Guiana is derived from the Amerindian root word “winna”  meaning water or watery country.

On May 29. 2018, Starbucks the world’s biggest coffee company closed its 8,000 company owned cafes for one afternoon in order to educate its 175,000 employees about racial bias. This decision followed an incident in one of its Philadelphia store where two black men were arrested after the store’s manager called police because they were sitting in the store without ordering anything. The men had initially requested to use the bathroom as they waited on a business associate, but were told that the bathroom was for paying customers only.  They then occupied a table without making a purchase and were later arrested on suspicion of trespassing, but no charges were filed.

While the apology from the Principal of Mae School may be a good start, it is a far way off from a cure of what is ailing Guyana and Guyanese. The demonstrated racial bias is by no means an isolated incident, although we would like it to be viewed as such. Instead it is emblematic of the prejudice faced by certain races on a daily basis in the very land of their birth. Some are distinct played out in our political arenas, while others are succinct and voiced via social media.

It is of prime importance that we recognize the fact that addressing racial bias cannot end on a spoken or written apology. The reality is bigger than Mae’s School, its personnel or the child.  Focusing on the action of any one individual is an important step, but is grossly insufficient if what is desired is to truly transform the status quo. The required work is tantamount to a marathon and not a sprint, and as such requires, commitment, time and investment.  The government of Guyana has a role to play in addressing the incident, and as a consequence is hereby called upon to seriously take the issue in hand. Fixing a crack in the floor of a house is useless if the house was initially constructed on an uneven foundation. Both must be fixed.

On the issue of race it is not just about biased individuals, but also biased systems.

This recent incident involving a young learner and future earner could be termed a watershed moment. Now the government must take the lead and work diligently in fulfilling the need, in implementing policies ensuring that never would there a recurrence be, hindering Guyana’s six races from dwelling in harmony.

In conclusion no school or learning institution should be let off the hook, The Education Minister should reopen the book and commit over the long term to work with teachers/ principals/ educators in advancing to advancing solutions that combat racism.  According to Jane Addams, dubbed “The Mother of Social Work”.The child becomes largely what it is taught; hence we must watch what we teach it, and how we live before it.

In the end, as any successful teacher will tell you, you can only teach the things that you are. If we practice racism then it is racism we teach. -Max Lerner, Russian born journalist and educator.  (1902-1992).

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