Dec 03, 2018
Race Relations in Guyana have been strained since the country’s genesis. Though it seems the issue of racism will continue to plague the country for the foreseeable future, it is important to examine how the millennial generation, and the generations succeeding it, go about handling race relations.
Youth have different ways of dealing with a myriad of issues that they face. Their unique predisposition as millenials has allowed them to grow up in an age that has seen accelerated technological development. Consequently, this age cohort has developed dynamically different systems of communication and forms of relationships.
At the intersection of these generational and racial identities, there are two exceptional young Afro-Guyanese: Patricee Douglas and Joshua Macey. Douglas is the founder of SRHR Adventures, an initiative that was founded to raise awareness on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), with a special focus on family planning and contraception. Joshua Macey is an agriculturalist who advocates for more young people to get involved in the Agricultural sector. He is also an actor at the Theatre Guild, where the members have been working tirelessly to keep the Guyanese drama scene alive.
In an interview with Kaieteur News, Macey explained how conscious he has been of his identity as a black man in Guyana, because of his experiences with stereotyping and discrimination. He said that the intersection of his ethnicity and his gender results in a unique experience, where black men have been dealt an unlucky hand by gender and racial stereotypes.
“I grew up different from a lot of black brothers,” he said. Because of this, he explained that he was made very conscious of his behaviour by the people around him, that people would tell him, “You’re a black man, act like a black man.”
He said that black men are held to certain hyper masculine standards that can be harmful, and that attempts to stray from that norm have often been met with ridicule: “Current norms for black men are very toxic.”
He recalled how his hair was policed while he was growing it. People would tell him, “Why you growing your hair? You look untidy.” He said that it’s not just behaviour that is policed but how black men dress and present themselves.
Macey said, “A lot of black fathers had cruel childhoods that they didn’t heal from,” going on to state that those traumas end up manifesting in the adult stage, and could be passed on from generation to generation, resulting in what is called Toxic, Black Masculinity.
Not only are those stereotypes enforced by black people, he said, but by everyone. Macey told of how some of his Afro-Guyanese friends with whom he attended the Guyana School of Agriculture (GSA) were attacked and beaten one night because they were assumed to be thieves. From the experience, Macey said that his eyes were opened to how the world views black men, “Black men are some of the most unprotected, endangered and unloved [people]”.
Speaking on the Afro-Guyanese group, Macey said that his people are disadvantaged in a few ways, including the fact that they have been disconnected from their history and culture.
He said that work needs to be done on race relations, especially between Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese.
Macey still believes that young people are engaging in healthy discourse among themselves, to begin the process of eradicating racism.
He said that Guyanese people have, for too long, conflated race with politics. He believes that much more education is needed, so that Guyanese could learn to appreciate each other for their cultural differences, and that the people must learn to divorce race from politics.
Douglas has a similar take on the Afro-Guyanese experience: “I have realized from early on that, to climb to the top, I would have to work twice as hard, since the colour of my skin and my nappy hair may serve as hindrances.”
She explained that she has had experiences from which she learnt that many persons harbour prejudices against black people, and that they often prefer to give opportunities to someone who look like them, over Afro-Guyanese.
She has had one overt experience with racism that she says is still clear as crystal, in her mind.
“I can recall one rainy day, I was waiting to get a bus on my road.” She explained that a bus was passing and slowed down for her, but when the conductor got a good look at her, he decided to leave.
“I remember thinking about that incident for the entire day. I was reminded that, even though I had a very close male friend who is East Indian, practically a best friend, and a very close East Indian female friend, I shouldn’t forget at the end of the day that I am black; that there are people right in my beautiful country that don’t fancy people of my ethnicity.”
On relations between Afro-Guyanese and other ethnic groups, she said, “I believe that there may exist some measure of racial tension between Afro-Guyanese and minority groups but it certainly isn’t to the extent of the tension that has existed between Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese.”
Like Macey, Douglas believes that youth are the key to curbing the racism that continues to rear its head throughout Guyana, “I strongly believe that young people are able to and will bring about a positive shift in regards to race relations. It’s the older folks that I have no hope in. When people are set in their ways, it’s not impossible, but it’s extremely hard for them to change their views.”
“I believe, more than older folks, us younger ones realize that we all bleed red and hurt the same way; that it’s nonsensical to judge someone merely on their ethnic origins, and not on the substance of their character.”