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Can Guyana’s Major Races Unite or Just Get Along? – by Dr. John Sumner

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First Published: 21st of August, 2020. (Reprinted with Permission from Facebook Post of Dr. John Sumner)

Last updated: April 30, 2023 at 17:44 pm

At a very young age, no more than a wee 12 years old, I learned a valuable lesson that would sustain me for the rest of my life, so far. Almost at every station in the journey of life, you will meet some bad people.

Despite being an eternal optimist, I came to believe then, as I do now, that there is evil in this world, and not all of it is of the spiritual kind. Putting aside the master design of the human body itself, its commander in chief – the brain, is actually the greatest thing before slice bread. Its second in command – the heart, is no slouch either. These two have held equal power from the beginning in a “survival partnership” that gives each us a chance to do something special for us and about our lives despite the odds we are bound to encounter along the way.

Despite this almost equal “power sharing arrangement” between heart and brain, one of them begins to lead the other after a few years. Armed with increasing information and knowledge, the brain eventually gains sway over the heart. Much like other relationships, even though the heart knows better, sometimes it allows the brain to dictate how the rest of the body operates. That is, until the heart finally decides enough is enough and then it is all over.

Almost all of humankind are endowed with the capacity for both good and bad. Better yet, there is that little voice in our head – – our conscience, that allows most of us to be able to tell the difference. Bad people are simply those of us who allow bad thoughts (impulses) and actions to dominate our capacity for good. But even so-called bad people are capable of and do good things. Similarly, “good people” sometimes do bad things, either in poor natural judgement, influenced by others, or when the brain has been impaired by too much alcohol or other mind-altering stimulants.

These traits and characteristics are universal and equally apply to all Guyanese of sound mind, regardless of race. Some Indo-Guyanese hate Afro-Guyanese. Some, at least in their minds, for justifiable reasons. Some Afro-Guyanese hate Indo-Guyanese for reasons they alone know best. But not all Indians hate Blacks, and not all Blacks hate Indians. How do I know? Because I do not hate Indians and likewise I do not hate Indo-Guyanese, even the one that hit me with a cricket bat at Zeeburg Government Secondary School when I was trying to be a bully. It was his turn to bat and I tried to take the bat away. I still have the bruise to show for it today. But I do not hate Derrick. In fact, after that incident, we became good friends. Derrick taught me a very valuable lesson that day – – might is not right, and a guy armed with a bat can do more than score a ton of runs.

I have Indian friends whom I have come to love as much, and in some instances, even more than some of my black friends. The best motorcycle mechanic I have ever known is an Indian guy by the name of Compton Bahadur. We became friends because Compton was the most reliable mechanic of any kind that lived in Guyana at the time. If Compton said “come and get your bike” at 3:00 PM, it was not only ready and running like Usain Bolt, but he would have one of his assistants give it a good wash and shine. Then on top of all that, he would turn around and charge me half the price of any other mechanic and ask his wife Ingrid to fix me some of her favorite bungal curry. That is, if I happened to be picking up on that lucky day. Compton is not only one of the best Indo-Guyanese I have ever met, he is one of the best persons I have ever met, period, and I mean worldwide. So go ahead and ask me to hate all Indians and to conclude they cannot be trusted if you have a lot of time to waste.

There are many Comptons living both inside and outside of Guyana today, and they also exist within the PPP-C leadership as well as in their rank and file.

Completely hypothetically, because I have no such designs, if I were ever asked to form a government in Guyana and I were allowed to have 24 Ministers, I would choose 8 Afro-Guyanese, 8 Indo-Guyanese and 8 other individuals from among our four other races/ethnicities. I would do it to demonstrate my intention to unify my country. But I would not do it randomly. I would first shortlist 16 of the most qualified, experienced, and respected Afro-Guyanese available for the positions and then I would ask them to provide the names of about 16 Indo-Guyanese for whom they have the greatest appreciation and respect. I would interview those 16 Indo-Guyanese and also interview their friends, families, and neighbors before selecting the final 8. I would go through the same process with my Afro-Guyanese final 8 and the final 8 from our other races. I would instruct my Cabinet to perform their duties with integrity, fairness, and impartiality to all Guyanese and I would establish rules to ensure they do so. I would ask them to set aside one day in every week where they meet with ordinary Guyanese to listen to their issues and to receive suggestions. I will ask the Guyanese people to evaluate their performance once each year, and I would ask their fellow colleagues to do so as well. Based on those evaluations, they would either continue to serve or it would be “next man or woman up.”

The United States has been going at it for more than 400 years and still have a far way to go to unite the races in that country. For all we know, we may never ever get to that final destination – – a perfect union. But, like most other things in life, it is not the destination that counts, for we all know what that final destination is, but how we navigate the journey. It falls to each new generation to carry that torch forward as the progressives among us work tirelessly through the ages in search of that “more perfect union.”

Similarly, Guyana will not achieve a state of national unity any time soon. However, we are more likely to get to that state the sooner we are able to put together the kind of government I have just described. Whenever I speak of the need for a new 21st Century Constitution and new form of Governance in Guyana, I am driven by the recognition that, no matter how well our major races get along for most of the time, our current system of governance actively and aggressively promotes and escalates our racial differences every five years. We then spend about 2-3 years to cool off before starting to gear up in the 4th year for the next racial battle to determine “is who turn now.”

Can we continue to live like this? Sure we can. Must we continue to live like this? The answer depends on each and every Guyanese. But I do know what Compton and I would say.

Editor’s Note: Dr. John Sumner is the founder of Guyana’s most popular and interactive Facebook Group: Guyana, A Story of Pictures, Old and New.

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