My four year olds’ thoughts on the police

Since U.G closed last month, I have had the opportunity to pick my daughter up everyday from school. It is tiring work, especially since the school is a good distance from me but it is also often amusing and offers me insight into my four year olds’ mind.

Today, on our way home, like most days I asked her what she learnt in school. Of recent they have been on occupations so she would always state the name of the occupation she learnt and the duties of the person. Today however, when she replied that they had learnt about policemen, I waited to hear her description of a policeman’s duty, expecting her to say ‘protect me’ or something of the sort. Instead, her reply was, “policeman does kill you.”

I of course sought to correct her, but she was adamant that those were the roles of an officer sworn to protect her. She can be a headstrong child, so realizing I was getting nowhere as she insisted that “policeman does murder you,” I tried to explain dualities to her by telling her just as there are good and bad people, there are real policemen (good ones) and bad policemen (the pretenders.)

She pondered upon this bit of information for about a minute and then asked, “The real policeman does put you in jail too?” I told her yes, but only if you committed a crime such as stealing, murder or assault and told her that she had nothing to worry about because she was a good little baby.

She did not seem to buy this, instead saying that policeman does beat good babies too. At this point I was flagger basted and I asked her where she was learning these things.

She explained that her teacher told her that policemen jailed people and that her friend told her they beat and kill you. Asked whether she really believed that, she said yes, so I wondered why it was that she would take the word of a four year old such as herself and a teacher who was not too big on making distinctions for the children.

As we continued to walk, I continued my attempts on changing her mind on the police and their role in society, admitting that a lot of them strayed from their roles but many remained stringent and dutiful.

As we neared home, I asked her again, “what does the policeman do?” and while she did say, “protect me” I know she did not really believe it.

Guyana: Culture & musings

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Often, whenever people talk about Guyana in a good light, they mention our diverse and rich culture and how it remains unmatched by many countries.

While this is true, not many of us realize the greatness that lies in our diversity and culture and as such, shun it. It was only last year in Haiti that I myself had a small glimpse of how various cultures can merge to create something truly wonderful when I bought plantain chips from a vendor who had no sour for me to pour on it. Haiti did not benefit from the same influx of Indians as Guyana did; as such there was never the chance for cultures to merge and people to figure out that plantain chips tasted better with sour.

Our cultural makeup goes far and beyond ethnicity and food though, and while we are a country of varying ethnicities, religions and customs, we are all unified in our shared history. This is not realized however, as we have sunk deeper into a culture of mimickery, superficiality, suppression and self-loathing as we cannot make links with our history and learn from it.

Knowing the History of one’s country and ancestors has its benefits, as it will show how the self-loathing of our culture is not something we are wholly responsible for as it was conditioned into our ancestors by plantation masters and then into us. Being aware of history will make one realize that every time they don American accents and upend their positive traditions for more Western ones, the plantocracy wins.

The plantocracy, suspicious of anything it did not understand chose to ban and denounce cultural practices and traditions different from their own, labeling them as being paganistic. As a result, we began to feel contempt for our culture as we were conditioned to think the “white man’s” own was better. So we adapted his God, his mannerisms and even his biases in an attempt to become more like him and have an advantage in the world.

The dying of languages, cultural erosion, diffusion and infusion all seek to upend Guyana’ already fragile cultural atmosphere. We have reached a point in which we seem to be struggling for an identity and grasping any one, which is dangled before us. While I do believe the state has a role to play in the preservation and promotion of varying cultures, the people have depended too much on the state to make changes regarding the values and attitudes of their cultures. Instead, we have traded in our own creole for that of Jamaica and other Caribbean islands and we twist our tongues to match that of the hackneyed Americans. We celebrate people “outside” making small ripples but do not celebrate our own who make large waves. We forget our mythology such as the Churlie and Water Mumma while celebrating the ghouls and ghosts of Halloween. We even thwart our Mashramani celebration to align with that of Trinidad’s carnival.

Then of course, Guyanese wonder why our country has such a low tourism rate. That is because tourists recognize that we have no real culture as we rush to mimic rather than create and embrace our own.

I know, nothing is fixed, changes are necessary and no one culture can claim to be pure as they have all undergone mutations when exposed to others but, these cultures have seemed to develop their own cultural uniqueness, a task which Guyana is yet to complete.

Guyanese need embrace their color, their creole, what’s left of our culture and release themselves from the shackles of colonial mentality as only then can we hope for a semblance of national identity free from biases and mimickery.

 

 

 

 

 

UG failings

12961143_10208374724393306_2337419433725831354_oIt has been two unfortunate years since I have began studies at the University of Guyana and I will soon be entering my third. People ask why I continue to attend the university if I despise it so. Truly, the reasons are twofold. 1) I have no other options at the moment 2) I do not despise it as much as I am disappointed in it.

There are so many things wrong with UG but for the moment, I just want to focus on a few, one of which is the lack of proper seating for students.

The struggle for proper seating on the Turkeyen campus is a daily struggle, even more so when it is time for mid or final examinations. On a regular day, scores of students can be seen sitting in chairs that have no desk and can even be seen trying to hold up desks with their hands as they jot down notes with the other. I can say this because I speak from experience and I will probably be experiencing the same next semester also.

During finals, particularly this last one, hosts of students were left standing for long periods, unable to write their examinations because they lacked seats. I was able to write my examination on time because I fetched a chair from another classroom as the classes that were assigned to us had ten chairs if so many, when our class had over forty students.

I read of another incident in which students were advised to use the light from their cellular phones to continue their examinations after the power went out. I know many students must have been happy for that opportunity but the incident goes to show how very little the university respects its students and their supposed facilities fees.

While I am on the issue of finals, I want to comment upon the invigilators who are assigned to us and who act as if they are there to act out the Gods greatest mission. I do not go so far as to hope the invigilators be friendly, but a little courtesy goes a long way. During this past academic year I have had two invigilators pull rules out of their arses about the examination. The first arse pulled rule was that I could not sit with my back slouched and my legs out. The fact that my feet were in no one’s way and my posture had nothing to do with her seemed lost upon the woman. She stopped me from writing and proceeded to call upon the lecturer to discipline me as I was not following her rules. The lecturer fortunately was not as silly as she and told me to stand on my head if I wished, as long as I wrote the exam.

Then, there was the other invigilator who wanted to bar me from writing an examination because I did not have the new student I.D card. I am sure many can understand my reluctance to uplift my new I.D card given the friendliness of the UG staffers who always scowl whenever you disturb their Facebooking or live tweeting or whatever it is that they do. Despite the fact that it was not specified that one needed their new student ID card and the fact that I wrote three other examinations without question about my ID card, this woman felt that I should not write the exam. I asked her whether she would be the one to stop me from writing the exam but it didn’t seem so, so I went and wrote my exam still.

 

While I only speak about my experiences with these invigilators, I have seen several students humiliated because they felt the student was not up-keeping with what they believed to be the right thing.

Now, back to UG’s facilities. UG now imposes a $50,000 facilities fee which they claimed would have helped to improve (you guessed it) the facilities of the university. Failure to pay this extra fee on top of your normal tuition will result in one not being able to write their final examinations.

Of late, I have heard murmurings of increased university tuition, despite the fact that we have not seen much improvements in the university’s facilities since it was last raised.

The majority of the campus remains poorly lighted and the guards do not seem to know their purpose. I do not know whether there is a system in place which see’s the guards doing routine checks around the campus but if there is, they might have forgotten about it. The guards seem more interested in ensuring that I have some form of identification on me rather than ensuring my safety. 

The administration does try in some areas. Every-time I grace one of the washrooms and find running water, hand sanitizers, paper towels and flushable toilets, I rejoice a little. The same happens whenever I pass by the empty garbage bins because I know that while the university’s administration would have us believe that these few improvements were borne out of the their promises attached to the facilities fee, I and many others who would have marched along Turkeyen know that these improvements only came when we demanded them and even so, they are spotty at best and our larger demands have remained forgotten. 

Why have they remained forgotten? Merely because we have stopped speaking, many see the sight of hand soap and forgot they still need to have their education and money respected. They choose to sit about because there is nothing they think they could do. They choose to remain silent because they think the revolution has ended, not realising that the revolution only ends when significant positive changes are made and when the people are respected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of hot suns, picketing and black cars

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Earlier today, my university friend and I, along with one who recently graduated decided to ditch our afternoon lectures and go to a Red Thread picket opposite the Ministry of Social Protection and show our support.

We arrived about 15 minutes late and immediately noticed the small band of women standing in the hot sun. In their hands they held placards denouncing Minister Volda Lawrence and her statements regarding the alleged child molester Winston Harding and accusations leveled against him as being a “family issue.”

The sun was no longer an issue for me and I walked over with renewed purpose and stood at their side with a placard expressing similar sentiments. Regardless, I was still in a state of disbelief over the small number of persons willing to call out wrong when they see it and whether they even understood what they would be allowing to continue if they leave transgressions unchecked.

I slowly began to realize that there were several reasons why not many people were there in protestation as I began to sense the general feelings of unease and anger from Afro-Guyanese passing us and the feelings of amusement from Indo-Guyanese and the disinterest in the others.

(1) They do not want to stand in the sun (I can get behind that);

(2) They believe that criticism against the government and its ministers is a criticism on their ‘people’

(3) They believe that we got the ‘change’ we deserved

(4) They did not grasp the importance of the Minister’s comments and what it represented.

I can understand these varying views, even if I’m not in agreement of them (except number 1). Living in a largely divisive country in which politics and race have seemingly become one, I understand why many persons who would have voted for the coalition believe people are just trying to stir up trouble for trouble’s sake. They fail to realize that while we are allowed to like our leaders and expect them to do great deeds, they should not be coddled when they have erred lest they grow into the familiar monsters we have all come to despise and fear.

Child rights and issues, I would like to believe, go far and beyond race or class and very few seem to realize how dangerous their silence on issues such as men, women and children rights can be in the future.

As the minutes went on in our picketing, our placards screaming about the injustice and insensitivity from Lawrence who now seems to be on a redemption tour despite never offering an apology or explanation, our numbers grew.

About half hour into it, a black, fully tinted vehicle pulled up to us. In it, was a man who was clearly annoyed as he surveyed us and our placards. After offering an explanation as to what we were doing there when he asked, we told him to park his car and join us as he was holding up the traffic, he said that he would not come as “they (coalition) is my people.”

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We explained that they were our people too and the reason we were out there was because we want them to learn from their mistake of protecting an alleged child molester.

Scanning our faces and placards, he went on to ask, “Is who paying yall?…Is got to be the PPP paying yall to come here.”

I felt defeated as it began to dawn on me how stupid most Guyanese are and how they have allowed race and politics to cloud their judgement of what is right and wrong. The man sat in his car, eyeing us menacingly and hurling derisive statements until he was told to move or wait until the police came. He left but shortly after that, another man passing in a car, shouted out, “Yall leave the woman alone and go home.”

As the protest ended, I felt dissatisfied as I realized that not much had changed from us standing there and most likely, not much will change the next time but I know that I must continue, because victims of abuse deserve more than silence.

 

 

UG Rape Allegation Source Rescinds

The University of Guyana engineering lecturer upon whose account the story of an alleged gang rape on campus last Friday was based is rescinding his story.

In his original recorded interview, the lecturer had stated, “today (Friday) some U.G student, males, had drugged and gang-raped another U.G student, female then carried her to the medic and so far I haven’t heard any police reports… Even though she (victim) shouldn’t have been there, it shouldn’t have happened and she needs satisfaction. These students are behaving like animals…this is a human life and they have ruined it, mentally, physically and spiritually.”

When contacted yesterday, the lecturer, in spite of the recording claimed the contrary, stating “when I spoke to you, I didn’t say anyone was raped…things were said and taken out of context.” Upon further questioning he stated that he said, “allegedly.”

He stated that he believed the article to be “ill-timed” “inaccurate and “did not address the issue at hand.”

The issue he said he had been addressing was that “students can go anywhere they want to and nothing happens…. I was arguing because students were at a location and they shouldn’t have been there and because of their (guards) inactions an incident occurred.”

In his previous statements he had said, “students are getting drunk, wild and doing ungodly things, its now up to me to do something about it cause I can’t let this go, look what has happened now, it’s elevated to sexual assault and I don’t know what’s the next level.”

Despite saying before that a student informed him of the alleged gang rape, upon further contact he stated, “no student told me that, no student told me anything.” He went on to say that “I was frustrated and I wanted that issue (security) to be addressed, not the rape issue.”

He stated that he does not know whether there was a rape or not, adding that any further dialogue would have to be had in front of the PRO and he would speak to his superiors and take it from there.

I also got a chance to speak to the university medic who would have attended to the student who was allegedly raped.

The medic, who refused to give his name, said that he was “finished with the issue already,” stating only that the student had been treated for dehydration and no rape claims were made to him or any other staff.

“A student came seeking help, that’s all.”

This is in contrast to the lecturer’s previous claims that he had spoken to a clinic employee about the alleged rape and was trying to gain the parents contact information but was unsuccessful.

Asked whether any tests were done to determine the substance the student was intoxicated with, the medic stated that no tests were done as “one could use their five senses…we could detect from seeing the students what is wrong.”

He stated that no examinations were done to see whether the student was sexually assaulted or not as no allegation was made.

Questioned as to who escorted the student to the clinic, the medic seemed unsure. First, he stated that the girl was escorted to the clinic by one person, then he stated two and upon further questioning stated that a group of students brought her.

The University of Guyana had originally sent out a brief press release denying that any alleged rape had taken place. Sources inside of U.G’s community stated that an internal rift over the university’s release is developing, labeling it as “inept,” “defensive” and “inappropriate response to the report of the alleged rape.”

Questions sent to the Public Relations Officer have not been answered.

Valentines day and the right to be gay

I have always been fond of Valentine’s Day, not because of its connotations, but because of what it brings out in others. That being said, I know that this year’s celebration will be extra special. Given President Granger’s recent promise to respect LBGT rights, I do believe that at least some persons belonging to the LBGT group will celebrate this holiday with an easier mind.
Guyana is the only South American country in which homosexuality is still illegal, and by not changing the archaic laws, Government is not only encouraging bigotry but also shamelessly violating minority rights.
I know that most people are against homosexuality for the sole reason of religion, and my penning an article is not going to change that. However, call me idealistic, but I have hope that most people are capable of both critical thought and the respecting of views and lifestyles outside of their own.
Many believe that marriage is a sacred union between man, woman and God. They also believe that same-sex marriages are unnatural, and will affect heterosexual couples. Unfortunately, these arguments are among the weakest against same-sex marriage and relations.
Marriage is a societal construct, which means that it is defined by what society thinks it should be. As such, the concept of marriage is constantly being redefined. I must point out also that marriage predates many religions, including Christianity, as it dates back to the Code of Hammurabi 1790 BC. So while one is free to imply that same-sex unions are a threat to the construct of marriage, the fact remains that marriage existed long before Yaweh became a word you weren’t allowed to say.
While homosexuality may not be the predominant sexual orientation, labelling it as unnatural is inaccurate. Homosexual behaviour has been documented in hundreds of species, from fishes to humans. Given the wide range of homosexuality within both the animal kingdom and that of Man, homosexuality is, by definition, a natural occurrence. As for how homosexual couples affect heterosexual couples, I do not even know how to begin tackling this view, due to its inanity.
Then, of course, follow the other arguments: that children “would not be here had their parents been of the same sex”, as stated by one letter writer, Reverend Gideon Cecil. Unless there is a pandemic wiping out heterosexual couples, I fail to see how same-sex marriage can lead to a world devoid of children. By trying to equate marriage with procreation, one is just making excuses to discriminate against LBGT persons.
On the topic of procreation and marriage, I know of several heterosexual couples who are infertile, or do not want children. Why aren’t these people barred from being married?
Being an atheist, I am one of those persons whom Cecil says “are trying to corrupt the morals of the world.” As such, I am a bit murky on the Bible, but granted that God killed Onan for spilling his seed on the ground, we really should look into banning these “non-procreating” persons from getting married.
Finally comes the other two most popular arguments against homosexuality: The slippery slope, and, according to Cecil, the “insult to God.”
Let me address the insult to God first. If the God one prays to expects hate and intolerance against minority groups such as the LGBT, then maybe it is time to reconsider your religious ideology.
Now, back to the slippery slope theory, which states that legalization of same-sex marriage will lead to marriages between persons and animals, and children and inanimate objects. Seeing that children cannot consent to marriage, and the fact that neither can animals nor my laptop, I can only hope that persons would stop scraping the bottom of the barrel as they search for justifications for their bigotry.
Most, if not all, of the objections to homosexuality are rooted in religion, whose convictions are based on faith, and not logic. Just as there were no logical arguments against miscegenation between blacks and whites and against gender equality, there are no logical arguments against homosexuality.
Asking for gay marriage and equal rights is not an issue of the minority trying to impose their lifestyle on the majority. This is about the minority’s civil rights, and the right to love and marry whomever they choose being respected. Many don’t see the reason behind fighting for LBGT rights; but that’s only because they have been privileged to grow up in societies in which their heterosexual orientation is considered normal; and as such, they have not had to fight for their rights.
Guyana, as a secular State, has been pandering to the religious sector for way too long on this issue, and while I know those in office are hindered by their own religious views, their religious convictions should not supersede the secularity of the State as defined by the Constitution.
As I close, I find it interesting to note that a lot of the arguments being used against homosexuality today were used against miscegenation yesterday. Below is a quote which I find interesting because it encapsulates one such argument:
“The underlying factors that constitute justification for laws against miscegenation closely parallel those which sustain the validity of prohibitions against incest and incestuous marriages.”

On almost being a statistic

 

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I like to consider myself someone who is willing to talk about anything. Whether I agree with it or not, I believe conversations should be had. One thing I have always shied away from however, is suicide. I have never had someone close to me commit the act so I never thought it was my place to air any view on the subject.

I would listen and remain silent to the insensitivity, sadness and often, even anger in cases of suicide, because who am I to comment on something that even I do not understand.

Not often, but every once in a while someone comes to me for solutions to problems they might have. I sometimes joke and tell them, “hey, that psychology thing is just a minor,” but for some reason, they trust a 19 year old with a slight energy drink addiction to make decisions for them.

Of course, I feel bad because who am I to not make decisions when decisions are needed, who am I to tell them that instead of solutions, what I have are stories, stories that will hopefully cause one not to only think, but to feel.

I grew up in Berbice, the county that is most famous for its suicides and so, I grew up believing that suicide was a “Indian thing” because the reality of the situation was that these are the persons who most often end their lives. Of course, being a child who sought answers for everything I quickly learnt that suicide is not decided by ethnicity, creed or affluence-even if these things may have a hand to play in the larger scheme of things, the real problem is depression.

Three years ago, I was living alone and being someone who enjoys solitude, I did not notice the first warning signs of depression- but then again, who really notices the first signs?

At the time, I was still in high school as I had been kept back two grades due to migratory patterns and a pregnancy. After one term, I dropped out of school and while at the time I gave the excuse of being too smart for the teachers, which was not far from the truth, mostly it was because socializing took too much energy out of me, energy I believed I needed to save.

I was having what I would like to call several mini-existential crises and many days I would sleep until my body simply refused to rest anymore because less time awake meant less time to think and less time to think silenced at least a few of the fleeting thoughts of suicide.

While this cosmic loneliness and feelings of inadequacy had cloaked me and threatened to remain unshaken, no one noticed, because I never let anyone see behind that stoic veil. It was not until I stopped hiding behind that mask of joviality and contentment did it dawn on me that that is what most people whose suicides take us by surprise do- they hide.

Things went further downhill for a while and all that was sought were distractions but even these distractions became too taxing and thoughts on ways of how I can or should go out became increasingly frequent. While I’ve never tried, I have killed myself hundreds of times in my mind and of course, that is how it always begins.

In one state of lucid unselfishness, I knew that could not be the end of my story-not when I still had so many others to write, so what I did was I sought help. I sought help because I did not want to be one of the dozens of young victims of suicide that are never heard of in Guyana because the act in itself is so very common, I did not want to be a statistic.

Those thoughts did not go away overnight but they did become significantly infrequent and while my experience with depression is not something I have broadcasted, it is definitely not something I am ashamed of.

What is shameful is that despite Guyana having one of the highest suicide rates in the world, to my knowledge there is only one suicide hotline which was put in place by the Guyana Police Force in August of this year. To my knowledge there is no suicide prevention centre. I may be wrong and there may be more but how many of these are government funded and how many of these are actually known?

But these things are needed, especially in a country such as ours where stigma is still attached to mental health and where young people now coming into their own feel as if there is no one with whom they can speak. These things are needed because they need to understand that despite their current situation, they can always rebound, even from the deepest darkest wells of self-loathing, one can always rebound.

As a writer, I have been conditioned to hate cliches, so while I flinch a bit to write this, people I think, especially teenagers need to realize that it is okay to not be okay. While one may think everything is bad, often, those bad patches remain just a sentence in a collection of J. R. R. Tolkien books and lets be honest here, those things are really long.

The idiosyncrasy of the boot-leg empire

 

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One of the things I love about Guyana is that it is a country full of idiosyncrasies. Everywhere you turn, you are bound to reach up with at least one.

These idiosyncrasies have become so embedded into our culture that often we don’t even take notice of them and when we do, they most times prove to be incredibly ironic.

Being more of a “series kind of gal,” I would rather stay at home and watch “Hannibal” or “Breaking Bad” on Netflix rather than ease myself out of the cocoon that is my home and go to a movie theatre.

Last week however, in my excitement to see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part Two, I went to the Caribbean cinemas located at Giftland Mall. The movie, as I expected was great, and so was the viewing experience.

Shortly after the movie however, I was faced with a glaring idiosyncrasy that “tickled me to tears-” but because I have become blind to all these little glaring things, I did not notice it until it was pointed out to me.

About a minutes walk from the state of the art Caribbean cinema, on the same floor, there stood a fairly sized DVD store selling bootleg discs.

Curious, we went into the store and realised that not only are they selling bootleg movies and series that would have been released years back but they were also selling copies of movies they would have shown as recently as two weeks ago in the cinema, for $14o each.

Mind you, at least one of these movies, at face glance, was still being shown in the theatre, so it of course made me wonder about the cinemas marketing strategies.

Had I known of the store before, I would have waited a week or two until the store would have gotten the bootleg version of Hunger Games two. I would buy it for $140 then proceed to spend the money I would have spent on a ticket, on food.

One may ask why instead of going all the way to Giftland to buy bootleg DVD’s, why don’t I just buy them off the streets?

Well, now the proud owner of over 10 bootleg DVD’s of both television series and movies from the bootleg store located a minute from the cinema, I can attest for the superior quality of these discs over the ones found on many street corners in central Georgetown alone.

Due to this reason, I am sure that I will be a repeat customer at this fine facility until proper laws are put in place to stop me.

Until then, I will continue to look around the Giftland Mall for more idiosyncrasies.

 

Hair shaming

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June of last year saw me cutting off my relaxed tresses and going back to my natural hair as I was going through the, “I don’t need society to tell me my hair is beautiful phase.”

A year and a couple of months later and this is no longer a phase but rather, an act of self-love, not the fun type though, as if it is one thing natural hair teaches you is that you should never use small combs. Before the big chop, I would often hear and read stories about naturals and how they were made to feel shame towards their hair, especially in the work environment. Never being a victim of this, I could not relate. I remember having a conversation with one of my friends before I cut my hair saying, “she’s just being a stereotypical angry black woman,” in reference to a woman who was complaining about hair shaming. I said this because at the time I could not understand the difference between an “angry black woman” and an empowered black woman who did not yield to the whims of Eurocentric ideals. I had been conditioned to believe that any woman, regardless of race who protested and spoke against injustices, should be termed “angry.”

After I cut my hair and after the initial shock from family and friends, there came the criticisms veiled in questions. “Are you going to wear a wig?” “When are you going to straighten it again?” “How your boyfriend feel about you cutting your hair?” “How your hair look so?” These were all questions I was faced with upon cutting my hair and despite being a self assured person, I often in the beginning stages would wish I had not cut it. As it grew however, I learnt that learning to love oneself in a natural state should be something which is promoted. In a way, I guess my comfortability with my hair caused a lot of persons to become comfortable with theirs also and I feel proud to have at least in a small way help with that.

Due to my mixed parentage, my hair is curly and often soft, as such I have not faced as much negative remarks as those who may not have mixed parentage or took more from one parent than the other. Earlier tonight however, I realised that maybe there is some truth in the belief that a female social commentator is always an angry person as that was the exact emotion I felt when I was berated for not fitting the ideal of a “polished” looking worker.

“Aye you,” he shouted from across the room to me as I was about to leave, an expression of annoyance on his face, “muss comb your hair.” Uncharacteristically, I said nothing and quickly left, partly because I was hurt as this was someone I had a modicum of respect for, but mostly because I was angry and I have learnt to fear my explosive temper.

I spent the drive on my way home furiously tapping away into my phone, writing this post because I felt as if I did not get this out of me now, tomorrow i would turn into work and shout at him, “aye you, comb YOUR hair!” with an expression of anger on my face because I can hold grudges for very long. My inability to forgive is not something I am proud of, but I often feel as if it should be acknowledged, just so people know.

Now, this is someone who is constantly haranguing me to “dress properly,” “walk properly,” as “presentation is important.” I would mostly listen to these suggestions in silence and ignore them as I do dress “properly” and despite my tendency to slouch, I walk straight when I feel like I should. I can understand his reasons for his suggestions which come across as orders but that does not make them excusable. No one aside from him seemed to have a problem with my hair, in fact just today I was complimented on it  in an interview with one of the country’s Ministers. So of course my question is, why in a multiethnic society in which we have every hair texture possible is this still an issue?

Race and hair are in my mind, inextricably linked, as such, due to my overactive mind I quickly wondered, is he being racist? It should be pointed out that my co-worker who said this to me, is Indian. In our office, there is an Indian girl and an Amerindian girl whose hair also was visibly not combed. Yet, due to their ability to blend more easily with Eurocentric ideals and my evident “kinks,” I was singled out. I realise that while I can blame him, I cannot heap everything on him as he too has been exposed to social biases as it relates to black women and their hair from a young age.

Had he bothered to ask however, rather than giving me an order about the state of my hair (which in my opinion was not much worse than it usually is) he would have known that due to poor sleeping habits and time management skills, I had neglected to wash and comb my hair that morning. Had he bothered to ask, he would have known that I had planned on washing and combing it tomorrow as having thick hair with small pores, I normally do this every two days in an effort to keep it properly hydrated as it loses moisture very quickly. Had he bothered to ask, I would have done my best to respectfully educate him on why he should not be asking a black woman to comb her hair while other straight haired ethnicities were not asked to do that. I would have told him of the biases he appeared to have and I would have told him that often, very often, naturals doubt their self worth as they are constantly being asked to conform to what is considered “acceptable hair,” and that was what he was doing to me.

On the surface, it might appear a small thing to be worried about but it all goes back to Eurocentric ideals of beauty which labels natural hair as abnormal and out of place. This is sadly seen in many businesses who refuse to hire persons if their natural hair is “very” evident and also in their reluctance to hire those who may have dreadlocks due to the biases associated to Rastafarians.

The order to comb my hair, made me realise that the stereotypes we have fought against for years are still thriving in the most “tolerant” parts of our society. That order sadly made me realise that naturals may never be fully accepted due to underlying biases and prejudices ingrained within the minds of those who surround us. I guess I can eventually forgive him, as humans we are all prone to spew nonsense every once in a while but after being taught through socialisation and the mass media for years that our hair is unacceptable in its natural form, I do hope he can come to realise where he has erred. I hope he does this independently as I do not believe in educating people on issues which should be basic knowledge.

As an act of rebellion, tomorrow I will again not wash and comb my hair despite knowing I will have the time to do so. I will however wash it the next day because the reality is, my hair is really dry and needs to be washed.

Religion and the public sphere

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Before Guyana was acknowledged as a pluralistic society in the 1970’s, most public schools were run by Christian denominational faiths. This was done in an effort to promote the spread of Christianity across the country as it was considered the “superior” religion. While these schools are no longer run by these denominational faiths today, the lack of plurality which existed during the colonial period is still evident in their names such as St. Stanislaus, St. Josephs and St. Margaret’s.
Years after and there still remains remnants of British colonialism within our public school system with regards to the prayers being said. Due to social and religious conditioning however, this is often overlooked as it is considered a trivial matter. Its reason for being considered trivial is important as the majority of those against the removal of Christian prayers belong to that specific religion.
In countries such as the United States of America, Canada and the European Union, the place of religion within the public school system was questioned and has resulted in several states banning the practise in these countries. In Guyana, Minister of Education, Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine has recently also caused many to question the place of religion within the public school system. This comes as a result of the Minister’s recent statements regarding his intent to review Christian prayers within public schools.
Reverend Patricia Sheeratan-Bisnauth, of the Guyana Presbyterian Church, expressed her surprise that the official prayers in most public schools are Christian oriented as Guyana has been acknowledged as a pluralistic state since the 1970’s. She assumed that as such, prayers would reflect this plurality.
“It should never be about competition to see whose God is better, but it should be about encouraging respect between these different beliefs systems,” Bisnauth said.
President of the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha, Dr. Vindhya Persaud had also expressed her support for the change.
“It has always been a belief of mine that we should have universal prayers within our schools. By using such a prayer, it promotes tolerance and respect for each other’s cultures, especially in a country such as ours,” said Persaud.
An interview with a young woman who spoke on the condition of anonymity however, stated that the Government’s interference in religious practises contradicts its intentions of creating a tolerant state. She stated that “many laws are from the bible and we just have to live with them.” When asked whether she would feel the same way if she belonged to another religion she said “yes” and went on to add, “What’s the big deal to whisper your own prayer? Pray when you go to your temple, I wouldn’t go to a Hindu school.”
While various religious groups may be in support of the removal of Christian prayers, observations made through social media, casual conversation and interviews revealed the disagreeing views of the “grassroots” people. Many are of the opinion that the removal of Christian prayers within schools is an encroachment on basic human rights and an attack on religious freedom and free speech.
According to several atheists and agnostics interviewed from Guyana and two other Caribbean countries, specified religious prayers can often promote feelings of alienation within other religious groups.
Recent University of Guyana graduate, Salima Husain, revealed that during her time at La Grange Primary School, she and children of other faiths were allowed to say their own prayers. She related that as a Muslim she was happy to say her own prayer but had to do so quietly as the Christian prayers would be said loudly. She subsequently moved to a private Islamic school which had Muslim prayers. She related that even in the Islamic school, students of other faiths were allowed to say their own prayers also.
Subraj Singh, a spiritualist, who is also a University of Guyana graduate and comes from a Hindu background, stated that he believes Christian prayers within the school system are wrong for several reasons.
Singh pointed out that compulsory Christian prayer excludes other religious groups in the schools system and as such, coerces students to partake in religious acts regardless of their beliefs. He stated that while in school he often saw Muslim children cup their hands to say their own prayers. It remains an issue however as to why these students had to quietly say their prayers while listening to Christian prayers. He opined that prayers in school are purposeless as they become routine after a while and are just there for tradition.
Aside from the issue of prayers within schools, the belief of religious superiority can also cause religious prejudice. A young child previously from the New Guyana School at a very young age became a victim of religious prejudice. Due to the fact that she came from a Hindu background and the school is predominantly Christian, she was often teased by other students. “You’re not a born Christian, you don’t belong here,” was just one amongst the many things they would reportedly say to her. Teachers of the predominantly Christian school were said to have encouraged this prejudice as they never uttered a word of reprimand against the students. The young girl’s mother stated that many days she would drop her child off to school crying and would pick her up crying as school had become a place of torment for her due to her religious background. After several months of putting up with the ridicule directed at her, the child asked to be moved and subsequently enrolled in Success Elementary and finally to School of the Nations.
The general consensus amongst those from the non-religious group was that having to partake in praying and singing hymns at school often resulted in feelings of isolation and confusion for them as children. The practise was said to make them feel as if their freedom of disbelief had in some way been compromised and due to the fact that they are a minority, would ultimately be taken away.
This feeling of alienation, atheist Adelle DeNobrega intimated, can often foster feelings of depression as it can cause the irreligious to believe they do not belong in any part of society. There is also the case of these persons being othered by peers due to their disbelief, thus causing unhealthy social relationships and shame towards one’s choice of conscience.
While there are some calls for a completely secular environment which would see public schools free of religion, as “Guyana is an indivisible, secular, democratic sovereign state,” Roopnaraine said that the Ministry’s aim is to implement interdenominational prayers which will serve all religions.
President of the Guyana Teachers Union, Mark Lyte while in support of the Government’s initiative to place interdenominational prayers in public schools, admitted that they are very hard to coin. “Interdenominational prayers typically reflect one religion over another as the structure of prayers for different religions are all different.”
The idea of structured personal reflection seems to have garnered a lot of public support as a suitable alternative to interdenominational prayers within schools as it allows freedom of choice. Instead of students only quoting the Bible, structured personal reflection will allow them to quote the Holy Quran, Bhagavad-Gita and maybe even Marx or Plato.
However, founder of the Guyana Secular Association, Ferlin Pedro is of the belief that prayers in the public sphere, whether limited to one religion or universal, are acts of imposition and threatens constitutional principles.
With regards to the proposed interdenominational prayer, Pedro related his belief that “it is more of a governmental prayer.”
“We don’t want to have a dictatorship where a set of values, morals and beliefs are dictated by a selected few and handed down to us as mandatory,” he said.
He also stated that there are denominations such as the Jehovahs witnesses who would not partake in universal prayers due to their beliefs. As such, he raised the question as to whether these prayers are being coined for the majority alone.
Pedro also expressed his opposition to the idea of structured personal reflection, labelling it as a “lazy” alternative and further suggesting that it is a sly way of keeping prayers in schools.
“While our group had considered this as an option as it is one step forward to making Guyana a secular state, the problem with that reasoning is that it is a lazy response to the real issue.”
Secularism, according to Pedro, is the best stance the Government can take as any other option would see it yielding to a majority to the exclusion of minorities. He stated that what people need to realize and what the Government should try to get across is that, “Government neutrality is not Government hostility towards religion.”
The reasoning, although sound can bear fruit to many problems as it may actually threaten the country’s state of being a democracy, this is according to Ruel Johnson, Cultural Policy Advisor to the Ministry of Education. He stated that people often confuse secular with godless or devoid of religion when in fact, secular means decisions are not made with a religious basis.
“Democracy means representation of the people. If there is a democratic consensus that there is a capacity for inclusion of religious elements in the public sphere, then it is an undemocratic thing to remove that merely in the interest of what is supposed to be secular.”
While Guyana is legally secular, it recognizes the needs of its multi-cultural and multi-religious people within that state. “If one seeks to impose an absence of religion, you are denying the right to religious freedom. The only states which operate like that are communistic ones. One needs to recognize in the spirit of tolerance that people will have faith and in a liberal democracy what we do is accommodate. What we do need to do however, is ensure that there is no primacy of any religion as that will move us towards a theocracy.”
According to the Constitution of Guyana, the practise of having Christian prayers in public schools across the country is in contravention to laws set out in relation to the separation of church and state. Constitutionally, structured personal reflection is the only form of prayer permissible as the private voluntary student prayer does not interfere with the school’s educational mission.
In our constitution “freedom of conscience” is guaranteed under our fundamental rights in Article 145 (3). While many can continue the debate for and against Christian prayers in schools, the constitution leaves no room for debate on the issue as it states-
“Except with his own consent, no person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction or to take part in or attend any religious ceremony or observance if that instruction, ceremony or observance relates to a religion which is not his own.”