Guyana: Anti-racism initiative launched

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Guyana: Anti-racism initiative launched
Founder and Director of Heal Guyana, Sharon Lalljee-Richard
Founder and Director of Heal Guyana, Sharon Lalljee-Richard

(GUYANA CHRONICLE) – A project intended to “significantly” reduce and eventually eradicate all manifestations of racism and ethnic tensions in Guyana has been launched by Heal Guyana, a civil society organisation working to address certain social and other issues.

A photoshoot session intended to serve as campaign material for the initiative kicked off the project at the Moray House Trust in Georgetown on Thursday.

The project seeks to deepen public understanding of the various forms of discrimination and suggests peaceful, actionable ways of combating the issue. It further seeks to cultivate a greater sense of tolerance and respect for diversity among Guyanese across all socio-economic lines.

Founder and Director of Heal Guyana Sharon Lalljee-Richard, told this publication that the organisation has decided against placing a timeline to the project and that it will come to an end only when the desired results are obtained. “It’s too deep a problem for the project to last just a couple of months. Because we’re generations into racism, it is something that will take longer to address,” she posited.

She spoke of the need for persons to commit to effecting changes so far as the issue is concerned, and called on interested persons to become involved by connecting with the organisation. Citizens are encouraged to ‘Like’ the Heal Guyana Facebook Page, ‘Follow’ Heal Guyana on Instagram or visit www.healguyana.org to get involved.

With a more communal approach in mind, Lalljee-Richard said citizens will be able to share their stories on such sites. Otherwise, they can simply connect to receive the anti-racism messages that will be posted.
The goal is not only for citizens to be able to access the messages, but for them to practise it, Lalljee-Richard pointed out.

After Heal Guyana Director Egbert Carter opened the event last Thursday, Lalljee-Richard gave an overview on the nature of racism – its foundation in history, culture and identity; the various internal and external manifestations of racism; the role politics and economics play as driving factors; and the need for citizens to intercept at all levels, if this/the next generation is to inherit an anti-racist Guyana.

“We cannot beat such a complex challenge unless we fully understand how to outmatch it, strategically. And to do so will call for lots of patience, tons of determination, endless dedication,” she said.

History, culture and identity, she observed, are the foundations of racial challenges. “They are inescapable unless we begin to see each other beyond the confines of our differences toward our similarities. What are the common things that make us Guyanese?”

She added that it is necessary for Guyanese to embrace all cultures and not that of their own only. “What tends to happen at an individual level is that we embrace only one culture and we compare that one against others; then we begin to judge.”

Lalljee-Richard said there should be less policing of others and their racist behaviour; and that persons should equally check themselves and hold their innermost thoughts to a higher standard, every day.

From within, she pointed out that racism manifests itself in the forms of bias, privilege, and submission to the oppression created by a racist environment or culture.

As for external manifestations, she said interpersonal racism is very easy to detect. “We are all very familiar with this, as we read the callous and cowardly statements coming from online political trolls and others, who may, from time to time, be outwardly abusive or condescending toward those of a particular ethnic group.”

Institutional racism, on the other hand, is the policies and practices within and across institutions that, intentionally or not, produce outcomes that chronically favour one racial group over another. “There are many instances of this quietly happening [for years] within our ministries, employment sectors and schools,” she said.

“As a strong civil society organisation determined to make an impact, we must be prepared to intercept at all of these levels if we are to be effective. In fact, all citizens must be prepared to intercept if we are to succeed for Guyana. I know it could appear overwhelming, but we must garner enthusiasm from each other and from deep within ourselves to move forward with confidence,” Lalljee-Richard urged.

Lalljee-Richard, also a businesswoman and social activist, thought of forming Heal Guyana along with co-founder Arun Sudesh Richard, due to deep concern over the state of Guyana’s “ethno-political vulnerabilities” and the apparent loss of will to have certain social problems addressed.

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