OUR CARIBBEAN: Tread carefully in racial thicket
AS A CITIZEN OF GUYANA – a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural nation of our Caribbean Community – I have long appreciated the necessity for the majority to recognise and protect the rights of minority ethnic groups in the interest of national unity and peaceful development.
And as a journalist of this region who has covered various racial disturbances, I am also conscious of the negative consequences, the social and economic dislocations and degradations that can flow from racial prejudices and arrogance.
Recent reports in the local media, focused on conflicting social responses to the findings of “missing persons”, have served to remind me of the challenges facing small states with vulnerable economies, such as Barbados.
Barbados has a 92.04 per cent black or African-based population and a miniscule (less than three per cent) but significantly economically empowered white or Caucasian segment. Barbadians face the challenge to come to terms with who they are and why they must avoid the path of race-based manifestations that could also result in serious economic dislocation, given that the economically vital foreign exchange-earning tourism sector is dominated by Caucasian tourists.
In this context, successive recent editions of the Nation newspaper have been commendably illustrating the social responsibility function of the media by coming to terms with the challenges of racial overtones associated with searches for “missing” persons of white/Caucasian and black or African descent.
The people of Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago – the two dominant multi-ethnic, multicultural nations of our Caribbean Community – know only too well the damning consequences of racial conflicts. Hence the constant reminders to themselves and the world at large – despite some painful contradictions – of the meaning of their respective national mottos: One People, One Nation, One Destiny and Together We Aspire, Together We Achieve.
Decision-makers of the public and private sectors of Barbados are therefore understandably quite sensitive to the dangers of any occurrence/posturing that may carry a racial overtone.
The Nation Publishing Company – a founding partner of the Port of Spain-based One Caribbean Media (OCM) – has been encouragingly demonstrating a most enlightened understanding of the media’s social responsibility by its careful, professional coverage – both in words and photographs – relating to the spate of “missing” and “found” persons, white and black.
In so doing, and despite some inevitable detractors, the Nation, as well as the police and military services, deserve to be commended for their respective responses to avoid occurrences that could result in negative social and economic consequences.
Let those with eyes to see and ears to hear pay heed. I make this observation against the backdrop of a threatening national scenario that had surfaced some 16 years ago when the Barbados Government of then Prime Minister Owen Arthur felt compelled to establish a National Reconciliation Commission to address spreading concerns among Barbadians pertaining to class and race-based prejudices with threatened negative consequences.
The commission, headed by Sir Keith Hunte, former principal of the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, held a series of consultations and interviews and later submitted its official report. To this day, that report remains unpublished. And, amid prevailing misunderstandings on race and class issues, some Barbadians are conveying unpleasant, race-oriented feelings by varied responses to “missing” and “found” white and black individuals.
For me, the Nation’s coverage remains, as it should be, professionally encouraging – in the national interest and, by extension, that of regional stability.
• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.