What then was the purpose of Mr Mair’s exercise?
Dear Editor,I note that Mr John Mair chose to ignore the question posed in my letter. (Too much hyphen-Guyanese, SN Letters, October 19, 2019).Now I believe that Mr Mair was born here in then British Guiana to British parents but grew up and spent most of his life in Britain. Britain has serious racial issues and the British wear their hyphenated identities – Asian British, Black British, etc – very proudly, as do Americans, Canadians, and other nationalities that boast of a diversity that includes ethnic, racial, religious, and other groups.This issue of identity is a contentious one in Britain as in Guyana where our politics is divided along racial/ethnic lines. Here, it is an open struggle for political power. Any step taken to deny an identity to any one group is the first step to erasing that group and to making them voiceless and invisible. This is the crux of the Guyanese malaise.It is befuddling that Mr Mair gathered together his group of participants to have them tell their particular ethnic stories only to have them “pushed” (his word) into then rejecting and denying their respective identities to favour their citizenship ID only.What then was the purpose of Mr Mair’s exercise? Was it simply to be suitably enthralled by the “exotica” of the ethnic tales? Has Mr Mair, in order to soothe the racial tensions in his British homeland, ever carried out a similar exercise there? Or does he save these for his jaunts into what he must see as the Third World where he is free to organise such gatherings even though he is not an expert in ethnic or racial matters?In a country where Mr Mair’s viewpoint of what ails Guyana continues to find public platforms, the participants at his gathering could have been easily seduced into denying their respective ethnic identity when it was evident that to wear it – even after just honouring it with their particular stories – would have earned them the label of being a racist.There is so much confusion, and simplistic and fraudulent statements and ideas being peddled on this issue of identity and not only in Guyana. The racist, however, is not the one who wears their hyphenated identity – Asian British, African American, etc – and wears it proudly but the one who insists on denying them that identity either because of their own lack of tolerance and respect or the fear of some existential threat that particular group or groups pose for them.I want to believe that Mr Mair’s reductionist approach to identity is born out of well-meaning intentions. Perhaps he should first try to apply his approach to British race problems in his homeland. Being a more sophisticated, literate and educated society, simplistic ideas and arguments would, however, not gain a ready foothold there.An elderly Indian Guyanese man once declared in defiant terms in response to ideas such as Mr Mair’s: nobody can define me but myself. The pity is that he was not at Mr Mair’s gathering.Sincerely,Ryhaan Shah