Citizens protest discrimination of Indigenous boy

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Parents of a nine-year-old boy and other concerned organisations today protested the Mae’s Private School over recent actions to send him home because he was dressed in an indigenous outfit for culture day.

The school held its annual culture day on Friday, May 25 and Joshua Small went to school decked out in his straw skirt and feathered hat.

However, the administrator of the school deemed the outfit “inappropriate” since he was not wearing a t-shirt or vest.

Today, the boy’s mother, Karen Small held a placard with her son dressed in his Indigenous wear outside of the school’s Third Avenue, Subryanville, Georgetown location. She said her son had to endure taunts from other students after being told that he was inappropriately dressed.

Karen Small

“He came home and he said that the children told him ‘You stupid Amerindian boy, why didn’t you wear a vest?’ Or that he wasn’t in an Indigenous environment so he shouldn’t dress like that,” the woman told reporters.

As such, the mother said her son refused to attend school on Monday.

Small is demanding that the administrator of the school issue a public apology as she said: “no other child should endure what Joshua endured to embrace their culture or heritage.”

She told reporters that it was the first time her son attended a culture day activity.

Those who joined the protest include other parents and representatives of the Amerindian People’s Association, the National Toshaos Council, and a representative from the CARICOM Youth Ambassadors organisation.

Media worker, Natasha Smith also joined the protest wearing an Amerindian Headdress, a straw skirt and knitted bra, to show her support.

Natasha Smith [News Room photo]
She said this issue speaks to a wider trend of discrimination against Indigenous persons.

“Amerindians every day in this country, in their daily lives, face some sort of discrimination by the way they’re teased and where they come from,” an emotional Smith said.

This sentiment was shared by representative of the Amerindian People’s Association, Michael McGarrell who said the school’s action is an act against all of Guyana’s first people.

“We believe that all institutions should recognize us for who we are,” he told News Room.

National Toshaos’ Council Chairman, Joel Fredericks condemned the school’s actions.

representative of the Amerindian People’s Association, Michael McGarrell [News Room photo]
Guyana Youth Ambassador of CARICOM, Vishal Joseph pointed out that his organization will not stand by idly and let persons be discriminated because of their race “based on any silly or petty social constructs.”

The mother of the child said she spoke with the administrator who remained steadfast in her view that the child was inappropriately dressed.

WE DO NOT DISCRIMINATE

Meanwhile, late this evening, Mae’s school issued a public statement on the issue and noted that all children were told that plain t-shirts and tights or shorts should be worn under clothes that would otherwise expose them.

The school clarified that on the morning of the event, the child, accompanied by his mother, came to the school dressed in his Indigenous garb and the mother was told at the gate that there MAY be an issue with the fact that he was exposed, but he was nevertheless allowed to enter the school as-is. The school noted that at no point was any teacher engaged on this issue either by the child or his mother.

The school noted that it has never, and will never, engage in discriminatory behaviour.

See Full statement below:

The administration of Mae’s Schools has noted with deep consternation a story that has been carried and repeated in various media and would like to set the record straight.

Mae’s, in its usual fashion of celebrating ALL ethnicities and religious groups, organized a Culture Day for May 25, 2018, to commemorate Independence Day.

Closer to the event each class was verbally briefed on the activity. Each class pulled from a bowl what ethnicity they would represent. Approximately one-sixth of our student population were to portray the Amerindian culture, one-sixth African, etc. All children were told that plain t-shirts and tights/shorts should be worn under clothes that would otherwise expose them.

The students of the class of the child who has unfortunately become the subject of this story were to dress as Portuguese.

Nevertheless, on the morning of the event, the child, accompanied by his mother, came to the school dressed as has been portrayed. The mother was told at the gate that there MAY be an issue with the fact that he was exposed, but he was nevertheless allowed to enter the school as-is. The student then ascended the stairs to continue to his classroom. However, we speculate that he may have been subject to gawking by students, because shortly after he exited the school building and met with his mother, who helped him don a t-shirt already in her possession.

At no point was any teacher engaged on this issue either by the child or his mother. The child settled into his classes without incident. There was no crying or other discernible upset displayed by him that warranted the attention of the class teacher, Head Teacher or Administration of the school then or at any other time throughout the school day. The fact that this student is made the subject of national headlines is regrettable.

Mae’s has never, and will never, engage in discriminatory behavior. We recognize that our first duty is to look after the best interest of the children we serve. We are particularly conscious of fostering social cohesion and encouraging children to be proud of their heritage, as well as learning of the different ethnicities that make us one Guyanese family, hence the willingness to host Culture Day.

There is, however, no clear cut national policy that is consistently enforced  on what is acceptable in terms of exposure for BOTH boys and girls when representing our very diverse culture, especially in this climate where gender equality is being promoted,and specifically in a school environment. This incident lends itself to a larger discussion amongst schools and government entities about what truly is the acceptable social standard in our evolving country. In the meanwhile, we will continue our mission to provide quality education to our greatest assets, our students.

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