Category Archives: Race and class politics

Obama’s American Nightmare

UnknownTHOSE CRAZY birthers who insist that Barack Obama is from a foreign country are not completely lunatic. The America of Obama’s youth is not the mainland United States (US). And it’s not mainstream. Hawaii, Obama’s state of birth, was not admitted into the union until 1959. That’s almost two centuries after the American declaration of independence from Britain, and only two years before Obama was born.

The most absurd ‘fact’ I’ve heard about Hawaii is that it has the highest racial minority population of any state in the union – 75 per cent, according to US census figures. How can the majority of people in Hawaii be counted as a minority? Only in the racist United States where whites consider themselves to be the definitive Americans! Forget about the indigenous people. White is the default race and all others are minority. That’s mainland racial politics. But in Hawaii, whites are the minority. That’s what the US census figures actually mean.

AFRICAN-AMERICAN TRAUMA

barackIn a 1999 essay for the Punahou Bulletin, published by his high school in Honolulu, Obama acknowledges the impact of the years he spent in his homeland: “The opportunity that Hawaii offered – to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect – became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear.”

Obama’s Hawaiian ‘world view’ is fundamentally at odds with racial politics in mainstream America. Born to a black African father and a white American mother, Obama doesn’t easily fit into a box. He isn’t simply African-American. The hyphen does make a difference. Obama comes to mainland America as an outsider whose personal history does not include the African-American trauma of enslavement and all it entails. Despite Michelle, it is a struggle for Obama to claim the hyphen.

ingodwetrustAnd African-Americans are struggling to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, especially since he’s president of all America. Obama is a biracial, multicultural American who embodies many of the ideological contradictions that constitute the US. The unofficial national motto asserts unity: ‘E pluribus unum’ (‘out of many one’). But America is a divided society. Trusting in God seems to make no difference.

‘POST-RACIAL’ AMERICA

The cold-bloodied slaying of Trayvon Martin and the contested ruling that has freed his assailant have become yet another test case of the fundamental fairness of the US justice system. On all sides of the angry debate about what went wrong, there’s the shameful knowledge that race remains a provocative sign of both criminality and innocence in a supposedly ‘post-racial’ America.

bsr005President Obama has been caught in the crossfire. In a much-analysed speech two Fridays ago, he revealed his somewhat ambiguous identification with Trayvon Martin and, more broadly, African-American culture. This is how he began: “I gave a preliminary statement right after the ruling on Sunday, but, watching the debate over the course of the last week, I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit.”

That’s the first problem. Obama’s initial pronouncement on the judgment, appealing for “calm”, appears to be his instinctive reaction. The expansion of his thoughts comes a little bit too late. And it’s really just a little bit too little. Obama shouldn’t need to watch the debate in order to realise that, as president, it was his duty to make a much more nuanced and expansive statement on yet another American tragedy.

Trayvon Martin's parents in Washington DCAfter affirming the “grace and dignity” of Trayvon’s parents in response to the contested ruling that freed their son’s killer, Obama tried, yet again, to identify with the victim: “You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me, 35 years ago.

“And when you think about why, in the African-American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognise that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”

RACIAL PROFILING

strange-fruitIt is precisely this set of experiences and history that Obama does not own. This “set” is not in his DNA. And it’s not only African-Americans who are looking at the issue through the lens of a history that doesn’t go away. Euro-Americans have their own set of experiences and history – of lynching, for example – that influences how they view the death of Trayvon Martin. Furthermore, people of goodwill, of all races, are agitated about the killing and the judgment.

Obama gives three examples of racial profiling of African-American males. In each successive instance, he becomes more and more distant. The first example is “being followed when shopping in a department store”. Obama says, “That includes me”.

The next example is “walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars”. Obama says, “That happens to me”. Present tense. He quickly qualifies it, “at least, before I was a senator”. That’s a big leap away from racial profiling. Not to mention president.

Obama’s final example is “getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off”. Obama doesn’t even pretend that he’s had that experience: “That happens often”.

The race of the generic woman is unmarked. If she’s white, it’s fear of the predatory black man. If she’s black, it’s the same thing. But, in the latter case, it’s now black-on-black crime. Why don’t we ever talk about white-on-white crime? Because white is normative and black is pathological?

Picture1_000In his expanded thoughts, Obama does give some prescriptions for the disease of racial profiling. He pays particular attention to the dilemma of African-American males. But he cannot identify with them fully, no matter how hard he tries to be Trayvon. It’s the hyphen again. Obama inherited his mother’s American nightmare. But he also possesses distant dreams from his African father.

Suppose Jesus Did Funny Fi True

Frederic Cassidy

Frederic Cassidy

Two spelling systems are used for the Jamaican language below.  The first, which I call  ‘chaka-chaka’, is based on English spelling.  The second,  ‘prapa-prapa’, is the specialist phonetic system designed by the Jamaican linguist Frederic Cassidy.  It has been updated by the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona. After the two Jamaican versions, there’s an English translation.

 

  • Chaka-Chaka Spelling

images-3Mi no mean dead wid laugh. A di odder kind a funny mi a talk bout. Wa dem a call ‘queer’ inna dem ya time. Suppose Jesus was a B-man. Tink bout it. Im never married. An im par wid nuff man. Pon top a dat, ascorden to weh John write inna fi im book inna New Testiment, Jesus did av a special love fi im. A so John seh.

Den some Bible scholar claim seh a no ongle 12 disciple Jesus did av. A nuff more. Bout 70! Jesus come een like dem DJ an dem crew. Or di yuut dem weh go a dance wid dem one anodder an no dance wid no uman whole night. Nuff man inna bungle. Jesus did av uman fren. But some a dem never come offa no high table. Dem a prostitute.

bolt_2309832bAnyhow, mi no want nobody a pray God fi mi. So mek mi spell it out: Mi never seh Jesus funny. A aks mi a aks. An a no me one a aks disya question. Mi go pon Google an put een ‘Was Jesus a homosexual?’ Mi shock fi see 11,300,000 answer come up inna 0.28 second. Faster than Usain Bolt!

So hear wa mek mi a aks disya funny question. Yu see di parson man dem weh a stir up dem congregation gainst B-man? An a keep up demonstration outa road gainst di people dem weh a try fi change di buggery law? Mi no know wa dem deh parson man woulda do if dem find out seh Jesus was a B-man. Dem woulda ha fi go kill demself.

Or dem coulda start tek Matthew 7:12 serious an try treat odder people like how dem woulda want people treat dem. An dem woulda ha fi come offa dem high horse an memba seh dem a sinner. Some a dem said same parson man a commit adultery, an through a uman dem a sex, dem a gwaan like seh fi dem sin better than odder people sin. Sin a sin.

FROM PILLAR TO POST

ambitionAn me want know wa dem parson man a seh an a do bout di yuut dem weh a bata-bata from pillar to post an cyaan find no weh fi rest dem head. Mi sorry fi di yuut dem. Dem bun dem outa uptown an dem cyaan go back downtown. But wat a way dem deh yuut chest high! A Millsborough, an Seymour Lands, an Cherry Gardens an Beverly Hills dem a squat. After all. If yu a squat, yu might as well av ambition.

But some a dem yuut a gwaan like leggo beast. Dem no av no behaviour. How dem fi out a yard stark naked inna di people dem good-good community? Dat a pure slackness. Out a out. But dem gone far out. Outa order. Dem buy on trouble pon demself. Dem no know how fi squat. Dem ha fi small up demself so nobody no notice dem to dat. Dem too bright.

Still for all, wi cyaan dash dem weh an gwaan like seh dem no belongs to wi. Dem a smaddy pikni, smaddy bredda, smaddy uncle, smaddy cousin, smaddy puppa. Wi dis ha fi claim dem. Dem a fambily. Dem a fi wi. An dem a God pikni. Same like Jesus. Dem a smaddy.

  • Prapa-Prapa Spelin

queer_by_choiceMi no miin ded wid laaf. A di ada kain a foni mi a taak bout. Wa dem a kaal ‘queer’ ina dem ya taim. Sopuoz Jesus woz wan B-man. Tingk bout it. Im neva marid. An im paar wid nof man. Pan tap a dat, azkaadn tu we John rait ina fi im buk ina di Nyuu Testiment, Jesus did av a speshal lov fi im. A so John se.

Den som Baibl skala kliem se a no ongl 12 disaipl Jesus did av. A nof muor. Bout 70! Jesus kom iin laik dem DJ an dem kruu. Aar di yuut dem we go a daans wid dem wan anada an no daans wid no uman uol nait. Nof man ina bongl. Jesus did av uman fren. Bot som a dem neva kom aafa no ai tiebl. Dem a prastityuut.

emoticons--question-face_17-317132617Eni-ou, mi no waahn nobadi a prie Gad fi mi. So mek mi spel it out: Mi neva se Jesus foni. A aks mi a aks. An a no mii wan a aks dis ya kweschyan. Mi go pan Google an put iin ‘Was Jesus a homosexual?’ Mi shak fi si 11,300,000 ansa kom op iina 0.28 sekan. Faasa dan Usain Bolt!

So ier wa mek mi a aks dis ya foni kweschyan. Yu si di paasn man dem we a stor op dem kangrigieshan gens B-man? An a kip op demonschrieshan outa ruod gens di piipl dem we a chrai fi chienj di bogri laa? Mi no nuo wa dem de paasn man uda du if dem fain out se Jesus woz a B-man. Dem uda afi go kil demself.

Ar dem kuda staat tek Matthew 7:12 siiriyos an chrai chriit ada piiipl laik ou dem wuda waahn piipl chriit dem. An dem wuda afi kum aafa dem ai aas an memba se dem a sina. Som a dem sed siem paasn man a komit adolchri, an chruu a uman dem a seks, dem a gwaan laik se fi dem sin beta dan ada piipl sin. Sin a sin.

FRAM PILA TU PUOS

13480844-success-diagram-shows-vision-ambition-execution-and-determinationAn mii waahn nuo wa dem paasn man a se an a du bout di yuut dem we a bata-bata fram pila tu puos an kyaahn fain no we fi res dem ed. Mi sari fi di yuut dem. Dem bun dem outa optoun an dem kyaahn go bak dongtoun. Bot wat a wie dem de yuut ches ai! A Millsborough, an Seymour Lands, an Cherry Gardens an Beverly Hills dem a skwat. Aaftar aal. If yu a skwat, yu mait az wel av ambishan.

Bot som a dem yuut a gwaan laik lego biis. Dem no av no biyievya. Ou dem fi out a yaad staak niekid ina di piipl dem gud-gud komyuuniti? Dat a pyuur slaknis. Out a out. Bot dem gaan faar out. Outa aada. Dem bai aan chrobl pan demself. Dem no nuo ou fi skwat. Dem afi smaal op demself so nobadi no nuotis dem tu dat. Dem tuu brait.

Stil far aal, wi kyaahn dash dem we an gwaan laik se dem no bilangz tu wi. Dem a smadi pikni, smadi breda, smadi onkl, smadi kosn, smadi pupa. Wi dis afi kliem dem. Dem a fambili. Dem a fi wi. An dem a Gad pikni. Siem laik Jesus. Dem a smadi.

  • English Translation

images-7I don’t mean laughing out loud.  It’s the other kind of funny I’m talking about. What’s called  ‘queer’ these days. What if Jesus was homosexual! Think about it.  He never married.  And he used to hang out with a lot of men.  And, according to John’s account in the New Testament, Jesus had a special love for him.  That’s what John said.

Some Bible scholars claim that it wasn’t only 12 disciples Jesus had.  It was lots more.  About 70!  Jesus was like these DJs and their crew.  Or those young men who go to parties in a big group and don’t dance with women at all.  Just a whole bunch of them together. Jesus did have female friends. But some of them were quite disreputable.  They were prostitutes.

tumblr_l52qc59d1i1qz8tzlo1_500Anyhow, I don’t want anyone to feel they need to pray for my soul. So let me spell it out:  I’m not saying that Jesus was queer.  It’s a question I’m asking.  And I’m not the only one to raise the issue. I googled  ‘Was Jesus a homosexual?’ and  I was shocked to see that  11,300,000 responses came up in 0.28 seconds. Faster than Usain Bolt!

So let me tell you why I ‘m asking this funny question. You see those parsons who are stirring up their congregation against homosexuals and holding demonstrations in the streets against those activists who are trying to change the buggery law! I don’t know what those parsons would do if they found out that Jesus was homosexual.  They would have to commit suicide.

Or they could  start taking Matthew 7:12 seriously and try to treat others the way they’d like to be treated.  And they would have to come off their high horse and remember that they are sinners.  Some of these parsons commit adultery and because they’re having sex with women they pretend as if their sin is better than other people’s.  Sin is sin.

FROM PILLAR TO POST

46199millsboroughgayraidh2013070

Evicted from Millsborough

And I want to know what these parsons are saying and doing about the youth who are wandering around from pillar to post, unable to find a home.   I’m sorry for them.  They’ve been driven from uptown and they can’t go back downtown.  But these youths have high standards! Its in Millsborough, and Seymour Lands, and Cherry Gardens and Beverly Hills that they’re squatting. After all. If you’re going to squat, you might as well be ambitious.

But some of these youths are behaving like wild animals.  They have no sense of decency. How can they be outdoors stark naked in respectable communities?  That’s pure vulgarity. Coming out of the closet is one thing. But they have gone far out. Out of order. They are making trouble for themselves.  They don’t know how to squat.  You have to be discreet so that you’re hardly noticed.  They are too outrageous.

Belonging_TrimmedAll the same, we can’t distance ourselves and act as if they don’t belong to us.  They are somebody’s  child, somebody’s brother, somebody’s uncle, somebody’s cousin, somebody’s father.  We have to claim them.  They’re family.  They are ours.  And they are God’s children.  Just like Jesus.  They are human.

Email From A Hellish Resort

where-anonymity-breeds-contemptTwo Fridays ago, I got a distressful email from a hotel worker. I don’t know if it’s a man or a woman because the writer hid behind a false name. In certain circumstances, anonymity is essential. Exploited workers who desperately need jobs are often fearful about speaking up for their rights. Here’s the email, which I’ve edited just a bit for grammar. But I’ve kept the writer’s aggrieved tone:

“Good day to you, Ms Cooper. I enjoyed reading your article in The Sunday Gleaner dated June 23, 2013 on ‘Night work for women’. I have a similar problem I would like you to bring to attention for me. I have emailed several talk-show hosts and people in authority and, to my surprise, it has fallen on deaf ears and no one cares. This is the issue.

????????????????????????????????????????“I would like to know if the labour law in Jamaica doesn’t protect hotel workers. The law says that a person must work 40 hours per week, which is equivalent to 2 days off for the workweek. Well, there is a big breach of the law going on because in most hotels, if not all, workers are getting one day off per week at the 40-hour rate. How can this be? Most days, workers even work overtime and no overtime money is paid. What kind of law is this? I am sure that the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Tourism are aware of this breach.

“We are grateful and give thanks for our jobs. However, the law of the country goes for all. Workers who are either dedicated Seventh-day Adventists or Sunday worshippers cannot do their commercial activities on weekdays because that one day off cannot allow them. Also, one day off cannot allow the body to get enough rest for the hard work that your employers require of you.

NO LUNCH BREAK

“Some managers even treat staff with no respect at all. Another issue is that due to the workload, we cannot get our full one-hour lunch break. Depending on certain departments like Housekeeping, some staff cannot even take lunch break due to the demands of a busy day. To make things worse, we are not unionised.

deaf-1“I would like if you can highlight this issue for us and let it be known to the relevant authority. Please don’t turn a deaf ear on this issue like talk-show hosts. I assume that they don’t want to lose their regular free passes or accommodation. We need justice. You sound like a balanced person who will take up this issue. Thanks for your cooperation.

“Send me a confirmation email to let me know if you got this email because it’s not all the time we can listen the radio or TV due to work hours. Also, send me follow-ups of your investigations.

Yours respectfully,

Anonymous hotel worker”

originalI did send the requested confirmation email. I also called the Ministry of Labour and Social Security to find out what the employment laws say on these contentious matters. As it turns out, Anonymous Hotel Worker (A.H.W.) is misinformed. The minimum lunch break is 45 minutes, not a whole hour. And full-time employees are not, in fact, entitled to two days off. It’s more complicated.

The National Minimum Wage Order, 1975 states: “Every employer shall, in each week during which any worker, other than an hourly worker … works for him, allow that worker one day as a rest day.” The language of the law is so roundabout. What it means is that full-time workers are entitled to only one rest day per week.

rest-dayFurthermore, the Order states that, “The day on which the rest day of any worker is to fall in any particular week shall be determined by agreement between that worker and his employer.” Agreement is all very well and good. But how easy is it to disagree with your employer? Especially if you’re not in a trade union, you hardly have any power to negotiate deals with your employer. You end up doing what you’re told.

HIGH PRICE FOR ‘FREENESS’

Unionised or not, employees who work for more than 40 hours each week are most certainly entitled to overtime pay. If A.H.W. is telling the truth, the unjust withholding of overtime wages is, indeed, a serious breach of the law. But which employee is going to be bold enough to confront the boss when jobs are so scarce?

BlackLogoJHTAA senior manager at one of our hotels admitted that exploitation of workers is widespread in the industry. Refusing to pay for overtime work is a common offence. Not at his hotel, he hastily reassured me. I called the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association and rather naively asked if they knew of any hotels that were not paying overtime wages or if they had had any complaints from employees about not being paid for overtime work. The person to whom I spoke claimed, without a doubt, that no hotels are in breach of the law. I don’t suppose it would have been reasonable to expect any other answer.

But if it’s really true that many hotels are, in fact, failing to pay workers overtime wages and are not allowing any lunch break at all, the minister of tourism and entertainment ought to launch an investigation. Disgruntled workers are not an appealing advertisement for the tourist industry. And shamelessly exploiting cheap labour just isn’t good for business in the long run.

lost-causeA.H.W. cynically proposes that it’s access to free passes and complimentary accommodation that’s stopping journalists from exposing lawbreakers in the hotel industry. If that’s really so, it’s a high price to pay for ‘freeness’. Depending on the media to help hotel workers get justice is a lost cause. It’s not even a last resort.

 

Cali P to give ‘Reggae Talk’ at UWI

Cali-P-20110131CThe very popular ‘Reggae Talks’ at the University of the West Indies, Mona continue on Thursday, April 11 at 7:00 p.m. in the Neville Hall lecture theatre (N1). First it was Jah9, then Protoje, then No-Maddz. This week’s speaker is the Swiss reggae artist Cali P who now lives in Jamaica.

In an exclusive interview with Gleaner writer Jordaine Delahaye, Cali P, whose legal name is Pierre Nanon, said, “I started writing lyrics and singing in Switzerland when I was 14. There were positives and negatives living there. Looking on it as a whole, I had a lot of moments where I really didn’t want to be there because I felt unwelcome. Not being white there makes people treat you like a foreigner at all times, and that can get really annoying”.

Born to a Swiss mother and a Guadeloupian father who is a Rastaman, Cali P knew where to turn to escape the alienation he felt in the land of his birth.  He feels much more at home in his adopted country.  The title of his talk, which will focus on his artistic development, is “musicCALI-sPeaKING”.

‘Bring In All Rastas, Dead Or Alive!’

Sir Alexander Bustamante

Sir Alexander Bustamante

Those are the infamous words of Sir Alexander Bustamante, national hero and first prime minister of independent Jamaica. Bustamante’s turn of phrase comes straight out of the Wild West: “Wanted dead or alive.” Bustamante apparently conceived all Rastafarians as outlaws in a Hollywood western who had to be exterminated by any means necessary.

Issuing a death sentence, Bustamante literally turned all Rastafarians into villains. Guilty or innocent, they could no longer expect to enjoy the protection of the law. All Rastafarians were completely demonised and became victims of comprehensive state brutality. How did this come about?

images-6Half a century ago, at about 4 a.m. on ‘Holy’ Thursday, six bearded men set fire to a gas station in Coral Gardens. They were armed with machetes, guns, bows and arrows. I suppose it was cowboys and Indians, Jamrock style. The leader was Rudolph ‘Franco’ Franklyn, who had a big grievance against the owner of the gas station, Ken Douglas.

Franklyn and several other bearded men had long been squatting on land in Coral Gardens. They lived in relative peace until the land was sold to Douglas. Naturally, the new owner asserted his right to the property and attempted to drive the squatters off the land. As is often the case, the squatters refused to budge.

During one of several attempts at eviction, Franklyn was shot by the police. He survived but was told by a medical doctor that he would die sooner rather than later from a bullet lodged in his body. Determined to take revenge on his assailants, Franklyn sought allies to launch his counter-attack.

DREADLOCKS AND COMBSOME

images-3At the time, there were two groups of Rastafarians living in MoBay: the dreadlocks and the combsome. The dreadlocks lived on Railway Lane and the combsome squatted in Coral Gardens. Franklyn irrationally proposed that both groups of Rastas join forces to burn down Montego Bay. The dreadlocks rejected the scheme on the basis that Rastas defend ‘peace and love’.

Franklyn, who seemed to subscribe to the philosophy “I don’t give a damn, I done dead already”, pressed along with his plans. Instead of burning down all of MoBay, he settled for Douglas’ gas station, an obviously flammable target.

http://www.songstube.net/video.php?title=Zombie%20Jamboree&artistid=6603&artist=Harry%20Belafonte&id=131586

On the morning of the attack, there was only one attendant at the station, Mr George Plummer, who fled for his life to the nearby Edgewater Inn Motel. He, clearly, had no shares in the company. A Mr Marsh, who was at the motel, foolishly ventured out to investigate the matter. In a most unfortunate turn of affairs, he was murdered. By midday, seven others lost their lives, including Franklyn.

According to a Gleaner report published on April 13, 1963, “The Montego Bay Fire Brigade had responded to the fire alert at 4:53 a.m. from the house of Dr Carol Delisser. The blaze at the gas station was brought under control after 5 a.m. led by Supt Sydney Burke, who joined the police squad that rushed up from Montego Bay under Inspector Fisher. Five vehicles, including two civilians, started into the hills after the Rastafarian gang. Among those chasing the gang was Mr Causwell, who was on his way to Kingston but decided to give some help to the chase.

Rose Hall Great House

Rose Hall Great House

“They drove through two miles of rough terrain from the ruins of Rose Hall Great House. The search party ran into the gang or rather ran into an ambush. The bearded men attacked from an overhanging cliff above. In the fight which ensued, two of the gang were shot to death and Corporal Melbourne and Mr Causwell were cut down. By then, it was discovered later that Headman Fowler had been already cut down about a mile from his home on Tryall Farm.”

The day’s gruesome events became known as ‘the Coral Gardens Incident’. But this was much more than an isolated ‘incident’. Franklyn’s murderous rampage was a sign of the fundamental inequities of Jamaican society. Landlessness is a recurring a problem which has never been properly addressed by successive pre- and post-Independence governments.

WINSTON CHURCHILL’S CIGARS

images-1The response of Bustamante’s government to the terrible actions of six bearded men was brutally excessive: “Bring in all Rastas, dead or alive!” Why should all Rastafarians be exterminated because of the actions of six men, especially since the ringleader had already been killed? Bustamante’s irrational call signified much more than a need to restore the peace. The Coral Gardens ‘Incident’ was a chilling episode in a long history of state violence against Rastafari.

In 1954, under the premiership of Bustamante, a major Rastafarian encampment, Pinnacle, was burnt down. The camp was located in St Jago Hills, close to Sligoville. Pinnacle was a productive agricultural hub, yielding rich crops such as cassava, peas, corn and, of course, ganja. Maintaining African traditions of collective labour, Pinnacle flourished under the leadership of Leonard Howell.

images-2French journalist Hélène Lee, author of The First Rasta: Leonard Howell and the Rise of Rastafarianism, published in 2004, proposes that Howell was the first Jamaican ‘don’ in the best possible sense of that word. He was a don in the British sense of a university professor. Howell was a Garveyite who valued scholarship.

He was also a charismatic community leader who gave hope to landless Rastafari who left Kingston’s concrete jungle for the hills of St Catherine. Pinnacle comprised approximately 5,000 acres, even though Howell owned only a conservative estimate of 150 acres and, possibly, up to 400.

Winston Churchll

Winston Churchll

According to anecdotal evidence, much of the ganja produced at Pinnacle found its way to the warfront during the Second European War. Ganja was seen as therapy for the troops. It was even rumoured that Winston Churchill’s famous cigars contained much more than tobacco. In 1953, Churchill visited Jamaica, staying at the Tower Isle hotel. Was there any connection between his visit and the destruction of Pinnacle? I leave the answer to conspiracy theorists.

Taking Stock of Racial Politics

images-7The Jamaica Observer’s intoxicating editorial on ethnic stocking in T&T, published on December 11, 2012, made a lot of otherwise level-headed people rather tipsy.  Unable to hold their liquor, commentators across the region weepily lamented the crudeness of the Jamaicans in daring to bring into the open the closeted subject of racial politics in the two-island republic.

The provocative headline of the editorial, “The more important issue is abuse of substance”, managed to pretend that speculation about alleged alcohol abuse in high places was a relatively minor matter.  It is not.  In these times of global crisis, Caribbean nations need leaders with a sober head.

As they say in T&T, “Gopaul luck eh Seepaul luck.”    That’s the equivalent of our Jamaican proverb, “Puss an dog no have di same luck.” Except our version is not race-specific.  Perhaps, it’s because Jamaica is not as racially diverse as T&T.  Our proverbs probably don’t need to be quite so racialised.

Jack Warner

Jack Warner

In any case, since my name is not Paul – whether  “Go” or “See” – I know I’m stretching my puss luck by doggedly putting my mouth in the lingering debate about ethnic stocking in T&T.   I really ought to take Jack Warner’s advice.  As a mere Jamaican “cockroach”, I should not foolishly interfere in the “fouwl” business of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.  We go see.

Raymond Ramcharitar must take full blame for dragging me into the foul coop.  In his article published in the T&T Guardian on Wednesday, December 19, 2012, with the rip-off headline, “Who is Jamaica?”, Ramcharitar makes a completely unfounded claim: “An indispensable preamble to the Jamaica Observer’s December 11 “ethnic stocking” editorial is an op-ed by Jamaican (UWI) academic, Prof Carolyn Cooper, in the NY Times on August 5.”

Ramcharitar

Raymond Ramcharitar

I suppose Dr. Ramcharitar is an agile creative writer and cultural critic who usually manages to jump over ideological hurdles with ease.  But this leap is rather wobbly.  Ramcharitar attempts to hang on to a very tenuous link that only he can see between the Observer editorial and my much earlier article which had absolutely nothing to do with ethnic stocking in either Jamaica or T&T.

The focus of my polemical piece was the self-centredness of the “colour-blind” elite who continue to assert the fiction, enshrined in the national motto, that Jamaica is a multiracial society: “Out of Many, One People.”  Misrepresenting my argument, Ramcharitar tries to turn me into a spokeswoman for what he contemptuously dismisses as “garden variety US Afrocentrism.”

images-10    Living in a racially divided society that polarises “Africans” and “Indians”, Ramcharitar apparently cannot resist the urge to pick a side.  And my supposedly “Afrocentric” side of the argument cannot possibly make sense.  So Ramcharitar gives a garbled account of what I say.  This is how he puts it:  “. . .  the imperative of (Afro) Jamaicans is ‘rejecting the homogenising myth of multicultural assimilation.’”  But the ‘Afro’ is Ramcharitar’s issue.  That’s his insertion.

My argument is not quite so simplistic.  It’s not only “(Afro) Jamaicans” who need to reject the myth.  It’s the collective ‘we.’  This is what I actually wrote:  “The roots of our distinctive music, religion, politics, philosophy, science, literature and language are African. But the culture of African Jamaicans has been marginalized in the construction of the nation-state. Fifty years after independence, we must revise our fictive national motto, rejecting the homogenizing myth of multicultural assimilation.”

This is not “garden variety US Afrocentrism.”  It’s pure Jamaican common sense.  But what is wrong with Afrocentrism anyhow?  Particularly in the US, where African Americans are a minority group, it is essential to affirm one’s distinctive heritage and identity.  Ramcharitar does not seem to understand this need. In fact, he appears to chide the New York Times for publishing my ‘Afrocentric’ article.  In his opinion, my argument “is not logic the Times ordinarily endorses.”

But an op-ed piece, by its very nature, is an expression of the opinions of a single writer.  It is not an editorial reflecting the ‘party line’ of the newspaper.  In fact, the ‘op’ in op-ed is not an abbreviation of ‘opinion’.  It means ‘opposite’.  The op-ed appears opposite the editorial page.  And in many instances it is oppositional in its politics, disdaining editorial endorsement.  This subtlety is, perhaps, lost on Dr. Ramcharitar.

tiny_art_595_an_awkward_leap_fun_cat_art_postcard-p239484448147172139envli_400     Making yet another clumsy leap, Ramcharitar asserts that the Observer editorial and, by implication, my opinion piece both prove that “there’s no difference between ethnic fascism and cultural criticism; and racial ignorance and free speech are the same.”  And this rather sorry state of affairs is, allegedly, all the fault of the University of the West Indies where “US Afrocentric nonsense thrives.”

Ramcharitar further declares that “Cultural Studies at St. Augustine is understood as an ethnic (Afrocentric) pursuit, despite the fact that elementary knowledge of the subject refutes this.”  His sly use of the passive voice – “is understood” – apparently absolves him of all responsibility to disclose which academics, exactly, at St. Augustine actually practise Cultural Studies as “an ethnic (Afrocentric) pursuit.”

Widening his attack on Caribbean/Cultural Studies beyond UWI, Ramcharitar claims that in many US and Canadian universities, “Caribbean history and society have become an appendix of African American history, another theatre of slavery and black oppression, erasing all other histories.”

0      But writing history from an Africanist perspective need not erase Indo-Caribbean or any other history.  There are multiple Caribbean histories to be written, from diverse perspectives. Despite Dr. Ramcharitar’s disdain for the University of the West Indies, the UWI Press, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, has done an excellent job of publishing a wide range of books that try to tell the whole story of Caribbean history and culture.

It is my intuition that the admittedly inflammatory Observer editorial gave Dr. Ramcharitar a good excuse to display his own brand of ethnic fascism:  undermining the scholarship from UWI and elsewhere on African people in the Diaspora.  The pertinent question raised by Ramcharitar’s bilious column is not, “Who is Jamaica?”  It is, “Who is the real racist?”

Peter Tosh Pulse Interview

I’ve had several requests for this interview which I did with Peter Tosh after his last concert.  It was a magnificent performance  at Pulse Superjam in December 1983.

ToshPulse(Cooper)1984-06

Peter Tosh Did Not Joke With Words

Shortly after Peter Tosh made his last concert appearance in December 1983, I did an interview with him that was published in Pulse magazine.  One of his most powerful declarations was this: “. . . me don’t run joke wid words.”  Tosh was objecting to the way in which the term ‘peace treaty’ was being used so loosely.  And he gave a rather irreverent sermon on the subject:

“Claudie Mashup, or weh him want to name, him came to my house once and told me about this project that they had.  And dem say that dem going to call it a peace treaty.  I a look fe peace.  Because to me, peace should have really meant people respecting people, people loving people.

“A man becoming his brother’s keeper.  A man can lef him door open an go bout him business and a next man don’t come pop it off.  Is so me call peace.  A man don’t have gun over the next area an a tell you say him have a border cross ya-so and you can’t come across there.

  “So I mek them know me don’t run joke with words.  Every time I see the word ‘peace’ you know where I see it?  In the cemetery:  ‘Here lies the body of such and such.  May he rest in peace.’  So how a guy waan come tell me say him a go have a peace treaty amongst the living, where all the dead rest in wha?  Peace?  Ah-oh.”

I don’t know if this wicked mashing up Massop’s name was a Tosh original.  There are many such examples of witty word play in his lyrics.  Poliomyelitis became reggaemylitis, a joyous infection that moves every muscle in the body.  The words ‘system’ and ‘situation’ were cleverly transformed by the insertion of a well-placed ‘h’ and ‘t’.  Tosh evoked the stench of the oppressive dunghills of social injustice and moral corruption that continue to rise up everywhere in Jamaica.

In his dread lecture delivered at the so-called “Peace Concert” in 1978, Tosh chanted down the excremental system:   “Four hundred years an de same bucky maasa bizniz.  An black inferiority, an brown superiority rule dis lickle black country here fe a long [t]imes.  Well I an I come wid Earthquake, Lightnin an Tunda to break down dese barriers of oppression an drive away transgression and rule equality between humble black people.”

Garvey’s African Redemption 

Peter Tosh was an unapologetic advocate of what Marcus Garvey called “African Redemption”.  We hear this in his rousing anthem,  ‘African’, from the 1977 Equal Rights album:  “Don’t care where yu come from/  As long as you’re a black man/  You’re an African.”   Not all Jamaicans would agree.  Some of us don’t even want to admit that we’re black, let alone African.

In a letter to the Editor published in The Gleaner on September 25, Daive Facey asks a revealing question, “Who are ‘Blacks’, Ms Cooper?”  He already knows the answer:  “Many classified as ‘blacks’ based on external features and placed into the 90 per cent majority can easily trace their mixed lineages, and in terms of genealogy are no less Caucasian, Indian or Chinese”.

Mr. Facey is quite right. Many clearly black Jamaicans routinely claim ancestors of other races who have left no visible traces of themselves on the body of their supposed relatives. And even in cases where some racial mixing is evident, the African element in the mix is always the half that is never told.  Mixed-race Jamaicans are half-Indian; half-Chinese; half-Syrian; half-white.  But never half-African!

It is only people of African descent in Jamaica who do not define their racial identity in terms that point to ancestral homelands.  Europeans, Chinese, Syrians and Indians are all raced and placed in their very naming.  Africans are ‘so-so’ black.  Going against the tide,  Tosh deliberately chose ‘African’ as a marker of racial identity.

‘Inna di race ting’

In a witty newspaper article entitled ‘Perkins and Black History,’ the now late Eric ‘Macko’ McNish, former editor of the Jamaica Beat newspaper, related an anecdote that illustrates the complexity of racial politics in Jamaica:  “When Chinese Jamaicans and East Indian Jamaicans used to organise annual cricket matches between an All-Indian XI and All-Chinese XI at the Chinese Cricket Club (now owned by Melbourne), all Jamaicans applauded it.

“However, when two Black Jamaicans (which included this writer) asked the captain of the East Indian XI, who was a former Boys’ Town player, if an All-African XI of Black Jamaicans could play the winner of his match against the Chinese XI, his answer was ‘Bwoy wi doan waan get inna di race ting.’”

Tosh was more than willing to “get inna di race ting”. He establishes ‘African’ as a racial category and then goes on to assert, “No mind yu nationality/  You have got the identity/  Of an African.”

Furthermore, Tosh’s conception of African identity is quite inclusive:

No mind yu complexion

There is no rejection

You’re an African

Cause if yu plexion high, high, high

If yu plexion low, low, low

If yu plexion in between

You’re an African

Though Tosh seems to assert a hierarchy of high, low and in-between complexions, it is the very notion of hierarchy that is being contested.  Whatever the physical manifestation of ‘africanness’ in terms of skin colour, there is a rooted cultural identity that transcends the physical. ‘There is no rejection’ of mixed-race people from the category ‘African’.

Peter Tosh was one of reggae music’s greatest philosophers. In honour of his life and legacy, the University of the West Indies, Mona  hosteed a symposium on Friday, October 19:  “Peter Tosh – Reggae Revolutionary and Equal Rights Advocate”.   Tosh’s children, Niambe and Dave, as well as Herbie Miller, Clinton Hutton and I were the main spekaers.  Michael Barnett chaired the event. None of us ‘dida run joke wid words’.Ma

Throwing Words and Calling Foul

Zafer (Turkey), 2nd place winner

At the opening of the ‘world-a-reggae’ poster exhibition last Sunday at the National Gallery of Jamaica, I had an arresting conversation with one of my upper-upper uptown friends.  In a conspiratorial tone she insisted that she had to have a word with me.  Then she disclosed that one of her grandfathers was Scottish from Port Royal and the other was Haitian. One grandmother was Indian. She didn’t mention the other.  My friend wanted me to know that she was ‘out of many, one’.  And she was Jamaican.

I agreed.  I didn’t see a problem.  Then she told me she’d gotten to understand that I was saying that people like her are not Jamaican.  I was ‘flabberwhelmed’.  That’s a lovely word from one of the novels I’m teaching this semester:  Changes, by the Ghanaian writer Ama Ata Aidoo.

Where did my friend get this nonsense? I’ve never said ‘out of many, one’ people are not Jamaican.  I’m not crazy, though to judge from some of the feedback to my columns on the Gleaner’s website, you would think I’m certifiable.  My friend couldn’t come up with any particular source.  She had heard it or read it somewhere.  ‘Yu see how people get bad name!’  Just like that.

All the same, I was glad she had confronted me.  I was able to reassure her that I definitely thought she was Jamaican.  Of course, I also had to gently remind her that she didn’t look like the majority of Jamaicans. Then I tried to explain the real issue as clearly as I could.  It’s mostly ‘out of many, one’ people who are usually used to represent the national motto.  It’s as if they are the sum total of the Jamaican people.  She got my point.

Who is Jamaica, Again?

      I’ve been trying to figure out how this wicked rumour started.  It might have been triggered by the provocative headline of that New York Times opinion piece I wrote which was published on August 6th:  “Who Is Jamaica?”  But if you read the article you would immediately see that my answer does not exclude anybody.  Whosoever will may come.

The column generated a lot a debate in the local media.  And a lot of misunderstanding.  Once I realised how contentious the article had become, I asked the Gleaner to republish it.  I know lots of people don’t have access to the Internet.  Anyhow, so far, the Gleaner hasn’t seen fit to make the column available to the local audience.  ‘Mi ongle hope a no bex Marse Gleaner bex, seh mi a kip man up a New York wid im.  Mi a free agent’.

Where could this untruth have come from?  One of my colleagues had brought to my attention an article written by Jean Lowrie-Chin, published in the Observer on August 20. I’d read it and ‘mi just kiss mi teet’.  I figured Jean was ‘playing fool fi ketch wise’.  She couldn’t possibly be throwing words at me.

I decided to take a second look.  Jean’s column is headlined “Jamaica Still Ahead of the Race Curve”.  And she asks an inflammatory question:  “Will the UWI Mona folks who refuse to accept non-blacks as Jamaicans forgo their salaries and professorial chairs, since they are so heavily subsidised by non-black business owners who contribute significantly to our national coffers?”

Who are these “UWI Mona folks”?  Are they, perhaps, mythical? Jean is a distinguished graduate of the UWI’s Department of Literatures in English.  So she knows about myth and metaphor, connotation and denotation, imagery and symbolism and lots of other literary terms.  She couldn’t possibly have asked that question without being conscious of its nuances.  But ‘since as me know it coulda never me she a talk bout, she can gwaan throw her corn.  An me wi call foul’.

Craziness is relative

But quite apart from that foul ‘throw-word’, I’m surprised that Jean Lowrie-Chin doesn’t seem to understand the principle of academic freedom.  Why should any professor at the University of the West Indies – or any other academic institution for that matter – feel constrained to say only what private sectors companies want to hear?  Perhaps that’s how it works in public relations.

            Jean isn’t the only culprit.  In a letter to the Editor, published in The Gleaner on September 29, with the headline “Cooper Stuck in Racist Confrontation”, Elvena Reittie tells an outright lie in her last sentence below: “On Sunday, September 23, 2012, Professor Carolyn Cooper expressed concerns about the selection of children who were first displayed on the Jamaican two-dollar bills. She feels that Afro-Jamaicans who now form the greater portion of our population were not fairly represented in the picture. She feels that the selection of the children should have been all black Afro-Jamaica children.”  I never said that.

Minority groups in Jamaica tend to get jumpy when black people start to talk about racial politics. In a column published on January 16, 2012, headlined “An Honest Look at Jamaica”, Jean Lowrie-Chin asserts:  “Jamaicans have hybrid strength from the intermingling of various ethnic groups and there is nowhere in the world that enjoys our high level of racial harmony.  So let us vehemently reject Carolyn Cooper’s declaration that those of us whose ancestors did not hail from Africa are mere ‘minorities’.”  I didn’t say ‘mere’.

Privileged people in Jamaica are not prepared to lose status, even if it means admitting that they can’t do simple maths.  All that ‘minority’ literally means is smaller in number.  The sad irony of race in Jamaica is that numerical minorities tend to hog the majority of social space in so many arenas.  That’s why Jean Lowrie-Chin can ask, with a flourish of unquestionable authority,  “And what is this crazy accusation of racism in the selection of those featured in the Observer’s Page 2?”  I guess the right answer to that rhetorical question is this:  craziness is relative.

The Colour of Money in Multiracial Jamaica

On a flight from Miami several years ago, I sat next to a little girl who seemed to about 10 or so years of age.  She was looking through a magazine and came across a picture of three little girls – black, white and brown.  I mischievously asked her, “Which one of them looks like you?”  She picked the black child.

I then asked her, “Which one do you look like?”  And, believe it or not, she chose the brown child.  Mi nearly dead.  I wondered if she had misunderstood.  After all, it was a kind of trick question I was asking her about racial identity.  But no, she did understand.  As far as she was concerned, the black girl looked like her but she did not look like the black girl.  And, in a funny way, it made perfectly good sense.  It’s OK for the black girl to look like her; but not for her to look like the black girl.

  So who is responsible for this crazy conundrum?  Was this just an exceptional case of a little child confused by the fool-fool questions of a nosy adult? Or were the little girl’s curious answers a sign of our collective paranoia about race in Jamaica?  How does our national motto complexify the problem, as the Americans say?  Oh, yes!  If you can simplify, it’s perfectly logical to complexify.

Skewed against blackness

In 1969, a two-dollar bill was issued when Jamaica changed from sterling currency.  Two Jamaican dollars then had real value, worthy of the paper on which the note was printed.  These days, two dala kyaan buy notn.  The bill is no longer in circulation.  It’s been replaced by practically worthless coins.

On the back of the two-dollar bank note, there was a now-famous photograph of 11 children who were supposed to illustrate the national motto.  These same children, frozen in time, have reappeared to grace the back of the 2012 commemorative bank notes.  Of course, I have nothing against these innocent children, now hard-back adults.  What fascinates me is the racial ideology of the times that resulted in a distorted representation of the face of Jamaica. Regrettably, that legacy lives on.

The obvious problem with that lingering ‘Out of Many, One People’ photograph is that it’s skewed against blackness.  If you were to stage a photograph today that accurately represents the distribution of the races in Jamaica, you would have to have at least one hundred children in the sample. That’s the only way you could get a whole Chinese, Indian and white child in the frame. You would end up with 90 black children, 7 mixed-race, 1 Chinese, 1 Indian and 1 white.  Quite a different picture!

Randomly selected?

A Flair Magazine article published on August 7, 2000 tells the story of the snapshot of the ‘two-dollar’ children:  “Eleven boys and girls from Central Branch Primary on Slipe Pen Road, were randomly selected for the picture.

Of the eleven, four are Blacks, one Chinese and one of Chinese and Black mixture. Three are Indians or of Indian and Black ancestry and two appear to be White or Syrian in descent”.

Randomly selected?  Hardly likely.  Jamaica is not Trinidad and Tobago.  I would bet my last dollar that a random selection of students at the Central Branch Primary School, even in 1961 when the photo was taken, would look quite different from this colour-coordinated cluster.  They would be much more uniformly black, as in the photograph of the children on the huge commemorative banner now outside the gates of Jamaica House.

The anonymous author of the Flair article does disclose that the students were not randomly selected after all: “Former principal of the school, Mrs. Elorine Walker said that when she got the request for the students, she had no idea what the picture would be used for, but had hand-picked a few students for the occasion”.

Passing for Black

Hand-picking continues today in our advertising industry.  But it really doesn’t bother me too much if private-sector firms handpick exclusively ‘Out of Many, One’ models to advertise their products and services.  All that means is that they don’t expect me to patronise them.  But when public-sector entities discriminate against black people in their advertising, that’s a whole other business.

Almost 17 years ago, I wrote a column on Air Jamaica’s infamous ‘Out of Many, One People’ billboard which featured a grouping of eight children who looked even less representative than those on the two-dollar note. My immediate reaction was, ‘But them don’t have any black children in this picture!’  I called Air Jamaica’s public-relations department and got the name of the agency that had developed the ad.

I was invited to have a look at the artwork that had been sent to the manufacturer of the billboard.  To be fair, two of the eight children could pass for black.  Just barely.  But by the time the image got transferred to the billboard format, the melanin had been bleached out of them.  All eight children had blended into out-of-oneness.  And the problem was much bigger than Air Jamaica.

The original photograph had come from the Jamaica Tourist Board.  Whose conception of Jamaican identity resulted in the decision to market our country in this colour-coded way?  Why are we still rubbing out black people from the big picture?  Or, at best, downplaying blackness?  Which Jamaica are we selling?  And who to?

No wonder that little girl sitting next to me on the flight from Miami couldn’t see herself as black. Her self-concept was quite high in Jamaican terms, however delusional.  She had already learned that being brown was better than being black. And our advertising industry keeps on reinforcing that point. If we’re not careful, black identity in Jamaica will go the way of the two-dollar bill.