Racist Is As Racist Does

Some racists just don’t give a damn. They know who they are; and they know why they are prejudiced against (or in favour of) certain kinds of people. Upfront racists are reasonably easy to deal with. You know where you stand with them. Or, better yet, you don’t stand with them at all. You learn how to keep your distance, avoiding them like a communicable disease.

Plutarch

The really dangerous racists are those who pretend they’re not. They get very aggressive when you call a spade a spade. Incidentally, this turn of phrase is of Greek origin. It’s attributed to the historian Plutarch, who was born in Ancient Greece in 48 AD. Plutarch became a Roman citizen and changed his name from Plutarkos to Plutarchus.

It’s a pity that our dual-citizenship parliamentarians don’t routinely change their names when they switch nationality. It would make it so much easier to spot them. We wouldn’t have to go to all the trouble of outing the skeletons in the closet. Not, of course, in Sister P’s roomy Cabinet.

Niggardly spades

Erasmus

As it turns out, anglicised Plutarch didn’t actually call a spade a spade. The figure of speech he used was a basin. It was Erasmus, a Dutch theologian born in the 15th century, who mistranslated the word. The phrase then entered the English language in the 16th century and is still in use. Erasmus’ spade shouldn’t be confused with the racist American slang for a black person. The two meanings of the word are quite distinct.

But truth really is stranger than fiction. John Trapp, a 17th-century English Bible commentator, came up with a rather unfortunate turn of phrase that seems to be the source of the confusion of the two kinds of spades: “Gods people shall not spare to call a spade a spade, a niggard a niggard.” A ‘niggard’ is definitely not a ‘nigger’. It’s ‘a stingy person’. But you can see how racists would happily mix up the two words.

Then, the apostrophe wasn’t so popular in 17th-century English. That’s why it’s missing from ‘Gods’. The rules governing the use of this punctuation mark weren’t established until the 19th century. Many of us idolise the English language. Thanks to colonialism, we think it’s divine. We don’t realise that mere mortals make up the rules. And they keep changing.

‘Di Wickedest Slam’

Racists in Jamaica come in at least two varieties: upfront and down-low. Upfront racists, speaking rather nasally in both English and Jamaican, tend to say things like, “No, dahling; my Peter doesn’t mix wid dem old nayga! I don’t want the black to rub off on him. That’s why we’ve had to take him out that government school. At first, it seemed so uptown.

“But now they’re taking in all those ghetto pikni. Would you believe one of those low-class boys was bright enough to be friending up my Peter? Emailing and call-calling all the time. Me don’t know where im get so much credit. Must be some racket. And Peter, he’s so naïve! He actually wanted to bring the boy to the house to play video games. Dyam foolishness. I had to put a stop to it.

“Next thing, this ghetto boy is going to introduce mi son to im sister. And my Peter, poor thing, will end up getting di wickedest slam from a real ghetto gyal. And he’ll be spoiled for life. Just like his worthless father. Always on the go at the go-go club. Im tink I don’t know.”

Down-low Racists

By contrast, undercover racists try to cover their tracks. They don’t admit to being racist. They get very offended if you dare to expose them. They try to put you on the defensive for speaking the truth! Like the proverbial hog in the pen that’s hit by a hot ‘throw word’, they make a lot of noise and flex their muscles. Racists on the down-low don’t want to be negatively labelled. Image matters a lot to them.

So they try to sound reasonable: “I don’t have anything against you people. I just like to socialise with people who look like me. We go to the same parties, we take pictures of each other, and we like to display them in our photo albums. What’s wrong with that? Do I tell you who you should socialise with? You’re free to mix and mingle with your own kind and take your pictures and post them on Facebook. Why I must put fi unu face in my book? Unu gweh!”

Under pressure, down-low racists have a way of morphing into upfront racists. They just can’t keep up the act. It’s hard to pretend to be something you’re not. It’s a lot of work to maintain the illusion that we’re really ‘out of many, one people’. The mask starts to slip and the face is exposed. And it’s not a pretty face. Racism distorts the features.

Roast Breadfruit Psychosis

At the ‘Dying to be Beautiful?’ conference, recently held on the Montego Bay campus of the University of the West Indies, Professor Frederick Hickling gave a most informative and entertaining lecture titled ‘The Roast Breadfruit Psychosis – Culture, Identity and Mental Illness’. Hickling warned that whitening the mind is just as deadly as bleaching the skin.

The saddest racists are the psychotic roast breadfruits: black on the outside and white inside. In denial and crippled by self-hate, roast breadfruits completely identify with their presumed masters. Monkey see, monkey do. And they often treat other black people much worse than their masters do.

Both racial superiority and inferiority are signs of mental illness. And these delusions are hard to treat. The mentally ill are often the last to know. They’re just on the wrong page.

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The Roast Breadfruit Syndrome

I got some really interesting feedback in the media to last week’s column which was published in the Gleaner as well as posted  here on my blog.  The first was from Theo Mitchell who talked about the roast breadfruit syndrome – black outside and white inside.  His letter to the Editor was published in the Gleaner:

Brownings Think They’re Special

Published: Monday | January 9, 201217 Comments

THE EDITOR, Sir:

Many thanks to Professor Carolyn Cooper for her article, ‘Dying to be beautiful?’, published in The Sunday Gleaner of January 8.

I’ve always espoused the view that Jamaica is delineated along the line of two distinct social groups – the black majority and the ‘brown minority’.

Prior to reading your article, I was making a bowl of oatmeal and something just hit me. It is what I call the ‘brown people syndrome’, as persons of that hue think that everything should be fast-tracked and handed to them. They should not wait in lines at the bank or follow procedures to get documents and/or procure service at any entity, especially if it is a public-sector entity.

As per your ‘Page 2’ friend, I think she suffers from the classical ‘brain-bleaching syndrome’. Your peers in the Department of Sociology would have no objection if I called her a ‘roast breadfruit’!

On another note, she is often critical of people’s deportment, and to be honest with you, she is always poorly dressed! Well, that’s her business.

I encourage you, Professor Cooper, to continue to speak the truth, albeit controversial and unpalatable at times. There are persons who read your articles with open minds; look forward to hear your views on contemporary ‘Jamaican issues’, and take careful note of what you say. We may not digest all that you’ve conjectured, but it’s all right to be off the mark at times.

I’ve always admired you and your work. I bid you and your family all the best for the new year.

Many blessings to you, ‘mother of controversy’.

THEO MITCHELL

theo.a.mitchell@gmail.com

A rather peculiar response to the column/post  came in another letter to the editor, published two days later, this time in the Jamaica Observer:

Dr Carolyn Cooper, end your misery — go ahead and bleach!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dear Editor,

Professor Carolyn Cooper has a curious preoccupation with skin bleaching. I have formed the view that she doesn’t love her black skin and would secretly like to bleach, even while she pretends otherwise.

I started to believe that when she invited and elevated Vybz Kartel to guest lecture at the University of the West Indies, at the height of his controversial bleaching and desecration of his skin a la the Colouring Book.

My view was further strengthened by her article Dying to be beautiful published in The Sunday Gleaner, January 7, 2012, when she took on the Observer’s Page 2. The column smacked of unadulterated red eye and bad mind.

Dr Cooper must know, since she writes for that newspaper, that the winning formula in Page 2 was copied in what is being called “Something Extra” by The Gleaner. Her suggestion that the Page 2 is dominated by brown people could just as easily be said of “Something Extra” as the same people I see on one I also see on the other. Of course, Page 2 is far more creatively written and presented, which is further cause for more red eye and bad mind.

My suggestion to Dr Cooper is that she should just end her misery, go ahead and bleach her skin. Vybz Kartel might be in jail, but I’m sure he can arrange, even by phone, to give her the links to his source of cake soap and other bleaching chemicals.

Vanessa McFarlane

frenchie8593@hotmail.com

Read more: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/Dr-Carolyn-Cooper–end-your-misery—go-ahead-and-bleach_10544626#ixzz1jcs2rpJi

The most instructive response of  all came from the editors of the Gleaner.  On Wednesday, January 11, the Gleaner published the following statement:

Correction & Clarification
Professor Carolyn Cooper labelled the Jamaica Observer’s editorial policy relating to ‘Page 2’ social coverage as racist.
We wish to state that we have no evidence to suggest that this is [sic] basis of the newspaper’s decisions cocnerning [sic] its social coverage.
The Gleaner Company does not share Dr Cooper’s assessment of the Observer’s editorial policy.
We regret the publication of the offending words.

Dying To Be Beautiful?

Crazy as it may seem, some supposedly sane people are quite prepared to risk death in order to fit the current model of what it means to be beautiful. Whatever that is. Just think of all of those exploding breast and bottom implants!

This week, the Montego Bay campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Jamaica, raises the provocative question – dying to be beautiful? – at its very first scientific conference on ‘Body Image, Eating Behaviours and Health in the Caribbean’. Pre-conference seminars will be held at the Kingston campus this Wednesday and Thursday. The main event starts on Friday in the Second City.

The ‘Kingston’ and ‘Montego Bay’ campuses of ‘UWI, Jamaica’ exist only in my imagination. The reality is far more wordy and confusing: the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica, now has two campuses: the Mona campus in Kingston and the Western Jamaica campus in Montego Bay.

More than six decades ago when the University College of the West Indies (UCWI) was founded as an outpost of the University of London, there was only one campus – at Mona.

Branding UWI, Jamaica

Three more campuses have been established over the years: St Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago; Cave Hill in Barbados; and the Open Campus which hosts 42 sites, both virtual and physical, serving 16 countries across the Creole-Anglophone Caribbean. Since Mona is no longer the only campus in Jamaica, it would make sense to move with the times and change the name.

But sentiment often prevails over good sense. Many graduates of ‘Mona’ would not be happy to hear that their campus no longer existed – in name. All the same, UWI, Mona, really ought to rebrand as UWI, Jamaica, with two campuses – Kingston and Montego Bay. Eventually, there may even be a Mandeville campus! Would that have to be named generically as the ‘Central Jamaica’ campus?

Sam Sharpe Square, Montego Bay

Associating the Jamaican campuses of the University of the West Indies with easily recognised names of cities would actually strengthen the institution’s brand. ‘Kingston’ has much greater global brand recognition than ‘Mona’. And ‘Montego Bay’ definitely has more vibes than ‘Western Jamaica’. But whatever name you call it, the new UWI campus is certainly making a big impact in the west.

Half Moon

Last month, I was the keynote speaker at the End of Year Awards event for the Half Moon resort. The taxi driver who took me back to the airport enthusiastically sang the praises of the Montego Bay campus when he heard I taught at UWI. His granddaughter is a student there. She’s enjoying the challenging academic programme. This, after all, is not a university ‘fi stone dog’. But the thing he valued most was the fact that it was so cost-effective for her to live at home. The family didn’t have to go to all the expense of finding accommodation in Kingston.

‘A man is never ugly’

The UWI, MoBay conference is co-hosted with the Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders and Eating Recovery Center, based in the United States. The centre was established in Philadelphia in 1985 as a residential facility for women suffering from a range of psychological problems disguised as food issues: anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder. The centre now has several branches. Dr Jennifer Nardozzi, who practises at the Coconut Creek facility in Florida, is one of the distinguished conference panellists.

Traditionally, men didn’t have problems with body image. They were not expected to be beautiful. Their role was to be breadwinners. They didn’t worry about how much bread they ate. The Nigerian novelist Buchi Emecheta puts it beautifully in her satirical novel, The Joys of Motherhood: “A woman may be ugly and grow old, but a man is never ugly and never old. He matures with age and is dignified.”

Danny Padilla

These days, men have got on the beauty bandwagon. And they are suffering the consequences. Pumping iron as if it’s going out of style; skin-bleaching, cosmetic surgery. You name it; men are doing it. Nobody seems to be satisfied with the package they’ve inherited. And even after all of the ‘fixing’, some people will never ever be happy with how they look. Beauty is a moving target.

Racist editorial policy

The UWI conference covers a wide range of topics: the ethics and practice of cosmetic surgery; the social, psychological and medical aspects of skin-bleaching; healthy eating and exercise; medical and cultural norms that define body image; skin tattooing and plastic surgery; standards of beauty.

One of the highlights is the panel discussion with local celebrities which focuses on ‘Defining sexy: Fluffy or Skinny Women; Black or Brown Skin (to Bleach or no), Tattoo or no Tattoo?’ Vybz Kartel was invited to be one of the panellists but, of course, he’s now out of circulation. Perhaps he’ll get bail in time for the conference.

I was most amused to see that Novia McDonald-Whyte will be giving a plenary lecture, following a panel on ‘Standards of Beauty’. Her topic is not advertised. I wonder if she’ll be talking about the racist editorial policy of the Observer‘s notorious ‘Page 2’, which usually features almost exclusively ‘high-colour’ socialites.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Independence, we need to question our national motto, ‘Out of Many, One People’? Is Jamaica really a multiracial society? Obviously, not! We are a black-majority nation with a small minority of other racial groups. Our national motto is clearly delusional.

Fabricated by the brown/white elite half a century ago, the motto symbolises the arrogance of those who consider themselves entitled to rule. Disregarding the black majority, the self-centred minority deliberately falsified the truth. They concocted a motto in their own image: ‘Page 2’. No wonder the black in the flag represented ‘hardship’. In the spirit of Marcus Garvey, I propose an emancipated motto: ‘One Aim, One Destiny, Full Freedom’. That should cover just about everybody.

Voting In English

Errol Miller

Professor Errol Miller, chairman of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ), made an alarming statement in his broadcast to the nation last Wednesday. Speaking to election-day workers, the goodly professor issued guidelines that included the following: “Use Standard English in addressing each elector. English is the official language of the country and election day is an official event and occasion.”

Who authorised Errol Miller to make this discriminatory pronouncement? Surely, there is no law that legislates the language of elections! Professor Miller’s ill-considered declaration appears to be nothing more (or less) than class prejudice – a vulgar attempt to impose standards of correctness arbitrarily.

Under pressure, Professor Miller came up with an intriguing argument in defence of the guideline: “What we have found in reviewing practice is that some people resented being addressed in the dialect to start off with because someone just looks at them and addresses them in the dialect and another person comes and they address them in English, they resented that, they charged people with speaking down to them, so we just said, ‘Give everybody the same treatment and we have done that in every election since’.”

Polling tent, Portmore

Since electors can enter the polling station only one at a time, I don’t how they would know who is being addressed in English and who in ‘dialect’. Electors could only know for sure how he/she is addressed.   Admittedly, in some instances, open air polling stations do, in fact, compromise the principle of privacy.  All the same, if resentment at being addressed in ‘dialect’ was the real reason for the guideline, this is what the professor should have said: “Use Standard English in addressing each elector. Don’t judge an individual’s competence in English based on how he/she looks.”

But, of course, that is not the whole story. When the professor goes on to say that English is the official language and election day an official event, he is actually affirming the absolute authority of English as the sole language of official communication. He does not allow any space for the official use of ‘dialect’. The mother tongue of the vast majority of Jamaicans has no place in the public sphere.

Living in the past

Quite frankly, I think Errol Miller is living in the past. There was a time when many Jamaicans were quite ashamed of speaking ‘dialect’. They had been taught that English was the exclusive language of upward social mobility and ‘dialect’ a sign of congenital inferiority. That’s the legacy of colonialism: mental slavery.

Louise Bennett

But, over time, attitudes have slowly changed. As a society, we have become more comfortable with accepting our own culture, including the language – not ‘dialect’ – that we have collectively created. Louise Bennett, Jamaica’s premier language activist, has helped us to acknowledge the value and power of our distinctive Jamaican language.

In several of her poems, Miss Lou does explore the anxiety about language that still afflicts some of us. In ‘No Lickle Twang’, a mother laments the fact that her son who spent all of six months in the United States has come back home without an accent:

“Bwoy, yuh no shame? Is so yuh come?

After yuh tan so long!

Not even lickle language, bwoy?

Not even lickle twang?”

 

The young man’s failings are measured against his sister’s remarkable success:

“An yuh sister what work ongle

One week wid Merican

She talk so nice now dat we have

De jooce fi understan.”

Miss Lou makes fun of the mother who doesn’t seem to mind the fact that she has a hard time understanding her daughter. All that matters is that the daughter ‘talk so nice’. Language is no longer a means of communication. It becomes a decoration that the speaker can brandish like jewellery.

Victory over Baby Bruce

Election day workers, Kingston

When I went to vote on Thursday, I made it my business to speak in Jamaican. And my election worker readily responded in the same language, completely ignoring Professor Miller’s guideline. The chairman of the ECJ seems to have assumed that no elector would ever come to the polling station wanting to speak a language other than English. He’s wrong.

Furthermore, the pernicious guideline is based on the assumption that all Jamaicans are competent in English. But this is not so. Professor Miller’s insistence on the use of English clearly discriminates against speakers of Jamaican. What the guideline should have said, if any thing, is ‘respond to electors in the language they use’. End of story. That’s common sense. Any intelligent election-day worker would know that. He/she doesn’t need an officious guideline.

Portia Simpson Miller

Professor Miller’s stubborn defence of his guideline betrays the same kind of arrogance at the core of the demeaning G2K ads that portrayed Portia Simpson Miller as a bumbling idiot. What G2K did not take into account is the fact that Sista P is a powerful symbol of what working-class people can achieve with determination and ‘whole heap’ of hard work. Every attack on Portia Simpson Miller was taken personally by working-class people who constitute the majority of voters.

And, as Sista P demonstrated so coolly in the ‘disappointing’ debate with Andrew Holness, she can, most certainly, hold her own where and when it matters. The debate was ‘anti-climactic’ only for those foolish people who expected Sista P to fall flat on her face. She beat Holness in the debate, and this was a clear sign of things to come. Despite all the mockery, Sista P led her party to a resounding victory over Baby Bruce.

Andrew Holness in defeat

Andrew Holness was just not ready for prime time. The main plank of his campaign was that he is young. But is that enough? He was supposed to be the fresh new face of the JLP. Baby Bruce tried to position himself “on the extreme periphery” of the Dudus-Manatt imbroglio. Nobody was fooled. Working-class Jamaicans may not be fully competent in English. But they can certainly spot a ‘samfie’ man in any language.