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.


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


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.

6 thoughts on “Racist Is As Racist Does

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  1. Thank you for the history lesson and the time it must have taken you to write this post. I have two things I’d like to bring up as a result. The first is your statement that people who are bigots are mentally ill. I suppose there are many opinions on that topic and we could debate it forever. My opinion is that they aren’t, at least, not necessarily. Some folks are just nasty, plain and simple. The other issue is your use of the term “schizophrenic.” So many people misuse it. It is often confused with dissociative disorder (multiple personality disorder) or “split mind” due to the etymology of the word–Greek. People with schizophrenia only have one personality. The media is often responsible for perpertuating this misconception. I try to correct this when I can since schizophrenia looms large in my life. Thank you.

  2. This is awesome as I was debating with my spouse that racism does exist in our Jamaican culture. I expressed to him that no one would openly admit to this but it is evident in what we say and how we seek to elevate ourselves and put down others. The older generation especially seem to prefer to identify with the “master” mentality… which shows in their speaky spoky twang; how they speak to and of the help; and the lengths to which they will go to show that they are better than a certain class and/or color. Thanks again for proving me RIGHT that racism does exist in our Jamaican culture… too bad… too sad!

  3. This article is a pleasure to read. At age 50 (sic), one should at least have begun to tell oneself some home truths. Some of our people truly need to recognise that they are beautiful and that our prowess in track and field is not the only areas in which Jamaicans excel.

  4. Racism is more common than the 1980’s or 70’s/\. I helped a promininent white Jamican at univesity when his group tossed him out of Operations management. Today he pretends he does not know me. Vaughn……we know you are racist. Change your way.Surprisingly, the Arab Jaamicans are perhaps the most tolerant and understanding groups of our minoreities,. Blacks understand them and they understand blacks.

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