Taking Dennis Brown’s Name in Vain

   Image    The Crown Prince of Reggae has been royally dissed. D Brown’s duppy must be well vexed.  I expect he’s somewhere over the rainbow composing a wicked tune, and even wickeder lyrics, about the disorganisers of the tribute concert in his name. The Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JARIA), Leggo Records, Sounds and Pressure and the Dennis Brown Trust are all going to be haunted for quite a long time.

       Since the inception of ‘Reggae Month’ in 2008, Dennis Brown’s name has been inextricably linked to the celebrations.  His birthday on February 1 has been a convenient date to launch the month’s activities. And the Dennis Brown Tribute Concert is a high-profile event. This year, the concert has been postponed two times.  First, it was lack of sponsorship; then security.  This is a very bad sign.   ‘Reggae Month’ seems to be in trouble.

The new date for the tribute concert is March 3, more than one month after Dennis Brown’s birthday. It’s like celebrating Christmas in January. There’s only one good thing about the postponement of the tribute.  Well, it may turn out to be a cancellation after all but let’s be optimistic for now.  In any case, the ‘cancelposting’ of the show proves that there’s nothing sacred about ‘Reggae Month’.  It doesn’t even have to be February!

Bob MarleyI suppose the rationale for dubbing February ‘Reggae Month’ was the fact that    the King of Reggae and the Crown Prince were born on the 6th and 1st respectively.  But instead of holding the whole month hostage to those two birthdays, I think we should free up February from all of the reggae-related events that have been compressed into the shortest month of the year.

I’m proposing that we celebrate the birthday of Dennis Brown and Bob Marley in February and that’s that.  If we want a ‘Reggae Month’, let’s find a less hectic season.  Cynics are already saying that ‘Reggae Month’ was intended to upstage ‘Black History Month’.  You know how ambivalent we are about blackness in this country. Be that as it may, there are eleven other months from which to choose.

International Reggae Day

images-6 I think July is an excellent candidate for ‘Reggae Month’.  There’s Sumfest, our international reggae festival, in the last week of the month.  And we shouldn’t forget the heroic efforts of our own cultural activist Andrea Davis to establish July 1 as International Reggae Day (IRD). The brand was launched in 1994 – almost two decades ago – as a “marketing platform for Jamaica’s creative industries and global Reggae culture”.

In a billboardbiz article, published on July 1, 2011, music journalist Patricia Meschino underscores the worldwide reach of Andrea’s vision: “Enabled by the proliferation of internet usage in the mid-90s and the rise of social media in the late ’00s, IRD now encompasses a vast international network of online newspapers, magazines, radio stations and other web based platforms, each tailoring their content on July 1 towards examining the power and potential of the island’s signature rhythm while highlighting the finest in Jamaican and international reggae, made by veterans and upstart artists alike”.

images-5 In the early years of the media festival, Andrea’s company, Jamaica Arts Holdings, promoted high-level workshops and full-scale concerts.  Celebration of IRD has become much more virtual over time largely because of lack of sponsorship for live events.  It’s a familiar story.  In the case of the Dennis Brown Tribute Concert, we may very well have to settle for a virtual, if not virtuous, staging this year.

‘Reggae Month’ Sound Clash

images-7    Whatever we decide about the scheduling of ‘Reggae Month’, we will still have to resolve the problem of clashing events.  In theory, JARIA’s calendar is the definitive guide to what’s on.  But it seems as if organisers of events don’t bother to consult JARIA.  They just do their own thing.

Before setting the date of my Global Reggae book launch, I checked with JARIA.  The only other event on their calendar for the 17th was the Jamaica Music Museum’s ‘Grounation’, scheduled for 2:00 p.m.  It was unlikely to clash with my 6:00 p.m. launch.

Then, out of the blue, the Dennis Brown Tribute Concert was rescheduled at exactly the same time.  Not even JARIA appears to have consulted JARIA!  Or, if they did, they must have decided that the launch of a book on the globalisation of reggae in ‘Reggae Month’ wasn’t all that important.  Then again, they may have assumed quite wrongly that people who read books don’t go to reggae concerts.

Seriously, though, the clash wouldn’t have mattered all that much really.  Patrons obviously do have the right to choose.  Except that Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus, Jah9 and Protoje, who had all graciously agreed to make a cameo appearance at the launch, also needed to perform at the rescheduled Dennis Brown tribute, based on their earlier commitment.  Fortunately, No-Maddz and Cali P, the other ‘brand-name’ performers for the book launch, were not on that ill-fated show.

GlobalReggaeCoverWhen Ras Michael apologetically telephoned to let me know that he couldn’t make it back to PULS8 in time to do the invocation, I have to admit I called down judgement on the engineers of the clash.  I hadn’t realised how potent my words were.  Within an hour, Ras Michael called back to say that the show was cancelled.

Of course, I don’t actually take any responsibility for influencing the decisions made by the organisers of the tribute concert. It’s not my ‘judgement’ that mystically caused postponement.   ‘Me woulda never diss di Crown Prince’.  Hopefully, Dennis Brown will be honoured appropriately some time this year in a tribute concert that lives up to his name.  Respect is most certainly due, whatever the month.

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Bleaching in Black History Month

images-2It’s Reggae Month and Black History Month, combination style.  Unless you have superhuman stamina, you cannot possibly keep up with all the events.  I’m not even trying.  I’ve selected a few and that’s it.  I have a day job and I simply cannot ‘bleach’.  Neither in English nor Jamaican.

Incredibly, the English words ‘bleach’ and ‘black’ seem to share a common origin.  According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, they both appear to come from a prehistoric language for which there are no written records.  This tongue has been reconstructed by linguists who see it as the ancestor of many of the modern languages of Europe and Asia.

cartelIn this ancient mother tongue, the word “bhleg” meant “to burn, gleam, shine, flash”.  The flash of fire became brightness as in ‘bleach’; and the burning produced darkness as in ‘black’. I can just imagine how pleased Vybz Kartel would be to realise that there is linguistic evidence for his paradoxical claim that bleaching is not necessarily a sign of self-hate.  It might actually be a most peculiar manifestation of blackness.

Seriously, though, I gave a paper yesterday at the International Reggae Conference held at the University of the West Indies, Mona.  Scholars from across the world came to Jamaica to reflect with us on “traditional and emerging expressions in popular music”.  I focused on Vybz Kartel’s insightful book, The Voice of the Jamaican Ghetto.  And I mean ‘nuff’ insights.

images-3Co-author Michael Dawson, of People’s Telecom fame, admits that, “Many people have wondered how this improbable collaboration came about.  How could someone who is a known Garveyite collude with the ‘Bleacher’ to write a book”?  In the chapter “No Love for the Black Child” Kartel gives a sarcastic answer:  “Ironically, I lightened my skin and everyone condemned me.  All of a sudden there is an outpouring of love for black skin”.

Kartel elaborates the ironies:  “Some of my executioners are women with false hair, multi-coloured contact lenses or others who have been using various agents to ‘cool down’ their skin.  All of a sudden, after 500 years they start to love the Black Child?  Or is it me you hate?”

Adulterers and Homosexuals

images-4One of the most popular sessions of the conference was the Annual Bob Lecture, delivered by Alan ‘Skill’ Cole.  It wasn’t really a formal lecture, as the title made clear: “Bob Marley:  The Man That I Know”.  The talk was an intimate, wide-ranging celebration of an exceptional friendship.

This is how ‘Skill’ puts it in the programme notes: “I trained him . . . and we lived a life consistent with being a good athlete. . . . . We would wake up around 4:30-5:00 and train; eat, then go to the studio; then go sell records; come back, play some football and, in the night-time, write some music”.

skill4I missed a fair bit of the talk because I had a class. One of the moments I found most touching was Cole’s nostalgia about going to bathe with Bob some nights at a spring just above Papine.  I couldn’t help thinking that these days, two men bathing together would be a sure sign of ‘deviant’ behaviour that should be both bleached and burned.

Healthy relationships between men have been contaminated by fears of homosexuality.  In Black History Month, as we attempt to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, we really do need to look again at some of the Old Testament judgements that are completely irrelevant in the modern age. The book of Leviticus condemns adulterers but we conveniently ignore that inconvenient fact.  Why can’t we do the same with homosexuals?

Reggae Ambassadors

Another big event for Reggae Month is the launch today of the book Global Reggae. This is how Kwame Dawes describes it (and I didn’t pay him a red cent): “Carolyn Cooper has skilfully edited a book of startling visual design and intellectual depth that manages to demonstrate, through complex and varied voices, reggae’s astounding impact on the globe. The term ‘essential’ is used a lot these days, but sometimes it is a fit and righteous word to employ. Global Reggae is essential reading for anyone who is seeking to appreciate this great cultural phenomenon.”

GlobalReggaeCoverAll of the contributors to the Global Reggae compilation are authorities in their field: Kam-Au Amen, Peter Ashbourne, Erna Brodber, Louis Chude-Sokei, Brent Clough, Carolyn Cooper, Cheikh Ahmadou Dieng, Samuel Furé Davis, Teddy Isimat-Mirin, Ellen Koehlings, Pete Lilly, Amon Saba Saakana, Roger Steffens, Marvin D. Sterling, Michael Veal, Leonardo Vidigal and Klive Walker.

It was the Third World Band who popularised the idea of the “reggae ambassador”.  And they tell a now familiar story:

“So everywhere I jam it’s the same question

‘How can a big music come from a little island?’

When the music play[s] it leaves them in a state of shock

The big-big music from the little rock!”

The self-concept of Jamaicans certainly cannot be measured by the small size of our island. We’re much more than a little speck in the Caribbean Sea.  And it was Shabba Ranks who so vividly said that it is the talent of reggae and dancehall artists that enables them to “fly off Jamaica map”.

Dj_Afifa_Banner_by_Dr_JayBone_DesignzThe launch of the Global Reggae book takes place at PULS8, 38A Trafalgar Road, and starts at 6:00 p.m. The public is invited and admission is free.  Guest speaker is Michelle ‘DJ Afifa’ Harris, a doctoral candidate at the University of the West Indies, Mona and a very talented selector. Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus, Jah 9, Protoje, No-Maddz and Cali P will perform.  If all goes well, the event will be streamed live on the Internet at UWI TV and will  be archived here:  http://tv.mona.uwi.edu/.  After all, Global Reggae is a big-big book that fly off Jamaica map.

Exploiting Brand Jamaica

“So wat we a get outa it?” That’s the question I was asked by a rather sceptical Rastaman, Raymond, who sells in Papine Market.  He seemed to think that VW of America, Inc. owed Jamaicans something for the viral super bowl ad which has gotten two million more hits since play day.  Well over twelve million in all!  “How yu mean?”, I asked.  “We can’t stop people from trying to talk like us!”  The man just kiss im teeth.  Obviously, I was a big eedyat.

The more I thought about the vendor’s penetrating question I realised that it wasn’t limited to the specific case of the VW ad.  He was actually raising the much broader issue of whether or not Jamaicans can, in fact, benefit from the global appeal of our culture.  Who defines ‘Brand Jamaica’?  Who ‘owns’ the brand?  And how can this brand be best exploited in the interest of the masses of the Jamaican people?

92983.gifThere’s a big difference between brand identity and brand image. Identity is who we really are; image is how others see us.  So they attempt to construct an alternative image that suits their own needs.

On the other hand, the very people who embody ‘Brand Jamaica’, like that market vendor, are usually left out of the process of defining and marketing the brand. They are not entitled to interrogate the ‘experts’. All the same, Jamaica’s distinctive identity is not ‘uptown’; it’s ‘downtown’.  And, at the risk of offending our minority racial groups who do not wish to be seen as ‘minority’, it’s obvious that ‘Brand Jamaica’ is the black majority.

“Proper-proper Language”

Even though some of us consistently refuse to see ourselves as we actually are, non-Jamaicans find it relatively easy to immediately recognise some of the key components of our identity: for example, our distinctive language.  And some of them make a big effort to try to learn it.  They want to be in the know.

GlobalReggaeCoverI recently telephoned a European embassy about the launch of the Global Reggae book I edited, which takes place today at 6:00 at PULS8.  The diplomat I spoke to said he’d been planning to contact me.  Several of his colleagues want to take a course in ‘patwa’.  I couldn’t resist saying ‘Jamaican’.  And I put him in touch with Professor Hubert Devonish who heads the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies.

How do we see Jamaican?  It’s not even a language.  It’s nothing but a ‘corrupt’, ‘broken’ version of English, with absolutely no social status.  After all, “is black people mek it up”.  You can bet your last devalued dollar that if Europeans had created ‘patwa’ it would now be accepted as a ‘proper-proper’ language.

Counterfeit Jamaicans

bolt_to_di_world_jamaican_flag_hat-p148359947895250901en80o_216I think it’s a great idea for everybody in the whole world to learn Jamaican.  It’s a global language of athletic prowess, musical genius, dutty winery, business acumen and innovation in so many other fields.  The real problem is the counterfeiting of Jamaican products in global markets; and the exploitation of the name ‘Jamaica’.

The Jamaica Intellectual Property Office (JIPO) has been valiantly negotiating for the recognition of “nation branding as a development tool”.  In a major report to the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO), a very strong case was made for protecting Brand Jamaica.  The report documents “the extent of use of Jamaica’s country name in trade marks that are registered by persons or entities which have no association with Jamaica in relation to good and services which do not originate in Jamaica”.

4000304_f260A classic example is the “Jamaica energy drink” which was actually made in Croatia.  Turning Jamaica’s superlative Olympic performance into a marketable commodity, Croatians just decided to ‘try a ting’.  And talking of ‘ting’, remember how hard it was for the Ting soft drink to enter the US market.  It was argued that ‘Ting’ was too similar to ‘Tang’, the U.S. fruit-flavoured drink.  I can’t recall all the details of the case but I do remember being asked to write a statement confirming that ‘ting’ was a Jamaican word.

Thanks to the expertise of JIPO, the bogus “Jamaica energy drink” was yanked from the shelves.  We haven’t been so lucky with the “all natural Jamaican style ginger ale” which has not a shred of Jamaican ginger in its ingredients.  Well, the label does say “style”.  It doesn’t claim to be the real thing.  So the product is still on the market.

Paying to get happy

imagesI was quite disappointed to find out that, in a not-so-surprising twist, Sandals has had to pull their ‘Germaican’ spoof of the VW ad.  Adam Stewart, CEO of Sandals Resorts International, told me that the Partridge Family, copyright holders of “Come On Get Happy”, were insisting on payment of a “sizeable sum” for its use.

I suppose if Adam had anticipated that his version of the ad would have become so visible, he wouldn’t have used the copyrighted song.  He would have taken a leaf out the uncopyrightable proverbial book of Dr. Michael Abrahams, who uses a basic riddim as the sound track for his own wicked version of the ad, “Miserable Jamaican”.

We’re a ‘brand name’ nation.  But if we really intend to get anything out of the high visibility of our culture, we will have to consolidate our efforts.  JIPO, the JTB, JAMPRO and all of us in Papine and other markets and sectors, just have to come on and get really serious about it.

Superpower Jamaican Accent for the Super Bowl

       images-11Don’t mind the IMF.  Thanks to Volkswagen of America, Inc., we’re been reminded yet again that Jamaica is a cultural superpower.   According to Wikipedia, “A superpower is a state with a dominant position in the international system which has the ability to influence events and its own interests and project power on a worldwide scale to protect those interests”.

       Of course, the meaning of ‘power’ in that definition is, essentially, political, economic and military.   Superpowers are the big guns of the world.  The British Empire in the bad old days of in-your-face colonisation was the first ‘modern’ superpower.  Britannia ruled the waves, captured lands far and wide and now evades reparations.  After all, Britons never, never, never shall be slaves – not even to fundamental principles of natural justice.

cold-war  Eventually, all across the globe, exploited colonies demanded independence and the sun finally set on the British Empire.  The Soviet Union and the United States of America both inherited the superpower mantle and aggressively fought for supremacy in the Cold War.  These days, China, India, Brazil and the European Union are all ready to claim superpower status.

Clearly, Jamaica is not in this big league. We’re not in the ‘Group of Eight’: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia the U.K. and the United States.  We’re not in the ‘Plus Five’:  Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa.  We’re in no group.  We’re in a class by ourselves.

tumblr_m8xebjur1d1qaflnqo1_r1_5003

Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson image

Long ago, Marcus Garvey gave us the formula for our greatness:  “God and Nature first made us what we are, and then out of our own created genius we make ourselves what we want to be.  Follow always that great law.  Let the sky and God be our limit and Eternity our measurement”.

Garvey also wickedly said, “The whole world is run on bluff”.  But he certainly wasn’t bluffing when he conceived the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL).  Garvey had a grand vision of what black people could achieve.  Although he was born on a small island, Garvey was not insular. His consciousness was continental.

Peter Phillips and Miss Mattie

Like Garvey, Louise Bennett celebrated the unlimited potential of the Jamaican people.  In one of her most amusing poems, “Independance” – yes, “dance” – Miss Lou creates a raucous character, Miss Mattie, who gives a most entertaining account of what independence means to her.  It’s not the song and dance of constitutional arrangements.  It’s much more primal:

Mattie seh it mean we facety

Stan up pon we dignity.

An we don’t allow nobody

Fi teck liberty wid we.

 

Independence is we nature

Born an bred in all we do

An she glad fi see dat Government

Tun independant to.

Peter Phillips

Peter Phillips

Miss Lou here wittily suggests that so-called ‘ordinary’ people like Miss Mattie are way ahead of politicians in their understanding of power dynamics.  Perhaps Peter Phillips should ask Miss Mattie to come along to the IMF negotiations.  She would not be afraid of proposing her own conditionalities.

Indeed, Miss Mattie has a rather expansive view of Jamaica’s geopolitical location:

She hope dem caution worl-map

Fi stop draw Jamaica small,

For de lickle speck cyaan show

We independantness at all!

 

Moresomever we must tell map dat

We don’t like we position –

Please kindly tek we out a sea

An draw we in de ocean

 

Turning History Upside Down

black_britain   Miss Mattie shows up in another humorous poem by Miss Lou, “Colonization in Reverse”:

What a joyful news, Miss Mattie

Ah feel like me heart gwine burs –

Jamaica people colonizin

Englan in reverse

Taking our cultural “bag an baggage” to the stepmother country, Jamaicans turned history upside down, reversing the flow of influence.

These days, our distinctive Jamaican ‘Patwa’ is the preferred language of youth culture in England.  Last summer, in a moment of deranged grief as the embers of widespread riot died down, the British historian David Starkey lamented the success of Jamaica’s reverse colonisation of England:  “black and white, boy and girl, operate in this language together, this language which is wholly false, which is this Jamaican patois that’s been intruded in England, and this is why so many of us have this sense of literally a foreign country.”

http://http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/13/david-starkey-claims-whites-black

It’s not only England that’s been colonised by Jamaican culture.  It’s the whole world, as Miss Mattie would say.  Which brings us to the VW Super Bowl ad that had 4.6 million hits by Friday morning.

Why does it feature a white man from Minnesota speaking with a stilted Jamaican accent?

http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9H0xPWAtaa8

a)   The man was born in Jamaica, migrated as a ‘yute’ and hasn’t been back in a very long time.  But he tries his best to sound Jamaican.

b)   The man was born in the US to Jamaican parents and has never visited Jamaica.  But he tries his best to sound Jamaican.

c)   The man was born in Minnesota, went to Jamaica on vacation, fell in love with the language and tries his best to sound Jamaican.

d)   The man was born in the U.S., has never been to Jamaica except on the Internet, fell in love with the culture and tries his best to sound Jamaican.

e)   The man is a pretty good actor who was coached by a Jamaican and tried his best to sound Jamaican.

In an excellent interview with Jamaican blogger Corve DaCosta, the star of the VW ad, Erik Nicolaisen, said, “I have been a lifelong reggae fan, and as a voice actor I have tried to put a little patois into my repertoire”.  Jamaican popular music has been a potent medium for spreading our language across the globe. As Miss Mattie confidently asserts, Jamaica is not in the Caribbean Sea; we’re in every ocean of the world.

Adam Stewart

Adam Stewart

As was to be expected, some very clever Jamaicans have produced a brilliant spoof on the VW ad.  It was Adam Stewart’s bright idea.  As CEO of Sandals Resorts International, he knows a thing or two about VWs.  The brand is in the family of companies.  The creative team at Sandals ran with Adam’s idea.  The satirical remake features a happy-go-lucky black man speaking English with a German accent. He dances off-beat and gets everybody in the nightclub to follow suit; he eats jerk chicken with sauerkraut and inspires the jerk man to do the same; he arrives to work seven minutes early and, when he is chided by his boss, cheerfully promises to return in ten minutes.

The Jamaican dub version of the VW ad slyly mocks German efficiency.  It also takes a crack at our own willingness to follow fashion. We often copy others who are copying us.  But since the inspiration for the original ad appears to be the perception that Jamaicans set standards that the whole world can imitate – whether it’s exceptional happiness or inventive language – it’s all in good fun.

The Jamaican presence at the Super Bowl wasn’t just the VW ad.  It was Beyoncé doing the dutty wine, to the invigorating beat of Sean Paul.  And to makes things even more like home, there was that nicely orchestrated power cut!  Jamaica is a superpower. Be happy about it. Yeah, mon!

http://http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xx9m51_beyonce-super-bowl-halftime-show-2013-hd_music?start=81#.UREVG45D70c

 

 

 

 

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?”