N.B. This is an update of my Gleaner column, “Racial politics in Jamaica,” published on August 28. The section, “The Race Issue,” is new.
On August 26, The Gleaner published an alarming editorial in which Mark Golding, leader of the People’s National Party (PNP), was described as “a white, wealthy Jamaican nationalist, whose life transcends race.” That statement is fundamentally contradictory. The very fact that Golding is defined as “white” is itself proof that his life does not “transcend” race. Whiteness is an essential element of his identity. As are class and gender, for that matter!
Google’s English dictionary defines ‘transcend’ in this way: “be or go beyond the range or limits of (a field of activity or conceptual sphere).” In theory, race as a social construct can be located within a conceptual sphere. But it is also a lived reality, particularly in our society that was founded on racial exploitation and continues to suffer the consequences of our brutal history.
Perhaps, the Gleaner editorial intended to claim that Mark Golding’s life transcends racial politics. Even so, that would not be at all true. Golding’s right to lead the People’s National Party has been perversely contested by members of his own party, precisely on the basis of race. So much for “Out of many, one people!” Golding is seen as too white to head a political party in a predominantly black society.
This is a short-sighted view that I constantly challenge. Mark Golding is a man of integrity who is attempting to transcend the privileges and limitations that his race, class and gender impose on him. He is committed to improving the lives of poor Jamaicans, most of whom are black. Golding has chosen to pick a side.
It appears as if the Gleaner editorial wanted to turn white Mark Golding into a man above race in order to demonise another PNP politician, Lothan Cousins, who is black. Cousins’ life, presumably, does not transcend race. The abusive headline of the editorial was, “Lothan Cousins’ idiocy.” That juvenile insult suggests that Cousins mashed quite a few corns.
As the guest speaker at Julian Robinson’s constituency conference on August 21, Cousins focused on several disturbing issues: crime, the exorbitant cost of living and the migration crisis. Incidentally, I see that the Minister of Education Fayval Williams is encouraging teachers to “invest” as an alternative to migrating. She is delusional. Most teachers can barely cover their monthly expenses, much more to be even thinking about creating an investment portfolio. With what?
It is the remarks Cousins made about private-sector support of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) that attracted the most media coverage. His own family history provides the evidence for his conviction that the JLP represents the interests of the powerful economic and social class in Jamaica. Poor people must work miracles to survive. They must conjure investment portfolios out of thin air.
In 1989, Lothan Cousins’ grandfather, Emmanuel, ran against Hugh Shearer in the general election. Emmanuel was a very popular cane cutter and trade unionist. In the run-up to the election, Shearer declared that “nobody dat walk foot or cut cane” could beat him. On the night of the election, Emmanuel Cousins was declared the winner. Then a recount was done and Shearer won by four votes. Michael Manley advised Cousins to not challenge the suspiciously close victory of the then deputy prime minister. Class loyalty seemed to transcend racial politics. And it would appear than Manley preferred to lose a seat for the PNP than to rock the proverbial boat.
In 1993, Emmanuel Cousins became the campaign manager for Peter Bunting who was challenging Hugh Shearer in the general election. Bunting won by 1,443 votes. This was a vicarious victory for the walk-foot cane cutter who was robbed of his own seat in Parliament. Fast-forward to 2022 when Emmanuel’s grandson, Lothan, is now a member of parliament. Whether you agree with him or not, Cousins is certainly entitled to speak his mind at a political meeting. All is fair in love and war; and politics in Jamaica is tribal war.
“THE RACE ISSUE”
The Gleaner editorial insisted that Golding should censure both Lothan Cousins and Dayton Campbell, General Secretary of the PNP, for their opinions on racial politics in Jamaica. In January, Campbell described Robert Montague, Chairman of the JLP, as “the leader of the black section of the Labour Party.” On January 27, The Gleaner published a report by Asha Wilks with this headline, “Campbell under fire for race gaffe.” A prominent citizen was quoted: “‘Businessman and public commentator Kevin O’Brien Chang condemned the reference as inflammatory, adding that he was surprised at Campbell’s gaffe because Mark Golding, the opposition leader and PNP president, is a white man in a vastly black nation. “‘Why would you even go there?
“‘Why would you bring up the race issue when nobody has touched it?’ Chang told The Gleaner.”
Why are we so “touches” about race in Jamaica? Why is it an untouchable issue? Why is it a “gaffe” to talk frankly about race? What are we afraid of? Black power? Silence on race in public discourse does not make the issue go away. Keeping race in the closet is pure folly. It will eventually be outed. The Gleaner editorial reported Lothan Cousins’ provocative remarks on race: “‘A friend of mine once said the only person who is a Labourite, who is a black Labourite, must be a confused PNP,’ Mr Cousins told the audience. ‘And I support that! Because I can’t see how poor black people can support a party like the Jamaica Labour Party. That is not the party for us.’”
In response to the furore over Cousins’ opinion on racial politics, Mark Golding made public remarks and issued a press release with this heading: “Statement by Mark Golding, MP, on Classism, Racism and Inequality in Jamaica as Delivered at the South West St. Andrew Constituency Conference on Saturday, August 27, 2022.” Golding made this declaration, “Our Party believes and asserts that all Jamaicans are free to support the party of their choice, regardless of skin colour.”
The Gleaner took that statement to be the censuring of Cousins that its editorial had demanded. On August 29, the Gleaner published a report by Kimone Francis in which Mr Golding’s statement is interpreted in this way: “People’s National Party (PNP) President Mark Golding says Jamaicans are free to support the party of their choice regardless of skin colour, appearing to pour cold water on recent controversial comments by his spokesman on agriculture, Lothan Cousins.”
Appearances are deceiving. Golding does not, in fact, “pour cold water” on Cousins’ inflammatory remarks. It would be political suicide for Mark Golding, a white Jamaican, to censure his black colleagues for telling their own truth about racial politics in Jamaica. This would, undoubtedly, be seen as proof that he is not sufficiently sensitive to issues of race to be able to lead the PNP.
Immediately after making that seemingly transparent statement about freedom, Golding complicates his meaning: “Having said that, there is no doubt that the masses of the people are better off when progressive politics holds sway. I will state without fear of successful contradiction that the PNP is the party that, while in government, has done the most to advance the interests of ordinary Jamaicans.”
It you substitute “black people” for “the masses of the people” and “ordinary Jamaicans,” Golding is making more or less the same judgment as Cousins. Black people are better off with a PNP government rather than the JLP. Golding diplomatically uses class to talk about race. Cousins unapologetically uses race to talk about race.
BEVERLEY MANLEY & SISTER P
Two powerful documentaries were recently released which focus on race, class and gender in Jamaica. Beverley Manley Uncensored: an Intimate Portrait Of a Jamaican Icon is a four-part series on the life of an exceptional black woman. Beverly Anderson transcended social barriers to become the wife of ‘high-brown’ Michael Manley. Like Mark Golding, Manley was not always seen as an appropriate leader of the PNP, again because of his race. A political activist in her own right, Beverley was sensitive to the plight of poor black Jamaicans and encouraged Michael to act on their behalf.
I was surprised to learn that the PNP policy of free education was essentially a gimmick. Beverley reports that Michael was searching for what he called a ‘peroration,’ a grand climax to his 1973 budget speech. It was Beverley who suggested free education. That rhetorical gesture proved to be revolutionary. The lives of hundreds of thousands of poor Jamaicans were transformed by access to free education, right up to the tertiary level.
Girl from Wood Hall: the Story Of Portia Simpson Miller recounts the epic journey of another extraordinary Jamaican woman. To rise from impoverished rural Jamaica to become prime minister is a spectacular achievement. So much attention has been focused on Sister P’s limitations, particularly the fact that she was not as highly educated as many of her challengers. But what Sister P lacked in formal education she certainly made up for in native intelligence.
Race, class and gender do define our conception of who is entitled to become a political leader. But each of us does have the power to choose to align ourselves with either the oppressors or the oppressed. And we cannot remain silent about the obvious intersection of race and class in Jamaica. The vast majority of poor people in Jamaica are black. As long as we continue to talk only about class and not race, we will obscure the dual oppression of both race and class.
Intelligent and informative commentary.
Love your posts but you could be less obvious about your PNPness.
Yu too bad!