Persistent Perversity On Jews and Slavery

Ainsley Henriques

Ainsley Henriques, honorary secretary of the United Congregation of Israelites in Jamaica, ought to know the African-Jamaican proverb, ‘Cock mouth kill cock’. If he doesn’t, I’d be very surprised.  After all, we’re one people.  We all know each other’s cultures intimately.  In any case, there must be a Jewish equivalent of this proverbial warning.  It’s not only black people in Jamaica who know that sometimes words have to be eaten. And they can be very, very bitter, even toxic.

 In a Gleaner article headlined, “Jews The Victims of Slavery, Too”, published on Friday, August 3, Ainsley gives a most peculiar response to my column, “Jews and Plantation Slavery in the Caribbean”, published on July 8. In his opening sentences, Ainsley launches a childish attack on the messenger, not the message:

 “Your columnist Professor Carolyn Cooper reminds me of the lines often given to recalcitrant school boys. I quote, ‘Persistent perversity provokes patient pedagogue producing particularly painful punishment’”.  Once you get past the tongue-twisting alliteration, what Ainsley seems to be saying is this:  my insistence that Jews played a major role in plantation slavery in Jamaica is ‘persistent perversity’.  Apparently, I’m a recalcitrant schoolgirl who doesn’t know how to behave.

       Having been provoked, Ainsley, the ‘patient pedagogue’, threatens to produce ‘particularly painful punishment’. It all sounds rather sadomasochistic.  Telling the whole story of Jewish history in Jamaica is a dangerous business. Truth doesn’t always set you free.  It sometimes imprisons you in other people’s fictions. Next thing you know, I’m going to be labelled as ‘anti-Semitic’.

It’s not kosher

Oddly enough, having tried to use schoolboy tactics to discredit the messenger, Ainsley does concede the truth of the message. He admits that I’m “correct” in asserting that the Museum of Jewish Jamaican History gives “an incomplete history of the Jews of Jamaica”.  Surprisingly, Ainsley justifies the gaps in the story with the bogus argument that “no history is ever complete”.

It is true that many histories are partial – in both senses of the word:  incomplete and one-sided. But some histories are more complete than others.  There is a lot of historical evidence to support the claim that Jews played a major role in plantation slavery in the Caribbean.  In the case of the incomplete history in the Museum of Jamaican Jewish History, it seems as if the truth has been deliberately concealed.  To what end?

      Ainsley serves up a big red herring in an attempt to explain why “no mention is made of the role of the Jews in Jamaica in the horror of enslavement”.  And it’s not kosher:  “this is because their history with enslavement is much more than just that – too much for a poster board”.  But how is this history different from the other long stories that are compressed and told on those same poster boards?

Furthermore, Ainsley shamelessly switches the topic from the role of Jews as agents in the enslavement of African people.  Instead, he rehearses the story of Jews as victims of slavery, as if that was ever in question.   And, again, Ainsley resorts to attacking the messenger.  He dismisses my call for the whole story to be told on the specious basis that I am ignorant of the history of Jews in Jamaica and I need to read the “eminent historians at places like the University of the West Indians”.  The same scholars, I suppose, who all fail to write ‘complete’ histories.

Setting the Record Straight?

I’m quite sure there are Jamaican Jews who are prepared to admit the truth about their history of participation in the slave trade.  I got an email from one of them.  He sent me looking for Eli Faber’s book Jews, Slaves, and the Slave Trade:  Setting the Record Straight which was published in 2000 by the New York University Press.  I haven’t read the book as yet.  But I’ve seen a most intriguing summary of its thesis posted on Amazon:

“Focusing on the British empire, Faber assesses the extent to which Jews participated in the institution of slavery through investment in slave trading companies, ownership of slave ships, commercial activity as merchants who sold slaves upon their arrival from Africa, and direct ownership of slaves. His unprecedented original research utilizing shipping and tax records, stock-transfer ledgers, censuses, slave registers, and synagogue records reveals, once and for all, the minimal nature of Jews’ involvement in the subjugation of Africans in the Americas”.

How, in Jehovah’s name, could the word ‘minimal’ be appropriate in this context? Having sold their human ‘cargo’ and counted the profit, Jewish traders simply washed their hands of the whole sordid affair, just like Pontius Pilate.  And then there were those Jews who did own slave plantations.

‘Playing Fool Fi Ketch Wise’

The final paragraph of Ainsley Henriques’ response to my column is rather disturbing.  Its smugness suggests a complete failure to acknowledge the complexity of our history on this rock: “We must not wring our hands in despair nor hang our heads in shame, but hold them high and rejoice in the chance that we have been given in this life to redeem ourselves in the present and create a future for the generations to come”.

Who is the “we” for whom Ainsley speaks with such rhetorical flourish?  The enslaved or the enslavers?  The naked mad people in Emancipation Park?  Or the distinguished panel of judges, clothed in their right mind, who selected that bestial image to brand black people? And how can we really ‘redeem ourselves in the present and create a future for the generations to come’ if we can’t manage to speak the truth about our past?

‘Cock mouth kill cock’.   Ainsley’s own words produce ‘persistent perversity’.  Like the Jewish trickster Joha, a distant relative of Anansi, Ainsley is desperately ‘playing fool fi ketch wise’.  It would be so much easier for him to just speak the plain truth about Jews and plantation slavery in the Caribbean.

Pontius Pilate

Wilmot Perkins, My Worthy Opponent

Listening to Wilmot Perkins’ radio show was a lot like taking castor oil. A little dose every now and then was very good for the digestive system. Like the compulsory ‘washout’ for children at the end of the summer holidays!

Just suppose you’re clogged up with too many illusions about the goodness of human nature. And suppose you find yourself thinking that, perhaps, Jamaica isn’t such a bad place after all, given the global picture. You start to get worried. Is your mind playing tricks on you? Could you be happy in a fool’s paradise?

Don’t panic. All you had to do was tune in to Mutty and the bush doctor would prescribe just the right cure: gloom and doom in generous quantities. But a steady diet of Mutty’s medicine was downright dangerous. It could cause terminal depression, incontinence, flatulence, heart murmurs and civil unrest: you name it. Just like those supposedly legal drugs advertised on United States television! The side effects of the ‘cure’ are often far more deadly than the disease.

A lot of people were addicted to ‘Perkins On Line’ and, before that, ‘Straight Talk’. They are now suffering from terrible withdrawal symptoms: intense irritation, weeping, light-headedness, paranoia, anxiety, nausea, headaches, intestinal disorders, sweating, tingling in the hands and feet and, most of all, an unsatisfiable craving for their fix.

Give the man a chance!

Susan Taylor

I really couldn’t listen to Mutty’s talk show five days a week. I couldn’t take the castor oil. But I did occasionally get caught. I once overheard Perkins trying his best to depress some students who were visiting the radio station, telling them that there was no future for them in Jamaica. I’d been listening to Susan Taylor, former editor of Essence magazine, who’d been a guest on the ‘Breakfast Club’. And I’d carelessly left the radio on.

As soon as I heard the voice of our Jamaican Jeremiah, I tuned out. Then I said to myself, “Don’t be so intolerant. Give the man a chance! When last you ever listen to ‘Zig-Zag Talk’?” So I turned the radio back on only to hear Mr Anansi claiming to feel a searing pain in his heart – something melodramatic like that – as he thought of the plight of these poor children whose future was surely blighted. It was quite a performance.

I was so annoyed, I tried to call in to the programme. After 15 minutes, I gave up. And I felt a healing pleasure in my heart as I heard a number of callers chastising Jeremiah for being a false prophet. Under the guise of sympathy for these poor schoolchildren, Mr Gloom and Doom seemed to be cunningly spreading a wicked message: ‘don’t care; give up; no bother try; yu done dead already’.

Bob Marley, the barbarian

Another time, I heard Mutty declaring with absolute contempt that Bob Marley was a ‘barbarian’. It was these lines from Bad Card that had provoked him:

I want to disturb my neighbour

‘Cause I’m feeling so right

I want to turn up my disco

Blow them to full watts tonight

Inna rub-a-dub style.

In sympathy with Mutty, I must confess that I routinely call the police to shut down dances that go past 2 a.m. – even though I did propose in last week’s column that an exception be made for the annual Trench Town Rock concert.

All the same, Mutty didn’t acknowledge the full context of Marley’s noisy lyrics. The singer seemed to be throwing words at his neighbours on Hope Road who objected to a Rastaman living so close to them:

You a go tired fi see mi face

Can’t get me out of the race

Oh, man, you said I’m in your place

And then you draw bad card.

And as for Mutty’s barbarian curse: originally, the word meant ‘foreigner’. A Barbarian was a native of Barbary, the 16th-century European term for northwest Africa. Given the racial politics of colonisation, the word was later extended to mean ‘a rude, wild, uncivilised person; an uncultured person’, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. And language was a   test of culture.

Barbarism is defined as “The use of words or expressions not in accordance with the classical standard of a language; hence, rudeness of language”. ‘Barbaric’ Patwa was a topic on which Mutty had rather predictable opinions.

Quite frankly, I don’t think Bob Marley would have been particularly concerned about being called a barbarian. After all, he fully understood class warfare in Jamaica. As he put it in We an Dem:

We no have no friends

Inna high society

We no have no friends

Oh, mark my identity

Me no know how we an dem

A go work this out.

Juvenile debating tricks

Mutty and I had quite a few entertaining verbal battles which I’m sure he enjoyed. I suppose I was a worthy opponent. Mutty usually trapped unwary callers by resorting to juvenile debating tricks: “Is this so, or is this not so? Are you saying X or are you saying Y?” Just make the mistake of saying, “Both X and Y.” That was the end of you. Mutty would let out a devastating ‘ho, ho, ho, ho, ho!’ and bring the conversation to an undignified conclusion. He couldn’t get away with that kind of ‘logic’ in our clashes.

Proverbial wisdom warns that one should not speak ill of the dead. One should also not make up stories about the dead. In death, Wilmot Perkins is at grave risk of becoming a saint. Mutty would not be amused. I think he rather liked the image of himself as a fearless warrior for all sorts of causes. He loved to deflate people who were full of themselves; and full of it. He was no Mr Nice Guy. Walk good, Mutty! I’m certainly going to miss sparring with you.

Dudus Sings And Bruce Croaks?

Bruce Golding

It had to come to this. It was only a matter of time. Bruce Golding has finally been forced to accept the fact that his political career is over. He couldn’t have lasted until the next general election. He’s become a very heavy burden for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) to carry. Saddled with a leader who has scandalously earned the damning reputation of being an unrepentant liar, the party had no choice but to rear up and pitch Bruce off its back.

Well, that’s how it looks from the outside. And in the absence of information, all one can do is speculate. The prime minister’s impenetrable silence has allowed conspiracy theorists and journalists to enjoy a whole week of asking wicked questions and fabricating even more wicked answers about his sudden resignation.

Did the Central executive of the JLP really agree unanimously not to accept Bruce Golding’s resignation this time round? Or did the executive just say no because it would have looked bad if it had immediately said, “Thank you, Jesus!” Is there anyone in the executive who actually wants Bruce to stay? Does Bruce himself want to stay, or is he dying to go?

Was it a foreign taskmaster that drew the whip that lashed the horse that threw Bruce Golding to the ground? Was Dudus’ admission of guilt on all counts a factor in the prime minister’s resignation? What, exactly, if anything, has Dudus told his captors about who knows what and when they knew it? Is our prime minister implicated? Is this why he has precipitately resigned? Did Dudus sing? And, if so, was it his song that made Bruce croak?

Left in limbo

Last Sunday, immediately after making his dramatic announcement to the JLP’s Central Executive of his imminent departure from politics, the prime minister should have properly addressed the nation on this burning matter. We shouldn’t have been left in limbo. After all, Bruce Golding is not just the leader of the Jamaica Labour Party. First and foremost, he’s Jamaica’s prime minister.

Golding’s apparent refusal to treat the nation with respect on the urgent business of his latest resignation takes us right back to his bumbling confusion of roles in the Dudus extradition fiasco.

Even now, Golding does not seem to understand that he needs to clearly separate the function of party leader from that of prime minister.

Caught in a compromising position with Dudus, the prime minister tried to blame the leader of the Jamaica Labour Party for his predicament. Or was it the other way around? Who knows? In any case, the two had clearly become one and the same in Golding’s mind; and neither seemed to be acting on principle. It was all about political expediency.

Almost a year and a half ago when Bruce Golding first announced that he intended to resign as JLP leader and, consequently, as prime minister, the party’s Central Executive should have gladly accepted his decision. It was obvious then that he had become a liability. His reputation was so tarnished that no amount of ‘cake soap’ could bleach it out.

All the same, Bruce did try to rehabilitate himself. He came on TV asking the Jamaican people to forgive him for his sins. Since we are a fundamentalist, Christian society, if only in name, diehard believers did forgive, though some of us simply could not forget.

And we put up with the ‘poppyshow’ Dudus-Manatt commission of enquiry when we all knew that nothing would come of it. I got a very good joke on the commission at one of the farmers’ markets in Kingston. I’m very suspicious of vegetables that are too big and pretty. I fear that deadly fertiliser accounts for the pumped-up look of the produce.

So when I saw some tomatoes that seemed to be a reasonable size, I asked the vendor if she was the farmer and if she had used fertiliser on them. She reassured me that the tomatoes were ‘organic’. Wanting to believe her, I optimistically asked, “Yu naa tell mi no lie?” Her friend who was helping on the stall wittily replied, “This is not the commission of enquiry.”

A youthful Sister P

Clovis cartoon (Jamaica Observer)

And what of Golding’s successor? As it turns out, some of the very same members of the JLP Central Executive who supposedly refused to accept his resignation last Sunday are now jostling to replace him. That’s politics, I suppose. ‘An it no pretty.’

The front-runners in the race appear to be Audley Shaw and Andrew Holness. By all accounts, Shaw has done much better as minister of finance than was expected. But that is not exactly a glowing recommendation. The bar of expectations was set rather low, I suspect.

In the case of Holness, I have grave reservations about a candidate who doesn’t appreciate the therapeutic value of a choice ‘bad’ word. As a teacher of literature, I can recall that our minister of education wanted to ban Zee Edgell’s classic novel Beka Lamb because of the author’s use of expletives. Surely, the minister ought to be focusing on more pressing matters like ‘failing schools’!

Las May Cartoon (Jamaica Gleaner)

Mike Henry, at 75, cannot possibly be serious about competing for the post of party leader and prime minister. Since the next general election is already shaping up to be a contest between youth and age, he would definitely give Sister P a welcome advantage. Almost 10 years his junior, the leader of the Opposition would be magically transformed into a rather youthful candidate by comparison.

For the time being, Bruce Golding is still our prime minister. I hope that in his message to the nation this evening, he will come clean and tell us the plain truth about why he’s resigning at this psychological moment. Perhaps, that’s too much to expect. ‘Jack Mandora, mi no choose none.’

Not in my kick-ass cabinet

Las May’s cartoon in last Thursday’s Gleaner kicked Senator Dorothy Lightbourne to the curb. His nasty representation of the senator’s fall from grace is just vicious:  Prime Minister Golding sends his former minister of justice and attorney general flying with a well-placed boot to the butt.

At a time when women in Jamaica are constant victims of abusive men, Las May portrays the prime minister as a classic perpetrator of physical and psychological violence against a woman! If I were Bruce Golding – God forbid – I would demand an apology.  But an apology, by its very nature, cannot be legislated.  It has to be freely given by the offender.

There’s no question that Senator Lightbourne deserves to be kicked out of the cabinet.  Metaphorically speaking, of course.  The kick is a familiar image of dismissal.  We use it all the time.  So much so that it has become a cliché.       Las May’s cartoon puts the punch back into the metaphor through the power of visual narrative.

You know that other cliché:  a picture is worth a thousand words.  Saying that Senator Lightbourne has been kicked out of the cabinet is a thousand times less violent than seeing her literally brought low. Las May fully understands the power of the picture.  That’s his job.  He knows what he’s doing.  His attack on the senator is a deliberate blow below the belt.

Dorothy Lightbourne

True, Senator Lightbourne is no angel of light.  She foolishly ventured down some rather dark tunnels of deceit.  Seemingly pretending to be a victim of Alzheimers, she conveniently forgot dangerous truths.  I completely understand how Senator Lightbourne could fail to recall very recent events and yet could so clearly remember K.D. Knight kicking her chair thirty one years ago.

That’s how Alzheimers works.  Long-term memory remains intact.  It’s short-term memory that vanishes.  But Senator Lightbourne should remember the Jamaican proverb that warns, ‘trouble deh a bush, anansi carry it come a yard’.  Alzheimers is not a disease to ‘run joke’ with.  Is bad enough to ‘put goat mouth’ on other people.  You shouldn’t put it on your own self.

‘Dutty Laugh Jamaica’

Las May has also joined the long line of people – including me –  who need to apologise to Mr. Clifton Brown. Mr. Brown never said ‘the bus can swim,’ as I reported in last week’s column.  That was DJ Powa’s splicing.

Incidentally, truth really is stranger than fiction.  Looking for a picture of Mr. Clifton Brown on the internet, I ran into this story:

“MP Raises Issue of Flooding in the Cotswolds

10th February 2011

Yesterday in the House of Commons, Wednesday 9 February, Cotswold MP, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, once again raised in [sic] the issue of flooding in the Cotswolds. Subsequent to a letter from Mr Barry Russell, the Environment Agency’s Area Flood Risk Manager, Mr Clifton-Brown took the opportunity to raise his concerns in a debate on the Funding of Flood Risk Management in Parliament.”

So it’s not just in Jamaica that there are problems with flood waters.  The very same Britain to which 60% of Jamaicans want to return for governance is having grave problems with basic infrastructure.  Even in Britain, there are many rivers of bureaucracy that cannot easily be crossed.

Sharon Hay-Webster

In last Friday’s editorial cartoon, which focuses on Sharon Hay-Webster’s exit from the People’s National Party, perhaps to join the Jamaica Labour Party, Las May makes Mr. Brown say, ‘Sharon, you canna cross it . . . ongle if you are a fisser-‘oman!’

Like Simon Crosskill and Neville Bell, who so vulgarly derided Mr. Brown on the now rebranded ‘Dutty Laugh Jamaica,’ Las May seems to feel entitled to ‘tek Mr. Brown mek poppyshow’.  Bell did apologise to Mr. Brown.  But it sounded like he was forced to mouth an apology.  I don’t think his heart was in it.

I also wonder why Crosskill got away with not apologising to Mr. Brown in the same formal way that Bell did. He behaved just as badly as his co-host.  Though the camera focused on Bell, Crosskill’s laughter was audible throughout.  Crosskill was the set on. Straight-faced, he pretended to be conducting a serious interview with Mr. Brown while setting up Bell to be the fall guy.

Just look at the way Crosskill introduces Bell’s apology to viewers:   ‘And in case you didn’t know it, today is a white shirt day.  It’s surrender day.’  Crosskill’s choice of the word ‘surrender’ immediately turns the promised apology into a joke.  Surrender is giving up against one’s will.

In response to Crosskill’s declaration, Bell says, ‘Yeah, let me start there.’  And what is Crosskill’s response:  ‘So quick?’  It’s as though he’s surprised that Bell is actually taking the apology seriously as a matter of urgency.  But Bell’s response to that ‘jook’ is not a good start:     ‘Yeah, my producer said I should I should do it at this time.’  The repetition of ‘I should’ suggests that the apology itself, not just its timing, is legislated by the producer.

This is what Bell says:  ‘Ever since that interview that I was a part of with Mr. Clifton Brown last Friday, a number of folks have suggested that my behaviour was inappropriate.  There was no intention to be disrespectful, there was no intention to ridicule Mr. Brown and at no time was I laughing at Mr. Brown.  Having said that, because of the perception, I do want to apologise to Mr. Brown.’

Bell’s apologia reminds me of Sir Hilary Beckles’ equally bogus apology for comparing Chris Gayle to ‘Dudus.’  In Beckles’ case it was the ‘deductions’ not his actual statements that were the problem.   So, too, with Neville Bell.  It is the ‘perception,’ not the reality, of inappropriate behaviour that forces him to surrender to the weight of public opinion.

Simon Crosskill’s indirect ‘apology’ is much more honest – no surrender: ‘Now I understand, I don’t know if is certain, that Clifton also now has benefitted not only from the video but from the interview and is getting a fairly large contract with one of the telecommunications companies.  So the whole perception that Clifton was embarrassed and we were being wicked to him is misplaced.’

Crosskill asks a trick question: would the public be as offended by the mockery of Dorothy Lightbourne or any other politician?  Of course not.  Even though she’s been kicked out of the cabinet, Senator Lightbourne is still powerful.  She’s on one side of the social divide and Mr. Brown is on the other.  That’s the big difference.  If only the Prime Minister would kick himself off the cabinet!  But that’s one river he cannot cross.