Columns

10 things we should not be confused about — Part 2

Grace VIRTUE

Tuesday, April 15, 2014    

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THANKS to the Internet and being desk-bound, I read the newspapers and listen to Jamaican radio almost daily. In the discussions about our problems, one thing that stands out starkly to me is how confused we are about some fairly basic issues. Though some of the talk shows have got better in recent years; they typically represent a breeding ground for confusion. This is not simply a matter of people holding different viewpoints on a given issue. It is simply people talking with no regard for the facts or any sense of how they arrive at the conclusions that they draw and, in most cases, the absence of any parameters set by the hosts/programmes. The blogs tend to be much smarter, but many also demonstrate much of the same as do people in public life. I was particularly surprised, for example, about how many educators clearly confuse morality with Christianity. That was an impetus for these articles.

For talk show listeners, it does not take long to realise that some of them — probably most, or all — revolve around a core of 10-15 callers over several hours, five days a week. I tried, last week, to identify these callers on one show and came closer to 10. Not included are three who I got used to over the years from several programmes and for whom I have a good deal of respect. 'Chance', a cookshop operator in Portmore, was killed a few years ago. He endured the common struggles of the average Jamaican, but he was forever hopeful and full of native wisdom. 'Nephew' is a seeker genuinely trying to find truth, and he is courteous, affable, authentic, and charming. Like Chance, he too is full of native wisdom. Finally, there is Garnet, who I believe is blind. He delivers himself well and consistently demonstrates an ability to get to the heart of an issue that sometimes surpasses that of the host. I don't believe any of these men are college graduates, but they are smart, they are never offensive, and they articulate the issues clearly — in patois.

Clarity is important, but it is often missing in our discussions and in how we go about our business. Last week, this column identified the first five of 10 issues that a mature nation ought not to be confused about, as follows: 1) the dignity of the individual is inherent and separate from all manmade variables; 2) all human behaviour is learned; 3) Christianity and morality are not synonymous; 4) sex is not the goal or totality of human experience; 5) and there is virtue in simplicity. Here are five more.

1. Facts are different from opinions. Facts are objective while opinions are subjective; they can be proven or disproven. For example, the statement that PJ Patterson was Jamaica's longest serving prime minister is a fact. The statement that he was Jamaica's best prime minister is an opinion, unless there exists a clear set of criteria against which we could measure what "best" means and how all other prime ministers stacked up against that and against Patterson's performance. Facts give credibility to opinions; opinions, therefore, are best when supported by facts.

2 Jamaica is a black country. This is a fact; there is no value judgment as to whether this is good or bad and neither should there be one. It is what is and it is not something we should be ashamed of or ambivalent about. The ambivalence comes because some of us attach a negative judgement to the statement including the idea that it is a slight to minority groups, and on that basis attempt to disprove the fact. The confusion comes when we project those feelings on the public. The CIA Factbook, lists the black population at 92.1 per cent percent, mixed at 6.1 per cent, East Indian at .0.8 per cent, other 0.4 per cent and unspecified at 0.7. Although the classifications are slightly different, the data is in keeping with the work of trusted academics like the late Professor Carl Stone.

3. There is no human superiority or inferiority based on race or skin colour. It is not completely surprising that we still struggle with these issues. The world power structure remains largely white and we, in Jamaica, have not truly reconciled with our past. As a result, dominant institutions, like media, continue to reflect a white/brown bias. It is why even some successful Jamaican women bleach their skins-an attempt to measure up to an ideal of success and beauty that is mostly equated with whiteness. The association between blackness and slavery also contributes to the discomfiture. In this regard, we should remember that there was nothing noble about slavery and if there was, it would have been the slaves and not the masters.

4. Jamaica is a bilingual society. Bilingualism means that two languages, Jamaican Standard English and Jamaican Patois, in our case, are spoken and used in roughly the same proportion. This latter statement is not exactly true for us since Patois is more widely spoken. It is fair to say, however, that both languages are equally well understood and to that extent, the definition of a bilingual society stands. The CIA Factbook lists Jamaica's two languages as English and English Patois. We should correct the latter to reflect Jamaican Patois. While I agree with the utilitarian value of English, I reject as unadulterated racism the explicit or implicit equation of English with cultural superiority, and equally with patois as culturally inferior, and every well-thinking Jamaican should too.

5. Hollywood is about entertainment. This is extremely relevant because what people are calling the "Americanisation "of Jamaica is actually the "Hollywoodification" of Jamaica. Hollywood, California, is the home of America's entertainment industry from which cultural products are exported all over the world. The purpose is to amuse or provide immediate gratification in the form of fun and laughter. In other words, it is not intended to be taken seriously or co-opted as a way of life, particularly in poor black countries. The average American knows this but many Jamaicans, including much of the media seem not to. Hence, in many of the habits we pick up, we are merely holding up ourselves as objects of amusement -and people are laughing.

Remember, there is no mastery without clarity.

Washington, DC-based scholar Dr Grace Virtue is a public affairs practitioner, social policy analyst and social justice advocate. Comments to gvirtue@usa.net

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