Columns

History, shame and emancipendence

MICHAEL BURKE

Thursday, August 02, 2012    

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WHAT has shame or embarrassment to do with communicating history? And what has this to do with our emancipendence celebrations, particularly in a year when we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of our Independence? One of the unfortunate legacies of certain types of government and economic models is the class system. It has created the misleading belief that some people are better than others.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the notion of superiority and inferiority based on class and colour is a sin against the great commandment of "Love thy neighbour as thyself". The said church further teaches that with regard to race it cannot be proved either in scripture or in a science laboratory that any race is superior to the other.

But like any other religious institution, not all Roman Catholics have the same level of understanding. So even within a church that abhors class prejudice, in its doctrine it exists within its borders. And wherever it exists, there is usually a sense of shame on the part of the victims of such prejudice.

Many young people do not appreciate how far we have come since Independence, let alone slavery, because they were not taught what it was like before. Many times their parents do not want to tell them what Jamaica was like as they are ashamed to admit the conditions under which they lived because they were looked down upon and ridiculed by others.

Fifty-two years ago in 1960 when I was six years old, my parents left me and my siblings in the care of our maternal grandmother while they went on tour of New York, USA, England and the European continent. My father heard the following story in England and told us on his return.

A Jamaican living in England where he was courting an English girl (white-skinned, I believe), showed her a picture of Hope Gardens and told her that it was his backyard. After the wedding she wanted to take a trip to Jamaica to see the place. The man was ashamed to tell his wife the truth. But how would his children learn to appreciate his efforts to improve their lives if he was ashamed to tell them where he grew up, even if on Spanish Town Road or Back-o-Wall?

In 1967 when I was 13 years old, I saw a photograph in the Star of a Jamaica Omnibus Service (JOS) bus driver who had received an award for good driving. A cloth badge was sewn to his right shirt sleeve. On several occasions while taking a JOS bus, I recognised him as the driver who won the award. Fourteen years later in 1981, I saw him in Papine. By this time he walked with a limp.

The JOS awardee told me that he was retired. He sat on the stone wall by the Hope Aqueduct next to what was then CAST (now UTech) and told me of his struggles to give all his children a good education by sending them to some of Jamaica's best high schools. He also spoke about attaining the award from JOS.

During the conversation I learnt that the retired bus driver was a Roman Catholic like me and that he had seen me at church. He surprised me by telling the names of his sons because I knew some of them from Roman Catholic circles of which he was very much aware and was the reason for telling me that he was Roman Catholic. He was extremely proud of his eldest son, who by that time had become a senior accountant at a large company in Jamaica and who, I believe, became a chartered accountant.

That top-level accountant today is himself retired from the company where he was employed, although his youngest children are still of high school age. He holds a prominent position in the Roman Catholic Church, particularly in the Archdiocese of Kingston. His father, the retired bus driver, died some years ago.

Less than three weeks ago, I was at a Roman Catholic Church and saw one of the sons of the top-level accountant and grandson of the late retired bus driver. In discussion with him, I told him that I knew his grandfather who had won an award as a JOS bus driver. The boy, about 15 years old, looked at me and asked in a tone of disbelief, "A bus driver, Sir?"

The boy's father had clearly not told him that his grandfather had been a bus driver, which I suspect was for reasons of shame, although I would not say that to the boy. I "polished it off" by telling him the teachings of our church on the dignity of labour.

I will not stand in judgement of this top-level accountant who has not revealed his humble beginnings as the son of a bus driver to his children. How much ridicule - if any - did he endure from upper-class students at the prominent high school he attended? I do not know, although I am aware that no one enjoys being ridiculed.

But how can the young people appreciate the struggles of the last 50 years of Independence, let alone the struggles before emancipation if we do not get over the shame that is totally unwarranted? The only thing that anyone should be ashamed of is sin.

ekrubm765@yahoo.com

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