Is there a new respect for the flag?

Is there a new respect for the flag?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

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By Michael Burke

The omission of the green from the Jamaican flag at the civic function for the swearing-in of the mayor of Montego Bay has been roundly condemned, as it should be. And with all of that, readers have been asking me what are my views and that I too should roundly condemn what took place. So I now join the chorus. It was wrong of the person responsible to omit a part of the flag.

But I wonder if there would have been so much fuss if the black had been left out! As of the end of 1996, the Jamaican flag means "the land is green and the sun shines and the people are strong and creative", with the black standing for people, strength and creativity.

Sometime last week, columnists in our newspapers (one of them a lawyer) wrote as if they were living in a time warp when they referred to the previous theme of the flag, which was "hardships there are but the land is green and the sun shineth".

It was in 2003 that I took the opportunity, while interviewing then prime minister, PJ Patterson, to ask him why no information was given out by the Jamaica Information Service on the change of the meaning of the black in the flag. Indeed, the JIS was putting out the old information and I responded to that by writing a column entitled, "Jamaica Misinformation Service". In 2003, Burchell Whiteman as minister of education sent around a circular about the flag.

Between 1990 and 1996, I wrote in my columns elsewhere in the media and in my commentaries on IRIE FM (1990 to 2009) about the Jamaican flag almost every week.

When PJ Patterson assumed the office of prime minister on March 30, 1992, I asked if our black-skinned prime minister was going to continue with that disgusting and demeaning theme of the flag in a country of mainly black people.

Late in 1996, PJ Patterson announced at the annual conference of the People's National Party that he was going to address the matter immediately. A committee was set up, headed by the late Sir Philip Sherlock. And, yes, I felt slighted that I was not included on the committee, although I

single-handedly campaigned for the change for six years.

In a nation of people of whom many are in mental slavery, there were some who did not want the colour black to stand for the people. I am not sure if we have advanced that much since the 1990s because so many are still bleaching their skin as if they are ashamed of their God-given colour. And this is why I ask if there is a new respect for our flag with the righteous indignation by some about one of the other colours being left out.

And if there is going to be a new respect for the flag, does this mean that the Jamaican flag will no longer drape the car seats of some taxi-cabs as was seen a few years ago? Admittedly, it is not so common now. Does this mean that we will no longer see dry-rotting or rain-drenched Jamaican flags hanging from buildings where the colours have been washed out?

Does this mean that there will be a new respect for all of our national symbols, not just the flag? And by the way, as I have written and said many times, the constitution of Jamaica does not speak to a national dish, but to a national fruit which is the ackee. And cooking ackee with saltfish does not make it the national dish anymore than wrapping a car seat with the national flag means it is the national car-seat wrap.

I do not buy the argument that the relevant authority had run out of green cloth. That statement sounds like something that children concoct when asked by a teacher why their homework was not done.

But let us imagine that there was no green cloth to be found in Jamaica because one political party used all of the green material available. Had the Jamaica Labour Party been approached for directions as to where they could get some, since green is the JLP's colour, would they have helped them out? Or would they be sulking and vengeful because they had been rejected at the polls after such a short time in office?

In terms of politics, the matter of omission of green from the flag is growing old. The JLP could hardly expect to build up a momentum around this issue that would go on until the general election due by April 2017 (when the three-month grace period is included). The JLP can hardly expect to build up a "pack your bags and go" momentum as did KD Knight, which, in the view of many, was the real reason for the resignation of Bruce Golding as prime minister in October last year.

In an earlier column I suggested that the JLP Opposition should be relatively silent for a year to build back a desire of the public to hear from them. This is what the People's National Party did in 1980. Edward Seaga gave a report in Parliament after his first 100 days, sometime in February 1981. The PNP did not respond. But perhaps Holness has to keep talking because he now has to put up a fight to retain the leadership of the JLP.

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