Columns

None but ourselves...

Michael BURKE

Thursday, August 21, 2014    

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It was Marcus Garvey who said we must emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, because while others can free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. It was Bob Marley who put those words to lyrics as you might know. But it should be known that, after all of the persuasion that might take place by whatever method, it is still left to the individual to free his or her own mind. We were all told in school in my day, "you can take the horse to the water but cannot make him drink".

It is even harder to free the mind when modern technology is used against us. Ideas of beauty in the media usually are European-influenced. And, in a sense it is used as a weapon against black women who naturally have concerns about beauty. And if the only concepts of beauty that women see are European, then they will look down on themselves and then ape another type of beauty.

I suspect that it is all about money. If women think that their complexion needs to be changed, then the instruments that are used to change this are marketable. And the same goes for the hair as well. Today, in the western world, all sorts of alternate lifestyles for men are being promoted. I believe that one of the reasons for this is to sell such products to men as well.

Denial

On the subject of denial, psychologists have done many studies. An unfortunate event in someone's life that is difficult to cope with might be denied. But how much studies have been done on the collective denial by millions of people that black people are created equal?

It happens when people are made to be comfortable with lies that they have been taught systematically. It was Adolph Hitler who said that if a lie is repeated often enough it will be believed. Hitler used that tactic and the masters of the system of slavery also used it. And so effective was that system that is still very difficult to get away from its effects.

Once upon a time, our people were ashamed to say that they were Jamaicans. Prior to the late 1930s a Jamaican abroad would first identify himself as a British colonial citizen. When asked which colony, they would whisper with a bowed head "Jamaica". The spirit of nationalism that emerged in the late 1930s changed all of that. And, recognising ourselves as Jamaican has been a positive step on the road to full emancipation from mental slavery.

The change

The cause for the change was a combination of factors. As Michael Manley wrote in one of his books, no story begins at a single point. But the spirit of demanding a better way of life, starting form the slave revolts through the Morant Bay Rebellion and then to Marcus Garvey and his teachings, would have been the nursery for this type of new pride. One offshoot of Marcus Garvey' s teachings would be the emergence of the Rastafarian Movement, which has been the Vanguard of pan-Africanism in Jamaica.

The role of Edna Manley is sculpting people of African descent is not to be underestimated. For psychological reasons, it was important for the downtrodden black- skinned Jamaica to see a white woman sculpting black people. While it is true that, in the 1920s and 1930s, she was considered to be of unsound mind for doing so, I believe it did have a positive effect and mental slavery would be even more severe today were it not for that.

When Michael Manley entered Jamaica College (JC) in 1935, my father the late Keith C Burke was in third form there. One day my father told me about something that happened when Michael Manley was in first form. There was debate about Jamaica's art and JC was taking the side that Jamaica had good marketable art and the outside team was taking the view that Jamaica did not. One of the speakers for the outside team said "for example Edna Manley's art...monstrosity". Immediately everyone was surprised and someone whispered: "See her son seated in the audience." Michael Manley took the unintended insult quietly, although he was only 10 years old.

And speaking of Michael Manley being 10 years old when he entered JC, in those days some of the students were nine years old. The main qualification to enter schools like JC in those days was the parents' or guardians' ability to pay the fees -- age was the least of the factors. And this was so even after the Common Entrance Examination was introduced in 1957. It was so even after Independence when I entered JC in 1964, when I was not quite 11 -- 50 years ago come next month. The opening up of the schools has also carried us further on the road to full emancipation from mental slavery.

Today’s Emancipation

True, we are far from being collectively emancipated from mental slavery. But there have been vast improvements. In the 1930s, Jamaican entertainment started to emerge with Bim and Bam, Ike and Mike, Louise Bennett (later Coverly) and Ranny Williams. Incidentally in the Ike and Mike duo, the late Eric Coverly (husband of Louise Bennett-Coverly) was Ike and Florizel Glasspole (later governor general) was Mike.

The role of Jamaica Welfare (later Social Development Commission) was also very important factor in all of this. Norman Manley, who was the lawyer for the Jamaica Banana Producers Association, founded Jamaica Welfare Limited in 1937. It is significant that Jamaica Welfare was founded a year before the People's National Party was established.

In the 1930s, a plant disease wiped out the banana industry and different strains of banana need to be planted. But the people had already left the rural areas and flocked Kingston. The plantation bosses wanted workers but only by rural community development via Jamaica Welfare would the people go back to the 'country parts' to plant banana. Despite all this, 'none but ourselves can free our minds'.

Thanks to all who responded to my column last week entitled 'Norman Manley as premier'. Thanks especially to Peter Bradshaw who wrote on Jamaica Observer online that he would send his kittens to the classes. And by so doing, he revealed that his kittens are more intelligent than he is.

ekrubm765 @ yahoo.com

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