Columns

What's not to celebrate?

Barbara Gloudon

Friday, August 31, 2012    

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THE JAMAICAN FLAG is up there... on the highest peak of Switzerland's Matterhorn, (14,690 feet) twice the height of our Blue Mountain (7,402 feet). The news is not just that the Swiss peak is higher than ours and regarded as one of Europe's most back-breaking, life-taking mountaineering challenges but that it has been conquered by one of us, Darren Jordan - a man from JA who decided that despite Matterhorn's reputation, he would show what Jam Rock people can do - and he did. So once again, one of us is in the winner's circle.

Jordan, who served in the Jamaica Defence Force before heading out into the wider world to test mountains, seems to have an affinity for the really tough ones, including the legendary Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. By the way, if you are checking Google to find the location of that particular giant, make sure to include the designation "Mount" or you will be informed, "Kilimanjaro, a Jamaican sound system". When we broad, we broad.

Big question then is, if we can climb mountains, face and conquer obstacles anywhere on the globe, what keeps us from excelling at home? Why do we spend so much time beating on ourselves, grasping every opportunity to cast us in the most negative light? Why are we hearing talk that we have done nothing over the past years deserving celebration in this 50th year of Independence?

I once heard a wise old calypsonian in another island sing: If you don't know that you don't know... then you don't know. True wud. Few of today's people know the history of our parents and grandparents, and if we do, cannot make connections to where we are today. Many would die before admitting that we had to fight poverty and discrimination because of skin colour not so long ago, right here in this country where we now boast of "Out of many, One People". Tracing that journey may well help us to escape the tyranny of the bleach and the wig.

We've deceived ourselves into believing that colour prejudice and discrimination were never known to any Jamaican unless he experienced travel to the US in the days of segregation. At that time, we prided ourselves on our Britishness. No one admitted to hearing of or experiencing prejudice in Britain. Some people clung defiantly to the "wee-drop theory", that no matter if you were of darkest ebony, even a wee drop of Caucasian blood changed the whole equation. So we proudly claimed Scottish, Welsh, Irish, English ancestors. There is no evidence that they returned the favour.

THE HISTORY of farm workers who went North before and after Independence is another interesting fact which has not received much interest in ancestor-tracking. The same goes for the history of the students who caught hell while attending stateside colleges in years past, especially in those places (for example, Washington DC) where colour lines were tightly drawn. Our people persevered and returned home, with professional degrees, to set up practice and climb steadily up the residential foothills of St Andrew to live happily ever after. Do we want to know really that grandpa, the doctor, the dentist, the professor couldn't drink at soda fountains in America because of skin colour? Dare we recall a time when people of colour in this land of their birth could enter a Jamaican hotel only by the service entrance at the lowest level of the pyramid?

As to being guests in the dining rooms and ballrooms, with the ease and facility which we do now, it was not so long ago we could only wish. It was not until the seventies, when hotel rooms stood empty as the anti-Michael Manley campaign dried up the foreign visitor flow, that a "Discover Jamaica" drive assured locals that they could be guests in their own land. Today, no barriers (except money) keep "Jamaican dry land tourist" away. Celebrate!

So now, after we've lionised the singers and the athletes, could a thought be given to recognising the unsung heroes who contributed to the building of this Jamaica... the health sector workers who gave much to achieve the decrease and disappearance of the nasty diseases which used to plague this country 50 years ago - and what of the farmers who have kept us fed in drought and stormy weather and the researchers (enter TP Lecky) who gave their all to improve livestock and crop?

Remember the teachers, who will never be as rich as the dancehall ginnigogs; what they did enriched the lives of the rest of us through patience and self-sacrifice and bringing many from darkness to light; why shouldn't we celebrate them? Why is it so hard to admit that our triumphs might not be as high as a Kilimanjaro or Everest, but that we have taken some important steps along the way?

Maybe we feel we've nothing to celebrate because we have never heard the stories of trial and triumph experienced by people of colour who only made it above Cross Roads as the maids and gardeners, lodged in cramped servant quarters at the back of the yard. Change doesn't come easily...

IMAGINE THIS: Mr Ferdie Sangster, founder of the noted Sangster's Bookstores, who started his empire selling books from a carrier on the back of his bicycle, used to tell, with wry humour, how, when he could finally afford it, he tried to buy land to build a house in what was known as Seymour Lands. This was in the vicinity of Lady Musgrave Road and Seymour Avenue, etc, the province of Sir George Seymour Seymour, a man of substance, land developer, power broker, etc. Approached by the naive young man who obviously didn't know how Jamaican society worked, Sir George took him and told him as gently as he could, that it was not a good idea to want to live in the area because "you wouldn't have any friends there". The message was clear... you people are not welcome in this end of town. Mr Sangster later built his house in another uptown neighbourhood, higher up in the St Andrew hills where he found many Jamaican friends who, like him, by hard work and persistence, had made the climb, despite the melanin in their skin.

Prof Rex Nettleford's story was different, but no less meaningful. It was Independence night, August 6, 1962, when he stepped on stage in Spanish Town Square to deliver the people's message, only to hear an angry voice thunder: "Get off the stage, boy." The "boy" inference was clear. The voice was that of the Custos Rotulorum in all his colonial splendour, making one last brave stand. Nettleford, free man that he was, just held his head higher... and delivered his message. The boy from the canepiece went on to gain respect for himself and Jamaica in some of the world's most influential places of education and culture.

The treasure house of memories is still here, reminding us of what used to be. One of the early graduates of the former University College at Mona recalls going to see the bank manager at good old Barclays (Dominion, Colonial and Overseas) to discuss a car loan, backed by a steady bank balance. The manager received him sitting down, offered no chair, wasted no words, dismissing him with a "No", nothing else. Barclays is gone now, history is ours to write. How are we doing?

Before we dismiss entirely the idea that we have nothing to celebrate, let us at least honour the memory of generations before, in the wattle and daub and thatched roof houses, studying by the light of the kitchen bitch, sacrificing to lay a foundation for the generations to come. It's not their fault if we do not understand.

DID YOU KNOW... that the squatter problem and the disposal of unused state-owned lands have been with us since 1938? At that time, one Mr Robert Rumble refused to pay rent to the big powerful landowners and formed the Poor Man's Improvement Land Settlement Association. He was promptly hauled into court in Chapelton and on December 27,1938 sentenced to six months for inciting the landless? So much for that...

THANKS FOR THE KNOWLEDGE, FRED.

gloudonb@yahoo.com

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