Out of many, one people: Motto or myth?

Out of many, one people: Motto or myth?

Sunday, August 02, 2015

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In Jamaica one of our best known sayings is "See me and come live with me are two different things".


We have perfected the art of welcoming people of all races, class, culture, colour and income from across the world. We make a successful business of it not only because of the sun, sea and sand but because we are so hospitable and friendly. But when it comes to living together we get a failing grade.


It is appropriate on anniversaries to reflect on the past, even as we evaluate the present and plan to make improvements for the future. As we are about to celebrate our 53rd year of Independence, it is appropriate to ponder this issue among others -- Our National Motto, 'Out of many, one people'.


It reflects the diversity of the Jamaican people, being a mix of different races, cultures and religions. However, the National Motto was created because the leadership of the new independent Jamaica and colonialists happily vacating the country wanted to: First, assure the wealthy and potential foreign investors that they had no need to fear the desperately poor black masses. Second, it sought to convince the poor black people that those with wealth were their genuine brothers and sisters. This was intended to head off violent expressions of the ever-present class struggles and any flirtation with communism.


The experience since Independence clearly indicates that we are not all living up to the national motto. The proof is everywhere: First, there still exists colour prejudice and class hostility. The patois-speaking people in the inner cities have little in common with the English-speaking few living in salubrious communities. Their lifestyles and culture are very different and they only share their place of birth, that being Jamaica, akin to what Mr Edward Seaga described as the "two Jamaicas".


Many brilliant and talented people from the working class who achieve wealth and fame soon adopt middle-class culture and lifestyle and not only forget the people they came from, but disown their origins at every opportunity. They live as far away from the ghetto as they can get, better still, if they can migrate, then the separation is complete.


Second, we are certainly not living peacefully with each other within classes, locations or neighbourhoods. The outrageous and unacceptable level of violence, including the high murder rate and abuse of children, women, the disabled, and older citizens are signs that we have no sense of being one in our communities.


Third, the level of prejudice exhibited by some of the foreigners who choose to live in Jamaica and, unbelievably, by some Jamaicans returning home from abroad.


To explain our failures and shortcomings we blame foreigners. We are poor because we were exploited by foreigners during slavery. True, but Emancipation was almost 200 years ago. Next we blamed the British colonisers and then after Independence it was the Americans who were exploiting our bauxite, and now it is supposed to be the Chinese who are accused even before they have developed Goat Island.


We offer these thoughts for reflection, still believing in this space that "Out of many, one people" is a valid moot and we urge all Jamaicans and others residing here to live its meaning to the fullest.



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