A time for honesty, a time for action

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A time for honesty, a time for action

Bert Samuels

Monday, July 27, 2020

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In 1954, the year of my birth, the Supreme Court of the United States decided in the seminal case of Brown vs Board of Education that black children could no longer be treated as second class citizens and could, therefore, take publicly-funded school buses alongside their white schoolmates. When I was midway through my study of law 22 years later, in 1976, our Parliament passed a law which made all children in Jamaica equal before the law. This law removed from our vocabulary the stigmatised word known as a “bastard child”.

It was the Status of Children Act, which provided (at Section 3) that: “...[T]he relationship between every person and his father and mother shall be determined irrespective of whether that father and mother are or have been married to each other, and all other relationships shall be determined accordingly.”

Legalised segregation in the US and institutional discrimination against the majority of Jamaican children born out of wedlock are legacies of our past when we were the property of white planters. When the courts in the US and our Parliament addressed these two burning issues it was considered quite revolutionary. These achievements were met with great opposition at the time. Police officers had to accompany black children to desegregated schools to protect them from the wrath of white supremacists supporters of segregation. In Jamaica, the Government of the day was accused of encouraging adults to have children out of wedlock. This criticism stood in the face of the harsh reality that, prior to 1976, the children of an unwed man — the majority of the child population — could not inherit his property where he left no will.

The fact is that the journey to attain justice for all, and to remove the ills of the past, has always been a tough one. Today we are witnessing a worldwide tsunami of a people's movement, ignited by the post-George Floyd US civil disobedience. The call of the protesters may be summed up as a time for honesty; a time for action.

In a welcome way, history is now being revisited and interpreted honestly. The people at the bottom have always been prepared to take action; letting the statues of colonisers, plunderers, enslavers, and racists fall where they may. They have given life to the rule of law that no one living or dead should be allowed to escape the consequences of their deeds.

Statutes should be erected to celebrate those who are role models and inspire us to do good. So, by way of an example, the national pride the Spanish have courted for centuries regarding the explorer Christopher Columbus cannot survive the genocide that followed his false and contrived claim of discovery of an inhabited region.

Morality must no longer be dictated by nationalistic sentiments, but rather by acceptable international principles. The true consequences of Columbus's voyages — the genocide of indigenous people and the opening of trading in enslaved Africans by Spain and other European countries — has transformed Columbus from hero to pirate.

Our own reggae singer Culture, with no formal education at the tertiary level, educated himself and correctly summed up Columbus's claim decades ago:

“Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar

Yes, Jah

He's saying that he is the first one

Who discover Jamaica

I and I say that

What about the Arawak Indians and the few clack man

Who were around here, before him

The Indians couldn't hang on no longer...”

We have to honestly revisit our past with the truism that our silence is no longer an option. The words of radicals, including Malcolm X, and the lyrics of the hip hop generation, are no longer being seen as offensive, but, on the contrary, prophetic and accurate descriptions of a lingering evil past and, hence, the present. Jamaica cannot escape the rewriting of our history because looking back over the past 400 years tells us that the British Empire must be chastised and not celebrated.

The British have not accounted for and reconciled with the past. As Mutabaruka correctly observed recently, the Germans bombed Britain, and today a German national can enter British territory without a visa. We, who fought on her side in the last century against Adolf Hitler, and built her empire centuries before with free forced labour, require a paid-for interview before a visa is refused or granted. This tells us that, in our unjust world, the sad lesson is that race supersedes worth.

So, a “used then refused” people must take their own destiny in hand. With all the British has handed out to us in the past, and continue to take from us in the present, it has been destructive to our self-respect to maintain a constitutional arrangement where The Queen of England is at the pinnacle of the three arms of our government. It is Her Parliament, Her Privy Council, and Her Executive. Section 61 of the Jamaican Constitution dictates that no law in Jamaica can be signed by her agent, the governor general, and be enforced unless it says, “Be it enacted by The Queen's Most Excellent Majesty…” This monarchical knee on the necks of our people is born out of the historical fact that our constitution was an order made by The Queen at Her Court, held at Buckingham Palace, on the advice of the Queen of England's Privy Council on July 23, 1962.

Our task must be to release this albatross from our necks so we may breathe by experiencing, at last, true freedom, dignity, and self-respect. The work is incomplete as long as we have outsourced our governance and, hence, our destiny. As an independent nation, we are guided in our actions and honesty by the lives and teachings of our true heroes, like Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle, and Marcus Garvey.

Bert Samuels is an attorney-at-law. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or bert. samuels@gmail.com .


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