Give us the teachings of Marcus Garvey

Give us the teachings of Marcus Garvey

The challenge of de-colonising our minds and our nation

Michael
Barnett

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

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For many of us, a world in which the epitome of perfection and purity is represented by whiteness and, contrastingly, blackness symbolises evil, hardship and negativity have become our present normal. How else can we account for the recent discovery that one of the insignias previously worn by our current governor general, Sir Patrick Allen, The Order of St Michael and St George, depicts a white, angelic personality trampling a black man — his foot menacingly on the black man's neck a la the George Floyd scenario — who is supposed to represent the devil?

How else do we account for the preponderance of images of Jesus Christ depicted as a European all over the world when, as one of our gallant, cricketing all-time heroes, Michael Holding, in a recent TV interview with Sky Sports in England, pointed out that there is no way that Jesus could have been born in the part of the world that we commonly refer to as the Middle East and look European?

Marcus Garvey, Jamaica's first national hero, himself a Christian, professed that black people should see God in their own image, as do other races, as part of the process of freeing their minds from the shackles of mental slavery. In Garvey's own words: “If the white man has the idea of a white God, let him worship his God as he desires. If the yellow man's God is of his race, let him worship his God as he sees fit. We, as Negroes, have found a new ideal. Whilst our God has no colour, yet it is human to see everything through one's own spectacles and, since the white people have seen their God through white spectacles, we have only started out — late though it may be — to see our God through our own spectacles. The God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, let Him exist for the race that believes in the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. We Negroes believe in the God of Ethiopia, the everlasting God — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, the One God of all ages. That is the God in whom we believe, but we shall worship Him through the spectacles of Ethiopia.” — The Philosophies and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, Volume I, page 44, complied by Amy Jacques Garvey, Centennial Edition, published in 1987 by The Majority Press.

That is why the early Jamaican Rastafari leaders such as Leonard Howell, Joseph Hibbert, and Archibald Dunkley — taking these words literally — saw in the crowning of Haile Selassie I on November 2, 1930, an image of a black God and Christ that was more appealing to their palate, and was able to replace the image that had been force-fed to them and Jamaicans for centuries.

The colour black still connotes negativity and evil. If somebody is blacklisted, black-balled, blackmailed, or is said to have a black heart — as in the case of the black-heart man, which is what the Rastaman used to be called in Jamaica — the connotation is negative. Even when our national flag was being formulated at the time of (so-called) Independence in 1962, the black in the flag was supposed to symbolise hardship, as opposed to the colour of the majority of the population of Jamaica.

Another famous quote from Marcus Garvey was: “Do not remove the kinks from your hair – remove them from your brain.” What he meant by this was that, instead of the preoccupation with the kinky texture of their hair, with much time and money spent on straightening it, black/African people needed to focus on getting their minds straightened out and freeing themselves from the shackles of mental slavery, which is still one of the lingering legacies of slavery and colonialism.

Yet another famous quote from Marcus Garvey was: “The black skin is not a badge of shame, but rather a glorious symbol of national greatness.” In this regard, he was speaking to the terrible scourge of skin bleaching, which was not just a scourge then, but unfortunately is still a scourge now, some 100 years later. The Ministry of Health can campaign all it likes about the health hazards of skin bleaching in Jamaica, but unless we get our minds sorted out it will, alas, always be with us.

So what is the remedy or the solution? Well, we would do well, I think, by introducing the teachings of our first national hero, Marcus Garvey, into the curriculums of our schools in a meaningful way, at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. Also, we should think about revising the educational curriculum in general, such that it suits the needs of a largely non-European demographic. If all we learn about are England's accomplishments, and most of the subjects studied have a Eurocentric leaning, especially in regard to philosophy, history, and the social sciences, how are black people able to foster a true sense of 'self-pride' and pride in their ancestors? How do we have any hope of de-colonising our nation if we don't address our educational curriculum? And I am now wearing the hat of an educator myself.

Until we are able to collectively reconstruct the narrative, reset the mindset and de-colonise our minds here in Jamaica, we will not be a truly independent, free-thinking nation. We must be brave enough to challenge and confront all of the symbols of our colonial past, including statues, monuments, and insignias, and embrace ourselves on our own terms.

Contrary to what some Christian scholars may argue, black people were not placed in this world to be the hew'ers of wood and the draw'ers of water, and to be relegated to servitude, until we get to the pearly gates of Heaven, but to pursue a life of liberty, love, and justice; and fulfil all our God-given potential — and not just in the arenas of sports or music, either.

Erratum

Ethan Lowe, a medical doctor, spoke to the issue of race in his commentary in the Jamaica Observer of Thursday, July 9 and I responded in my commentary that was published on Monday, July 13. However, I must take full responsibility for a foolish typo that I made that has caused a degree of confusion among some readers.

In discussing race as a 'social construct', I wanted to highlight that even though race has now been proven to be a scientifically invalid concept, it is still a social construct that is, in and of itself, very influential on individuals and the wider society.

In this regard,what I meant to have said in my earlier commentary was that a social construct does not have to be scientifically valid to have power over an individual. Once you internalise it, and come to believe it, it can have more power and influence over you than any of the hard sciences.

An interesting analogy is that of Jainists, who practice the not-so-well-known religion of Jainism in India. To this day they believe that the world is flat, regardless of what scientists say. And you can't tell them any differently. This, then, has become their actual social reality, which is independent of hard sciences.

In short, social constructs can be more powerful and impactful on one's lived experience (life) than scientific reality. Thus, we should never underestimate the power of social constructs. As human beings, we have the power to shape our own social reality, and it does not have to depend on hard science; that is, biology, chemistry or physics.

Michael Barnett is a sociology lecturer in critical race theory at The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, and a board member of the National Council on Reparation. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or barnett37@hotmail.com.


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