Racism: Alive and well in Jamaica

Racism: Alive and well in Jamaica

Louis E A

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

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We have witnessed changes in countries like South Africa and Jamaica, and in both cases the local white minority and their metropolitan backers refused to accept defeat. Zimbabwe is probably a clear history of whites refusing to yield to the black majority from the days of Ian Smith to Robert Mugabe. In South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation process was just a mask for the perpetuation of white domination.

The 1962 Independence Constitution of Jamaica is another case in point — the white minority planter and commercial class ensured to assert their dominance and, with the backing of Britain, a constitution emerged with themes and laws that were etched from racist fears of black majority. After Independence, Jamaica joined the Commonwealth, formerly the British Commonwealth, headed by the Queen of England, who is also the head of State of her formerly slave territory.

There has been the talk, especially from the 1930s, that the problem was class, but that is wrong: racism was most rampant and the groups all over Jamaica we very clear in their protest against the racist planter/commercial society. Today, we hear there is no racism in Jamaica-not only nonsense but a misguided thought. There is this tendency in Jamaica among some black people who never experienced racism in this country to declare with beaming pride that there is no racism in Jamaica, only classism. Racism exists on several platforms. It is also grounded in the colonial philosophy of education. During the late 19th and early 20th century educated black men were seen as threat to Jamaica where they could not find employment, many had to migrate to secure employment. Equally, the Jamaican society has not been kind to black radical thinkers up to this day.

Racism and institutional racism

Racism is born out of the belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another. It breeds prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism that is unleashed against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, not just in minority setting like the black people in America, but also societies with black majority such as in post-colonised and post-enslaved territories such as Jamaica.

It is grounded in the idea that people's character, traits, and behaviour are influenced by their race and that black people are not as good as the members of the white race. Against this background, white people justified their conquest and domination of the black races and the capturing of their land and resources. This definition of humanity was used to give the explanation why Africans were conquered and used as slaves.

Institutional racism is the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes, and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotyping people under colonial conquest. Institutional racism is distinguished from the explicit attitudes or racial bias of individuals by the existence of systematic policies or laws and practices that provide differential access to goods, services, and opportunities of society by race. With institutional discrimination, on the other hand, the discriminatory behaviour is embedded in important social institutions.

Racism and Jamaica

The colonial situation in Jamaica is infused with the deceptive uses of symbols to create and legitimise myths degrading indigenous peoples, and also other forms of symbols to foster and maintain myths which celebrated Euro-American peoples as being superior. Many Jamaicans accept European values, especially the British version, and it is hardly surprising that “a predominantly Negro community should suffer from a measure of national neurosis”.

The education system, still led by colonial philosophy, produces, by and large, “Afro-Saxons”. The masses speak Jamaican Creole; the elite speak Standard English. Large numbers of “the elite class reject anything connected with Africa and the Negro race, which does not help them to feel any affinity towards majority of their fellow country men”.

Leading up to and developing the independent Jamaica missed the opportunity to promote a healthy type of national spirit — a real patriotism based on genuine love of country, a pride in local institutions, and the growth of a capacity in all Jamaicans to look on their fellow Jamaicans with a sense of identification. There is a view that there are few better places to record national ideals and aspirations than a constitution; and that “morality and values are not created by laws, but values, aspirations, and national ideals can be recognised and encouraged, especially in the preamble of the constitution “giving impetus to a national unifying dynamic which is so badly needed in the island”. The Independence Constitution is a conservative document. It contains regrettable, unnecessary, and reactionary elements of colonial features grounded in racism.

Out of Many One People: Rejection of black majority

The monarchical form of government was a controversial feature of the constitution and the most notable feature indicating a “colonial hangover” is the provision for a nominated second chamber selected on the principle of nomination, symbolises colonialism and provides an unequivocal revelation of colonial-type distrust of the electorate (black masses) which restricts the essential location of power to the so-called Lower House.

The race and colour problem in Jamaica are denied and rejected in the motto chosen: “Out of Many One People”. There are issues with the national anthem and national pledge as Christian prayers and other national symbols such as flowers, plants, among others, but nothing associated with a history of black people's enslavement and consistent struggles for liberation and justice. The problem of denial and rejection of the race issue is clear and evident in the design of the national flag. As it relates to the colour black, it appears in the flag to be symbolic, not of the ideals of the people to the people. “The leaders considered black not to be symbolic to race or skin pigmentation of the vast majority of the population, but hardship we must face and overcome.”

Both the People's National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) deliberately ignored the racial question in the early years of party politics formation. The bipartisan support for the national motto, Out of Many One People, reflects a deliberate and distinctive search for a racially neutral formula or unifying symbol that does not unduly excite racial conflict. This mask has not covered racism in Jamaica.

The ideology of multiracialism should, therefore, be seen as an attempt to neutralise the hostility of the black masses towards a situation in which whites and other racial minorities dominate and control the local economy. It is noticeable that the elites rejected black political and trade union leaders. This is the only reason Alexander Bustamante was invited to join the crowd and union movement.

Racism will not go away because of wishful thinking; this is one would that time will not heal, even for a thousand years. Outside of the works of Dr T E S Scholes, Dr Robert Love, Marcus Garvey, Una Marson, and Leonard P Howell, there are no institutions or political movement that set out to debrief the black Jamaicans of the slavery mentality. From where I am standing, racism has not gone anywhere, it is alive and well in Jamaica.

Louis E A Moyston, PhD, is a university lecturer. Send comments to the Observer or thearchives01@yahoo.com.

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