What is joke to you is death to me


Friday, February 22, 2019

Print this page Email A Friend!

HOW many of us Jamaicans have been hearing the phrase “black face”? The term refers to the practice of individuals darkening their skin and exaggerating the lips and eyes to mock the features common to the descendants of Africa. It stems from a time when darker-skinned persons had to battle even harder to be allowed to take their full place in society.

So, what's the big deal? It's just a joke. But, as old-timers would say: What is joke to you is death to me.

Black face is a painful reminder of how black people have had to fight to be seen as humans, and not monkeys, or some kind of caricature. The world has changed in many ways, but the violence and dishonour shown to people of colour is still rearing its head in this new age.

Recently, there have been uproar over prominent white politicians in the US state of Virginia, who were found to have put on black face in their past. Arguments have been raised over whether they should resign or take the scandal as an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and try to right the wrongs.

Another black face controversy is how some demeaning racial behaviour has been turning up in the international fashion industry. There have been many cases of culturally insensitive choices being made by fashion designers and brands. Two incidents in the past few months involve items of clothing being believed to show strong resemblance to black face. The incidents stirred up much anger.

A famous brand produced a black turtle-neck sweater that featured a bright red lined cut-out in the mouth area. The other was a shoe created by a noted American singer which featured enlarged eyes and bright red lips. Loud calls for the items to be removed from sale went up, and the offending companies issued apologies for their insensitive style choices.

Some have asked: How does this happen in today's world of supposed enlightenment?

It happens when the decision-makers in these companies are predominantly from one part of the society.

A question of the day: Why isn't there more diversity in these businesses?

The black face phenomenon hasn't really been seen in our neck of the woods, although there was a bizarre case of a black Jamaican actress who thought it would make a good joke. Thankfully, that has gone away, but we Jamaicans have to face our own issues. It is far too common to hear people cursing each other, using our black features as insults: “You black and ugly… You nose too broad and yuh lip big… Nutten black can good.” These sentiments have followed us from the field into the schoolyard and on to social media. It is no wonder that some people feel they will get further in life if they can “brighten up” their skin tone and purchase lengths of “silky weaves”.

A friend of mine often jokes about how many Taino/Arawak women are in Jamaica, as they pass him by with straight hair flowing down their backs. Some say, to each his own; if you can buy it you can wear it as you like.

Let's at least put the curses aside. Time to bury the cutting remarks about what is wrong with our African features and, instead, uphold the beauty of our people.

While we're on the topic, we Jamaicans could also learn a little compassion. Culturally, we've had a tendency to refer to others who are different from us in less than positive ways. There are many productive, upstanding members of our society who are dealing with disabilities and different abilities. Show them the respect they deserve. We are quick to take offence, but very often we do not look at our own behaviour, which can be hurtful to others.

Eyebrows were raised when US Senator Kamala Harris, an American politician running for the Democratic presidential nomination, was asked about marijuana. In an interview, Harris joked that she was familiar with the weed because half her family are Jamaicans. Her Jamaican father made it known that he did not wish to be associated with the stereotype of a ganja aficionado.

Social media has been abuzz with some Jamaicans passing off Harris's remark as just a “likkle joke”, while others pointed out how weary they were of the assumption that they were “collie-weed colleagues”. Things and times are tough, and it can be hard to see the humour in some situations. But some jokes just aren't funny.

For heaven's sake, let us find the route to civil contact. Why not respect self and others as we move on to a better tomorrow?

Barbara Gloudon is a journalist, playwright and commentator. Send comments to the Observer or

Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at




1. We welcome reader comments on the top stories of the day. Some comments may be republished on the website or in the newspaper � email addresses will not be published.

2. Please understand that comments are moderated and it is not always possible to publish all that have been submitted. We will, however, try to publish comments that are representative of all received.

3. We ask that comments are civil and free of libellous or hateful material. Also please stick to the topic under discussion.

4. Please do not write in block capitals since this makes your comment hard to read.

5. Please don't use the comments to advertise. However, our advertising department can be more than accommodating if emailed:

6. If readers wish to report offensive comments, suggest a correction or share a story then please email:

7. Lastly, read our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy

comments powered by Disqus



Today's Cartoon

Click image to view full size editorial cartoon