Peter Bunting's view from the pantry of the great house

Everton Pryce

Sunday, March 11, 2018

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Peter Bunting, the current Manchester Central Member of Parliament for the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) and successful investment banker tycoon, who has spokesperson responsibility for industry and commerce in the shadow Cabinet, has a promising future in Jamaican politics. But such promise as there exists is constantly under threat of self-liquidation and un-fulfilment by his penchant for delivering controversial and divisive views that are out of sync with contemporary Jamaican realities. By all accounts, these views serve to depress his likeability quotient among members of the electorate across all socio-economic groups on whose shoulders — if not index fingers — his political future nationally depends.

His latest foray into unnecessary controversy and divisiveness — readers will recall that in 2015, in his capacity as minister of national security, he made the eye-popping claim that there is no direct correlation between poverty and crime — involves unflattering remarks he made in his Facebook video series called Probe about the nationalist-patriotic credentials of Rhodes scholar and former Senator Dr Nigel Clarke, the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) newly minted Member of Parliament for St Andrew North Western, which are entirely undeserving of admiration.

In the final week of the campaign leading to the poll of March 5, 2018 in the recently concluded by-election in St Andrew North Western to succeed the affable Derrick Smith as Member of Parliament, who resigned the seat due to ill health after some 29 years of unbroken service to the people of the constituency, Bunting, a scion of the rural land gentry and prestigious scholarship recipient to both McGill University in Canada and the University of Florida in the USA, in an apparent attempt to influence voter intention, made heavy weather in cunningly light tone of what he perceived to be Dr Clarke's sidestepping, in the evolution of his career, of the experience of the cane piece, through the development of the kingdom of the mind, by the acquisition of a first-class British education and the cultivation of a refined sensibility.

But, despite this, Dr Clarke went on to convincingly defeat the PNP's Keisha Hayle, principal of Padmore Primary School in Red Hills, St Andrew, and philanthropist extraordinaire, in the election.

However, the subliminal message of Bunting's misguided and Janus- faced missile to the voters of St Andrew North Western, and those with the capacity to influence them, aimed at Dr Nigel Clarke, was patently clear, and has left a bitter taste in the mouth of many well-thinking Jamaicans.

Given our experience with decolonisation, nation-building and the development process, the message is: Those Jamaicans whom Dr Clarke is presumed to have 'left behind' in the experience of the cane piece come from a long tradition of toil and tremendous capacity for hard work and are, therefore, more deserving of praise and elevation than those exhibiting the characteristics of a Dr Nigel Clarke. I imagine he wishes to contrast Hayle.

In the context of the nature, texture, and meaning of power in Jamaican colonial and post-colonial society, Bunting perceives Dr Clarke as epitomising a 'roast breadfruit' — black on the outside but lily white on the inside. On this score, he questions Clarke's 'pedigree' to represent the constituents of St Andrew North Western in Parliament.

He's had a “great British education”, concedes Bunting, but in using this to mine success in his varied endeavours in the land of his birth, he must be viewed as “sort of mimicking the values and the affectations of the former colonial masters”.

“In a sense”, Bunting further asserts for good measure, “he reminds me of the black Englishman of colonial times who aspired to be sort of black royalty.”

And, to further devalue Dr Clarke's achievements, Bunting's so-called co-host in the video, Reverend Garnet Roper, said this: “I am not sure he has succeeded as much as his reputation has…”

In these few lines Bunting has all but erased from history the efforts of the past 55 years to bring us the social equity of which he is a clear beneficiary. Clearly, in our subterranean climes, many things to do with identity, race and politics remain unspoken. Could it be that this is because they are among what are most important? I am not sure.

What I am sure about, however, is that Bunting, in his zeal to paint Dr Clarke as a “house slave” for whom, admittedly, much of our education of the past in this region prepared too many to be as part of the upward social mobility syndrome, is wide of the mark. With a touch of generosity of spirit he could have brought himself to understand the deep social forces affecting the black majority in a tenacious plantation society like his homeland. For has it occurred to Bunting that what he describes as Dr Clarke's “affectations of the former colonial masters” in fact serve as forms of assertion of self and against something in the wider society that deprives blacks of cultural certitude, social justice in the production process to which blacks are prime contributors, and of the location, distribution and administration of the sort of power that universal adult suffrage was supposed but is yet to bring to the mass of the people?

Note how many choices have been made by blacks in this ex-slave society by route of scholarships to metropolitan universities for the fields of law, medicine and other independent professions from which they could operate without being labelled “house slaves”.

At 57, Bunting is old enough to know of the many native contributors to nation-building who have long crossed the River Jordan, who suffered greatly from the unwarranted label of being “house n*****s”. Patriots like James Alexander George (J A G) Smith, A Z Preston, Professor Gladstone Mills, G Arthur Brown, Professor Leslie Robinson, and Professor Rex Nettleford readily come to mind. Despite the criticisms levelled at them, they all shared in the forging of a truly plural society given to people of sufficient substance to make a difference in the development of humankind. How they spoke, dressed, and their aesthetic indulgences did not render them culturally incapacitated in any shape or form.

This is why we must tread wearily with such voices as Bunting's coming from the pantry of the great house. For, left up to him, Jamaican blacks – whom he represents in the Parliament — had better be satisfied with being athletes, entertainers, teachers, nurses, domestic servants, policemen and women, security guards, cashiers, trade unionists, etc, rather than attempt to break out of their cultural cocoon and attempt to be powerful masters in their own country with themselves being the real 'big bosses', like himself, in the power structure.

I sincerely hope that Bunting is not harbouring the stereotypical view, wittingly or unwittingly, that breakthroughs to economic power and management capability in present-day Jamaica are possible with all but the black majority from which Dr Nigel Clarke clearly springs.

For it is part of the paradox of racism in plantation societies that such a jaundiced view comes as easily from someone who hails from the cane piece, but to whom the efforts of 1938, 1962, and after have favoured to give real opportunities so that he becomes part-owner of the great house in which he is now residing, rather than a good and faithful valet or butler.

Bunting has stacked up some rather impressive victories in his time working in the political vineyard as a Member of Parliament and as general secretary of the PNP (2008 to 2014). An apology to Dr Clarke would burnish his scorecard even further. I hope he listens.

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