A schizophrenic state of existence
Why Jamaica becoming a republic for its 60th anniversary should be seriously considered
Why Jamaica becoming a republic for its 60th anniversary should be seriously considered

There has been much discussion of late regarding the prospect of Jamaica becoming a republic since the 55th Independence anniversary of Barbados, which took place on the evening of November 29 going into the morning of November 30 in the capitol Bridgetown.

Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados, had announced months earlier that Barbados was going to take steps towards becoming a republic and the nation has done just this in a resolute manner. The symbolism of Barbados doing this has certainly not been lost on myself, and I'm sure that it has not been lost on a lot of folks both here in Jamaica and in other parts of the Caribbean.

I'm also sure that the irony of Barbados, that has long been nicknamed “Little England” for its reputation of being perhaps the most English of all of the West Indian islands culturally, being so forthright in shaking off the symbolic vestiges of colonialism has not been lost on a lot of folks.

Paradoxically, Jamaica,, the land of Marcus Garvey and Rastafari, and many other champions of black emancipation, both physical and mental, that was once viewed as the pan-African epicentre of the Caribbean, arguably can no longer hold claim to that title. Barbados, notably, has for many years had a pan-African Commission as part of its governmental infrastructure and could now probably lay claim to that unofficial title.

I am one of those who solidly agrees with the column written by Raulston Nembhard, and published in the Jamaica Observer of Wednesday, December 15, 2021, in that removing The Queen as the head of State of Jamaica amounts to much more than just empty symbolism. It would at the very least amount to a concrete indication that, as a nation, Jamaica is ready to shake off the remaining shackles and vestiges of colonialism, and that Jamaica is now mature and confident enough to cut the umbilical cord that keeps us tied to our former colonial master.

We cannot, in truth, consider ourselves an independent nation while The Queen remains as our head of State and the highest court in the land is the British Privy Council. The symbolism that abounds in the Jamaican Parliament, such as the Mace and the gavel, and very notably that of a white wig being worn in the there by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and very publicly so in recent times by Pearnel Charles Sr, is extremely symbolic; not of independence, but of the remaining vestiges of colonialism. In an Observer article of April 23 2016, entitled 'Pearnel Sticking to his wig', Charles Sr, in defence of wearing a white wig, is quoted as saying: “We are still operating under The Queen. If we want to put away the prayer, etc, then let's go independent of The Queen and wear shorts to Parliament if we want. But as long as we are under the British Monarchy we should follow the rules. I have no feeling that if I take off the wig and gown I will be less neo-colonial.

“People say we are independent, but independent of what? The Queen is Jamaica's head of State, so we are no different from what happens in London. So as long as The Queen is head of Jamaica's Parliament, we are her subjects.”

This statement further drives my point home, if even in a roundabout way. As Charles Sr alludes, we are not truly independent, and as long as The Queen is our head of State we are in affect her subjects — albeit without the trappings of citizenship.

So, on one hand, we have developed our own uniquely Jamaican symbols, such as our coat of arms, our national flag, our own national anthem, etc. But, on the other hand, we are still influenced and impacted by the symbols of our former colonial master. This essentially means we are presently in a somewhat schizophrenic state of existence. And this I would emphasise is ultimately not healthy for the psyche of ourselves or our nation. It is also not healthy for our sense of pride and dignity.

The reality is that the Independence project of 1962 that was championed by both Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante is incomplete. Even the constitution that we adopted was never sanctioned or ratified by a sovereign Jamaican Parliament. Former Prime Minister P J Patterson, in a phone interview with the Observer that was published in December 5, 2021, stated: “The constitution of independent Jamaica is not the creative work of our own Parliament as a sovereign nation. Our constitution exists by virtue of an anachronistic order in council, signed by a Mr W G Agnew as an order by The Queen.”

Taking all of this in account I would argue that it is imperative that strides be made by both political parties towards Jamaica becoming a republic in short order, because all said and done we presently exist in a state of quasi-independence and not true independence.

As we move towards further building ourselves as a nation, the necessary de-colonisation process is not something that should be taken lightly or considered as empty symbolism. We need to remove all the vestiges of colonialism that still linger in our institutions as well as in our minds. A people can never be fully actualised or empowered unless they move to a state of sovereignty, which in truth we have yet to fully achieve. Removing The Queen is a necessary part of the process.

On top of that, with the 60th anniversary of our Independence upcoming on August 6, 2022, the Diamond Jubilee, it is definitely a milestone. We should have something symbolic as well as tangible to show and demonstrate our steady progression to maturity as a nation come that day.

The last thing that I will say in relation to the debate of Jamaica becoming a republic I shall do so by wearing the hat of a social scientist. The power of symbols in any society cannot and should not be under-estimated by any means. From a socio-psychological perspective it is through symbols that we, as humans, communicate meaning and concepts and ideas to each other. Symbols, in fact, can exert a commanding influence on people's lives, both at an individual level (psychologically) and at the level of the wider society (sociologically). Used effectively symbols can exert immense influence on the wider society, let alone the individual.

Without powerful symbols such as the national flag and the Jamaican Coat of Arms it would be harder to build a common national identity, a national collective consciousness of sort, and thus establish some kind of glue to keep the society together. The only way to do this, I am contending here, is through the use of symbols.

Alternatively, symbols can be used to indicate differences, and in contrasting one group from another. For example, in the Jamaican case, where the colour green is associated with being loyal to or a member of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), and the colour orange is associated with being loyal to or associated with the People's National Party (PNP), it is the symbolisation represented by the colours alone which communicates significant identity orientation such as political party affiliation. In other countries it is unlikely that wearing these colours would have as great a significance as they would in Jamaica.

It is through the colonial symbols that remain in Jamaica, such as the names of streets, the statues that remain, and so on, that the distinct colonial presence and essence of England — and, to a much lesser extent, Spain — remains. Ultimately symbolism is not empty, it is a shaper of human behaviour.

Dr Michael Barnett is a senior lecturer in sociological theory and critical race theory at The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus. Send comments to the Observer or barnett37@hotmail.com.

Michael Barnett
Michael Barnett

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