THE colony of Jamaica gained Independence from the United Kingdom on August 6, 1962, and it was earlier that same year that our people exercised their democratic rights in our first general election held on April 10, 1962. The result was a victory for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which won 26 of the 45 seats. Voter turnout was 72.9 per cent, an astounding reflection of the hope and belief that the citizens shared at the time for a better future as Jamaicans.
Since 1962 we have been independently charting our own course as a nation. We have had time, resources, and the political freedom to enact changes that could have made Jamaica a republic and progressively erase the fine, intricately woven webs of the monarchy which were stitched into pretty much all the systems upon which we operate as a nation.
These include Parliament, the judiciary, education, official titles, and the naming of streets and government buildings. The list is long and the tentacles of the monarchy are more extensive than most realise. Additionally, as long as this list is, so too have been the years since we've been operating without an external State dictating or controlling the process or the outcome of our electoral system.
This year's celebration will mark 60 years since Jamaica has gained Independence. These 60 years have produced nine prime ministers and extensive tenures from both the JLP and the People's National Party (PNP). It is fair to say we have made strides, but much time has been wasted and insults from Jamaica's political royalty persists.
Throughout these six decades, the United Kingdom Government and the royal family did not actively prevent any changes geared towards the removal of The Queen as the head of State, neither did they directly meddle in our affairs as a nation. So the question as to why this critical step to self-actualisation as a nation is yet to be taken must be placed at the feet of all our political leaders, past and present.
It is full time we accept that we have more to do with our success and failure, individually and as a nation, than anyone or circumstances in the past, present, or future.
We attribute our success in music, sports, business, and tourism to our tenacity as a people, which is often expressed in the aphorism, “Wi likke, but wi tallawah.” Nevertheless, we've continued to blame our colonisers for our failures rather than accepting that we've not held our leaders accountable, and through political tribalism and partisan politics have continued to fuel the insults from Jamaica's political royalty.
How should we interpret and relate to the past? The answer is clear: We should never forget our history and what our ancestors endured, but we cannot keep holding on to past colonial grievances unforgivingly as this continues to hurt us psychologically as a nation. It permeates the erroneous ideologies of reparation entitlements and the continued existence of a colonial progress-halting force that prevents our success. At the same time we've inaccurately interpreted the historical facts of slavery by localising what was a universal practice to fit our fallacious views.
Slavery was a universal human sin that predates the invention of water vessels and intercontinental travel. As far back as the earliest ancient civilisation of Egypt, slavery was being practised, and it was not a racial system. In fact, the early Egyptians were of dusky appearance and the statues of the early pharaohs along with historical confirmation from Greek writers of antiquity, such as Herodutus, leads to the conclusion that the early Egyptian civilisation was a black nation.
This highly civilised nation of black leaders, who created what is today recognised as one of the seven wonders of the world, enslaved other blacks as well as other nations. Slavery was being practised long before Columbus discovered the isles of the Caribbean in just about every human settlement, and in most ethnicities slavery was practised at some point in their history.
Let me hasten to say this horrific practice was wrong and has left untold woes on the entire human race, but the point I'm labouring to make is that more than half of the world's population today, because of this universal practice, could also stake their claim to some form of reparation.
Slavery was not limited to the Caribbean islands as millions of people across the world today, spanning various ethnicities, could also blame their national struggles on a history of enslavememt.
Additionally, reparation is built on the premise that all blame rests with the colonisers. But it is important to highlight the role that other blacks played in the transatlantic slave trade that saw millions taken from Africa to work on the sugar plantations in the Caribbean. Africans played a direct role in the slave trade, kidnapping adults and stealing children for the purpose of selling them, through intermediaries, to Europeans or their agents.
This was a lucrative system for both Africans and Europeans and as such it was not a zero-sum transaction as our heated reparationists, usually unknowingly, assert by solely placing the blame of enslavement on the shoulders of Europeans. Historians accurately record that European traders exchanged metals, cloth, beads, guns, and ammunition in return for captive Africans. Those sold into slavery were usually from a different group than those who captured them, whether enemies or even just neighbours.
Therefore, as appealing as the cries for reparation may sound, an accurate understanding of history makes the claim nigh impossible to be effected with any form of practical equity on the part of those obligated to pay and those who are supposed to recieve payments.
If many blacks benefited from the slave trade, how do we quantify that benefit in numeric terms and subtract that amount from the overall reparation that's due? And how would we even calculate the overall figure that's due? Even more head-scratching is the fact that, if reparation is paid to one group, then it would have to be paid to more than half of the world's population.
It was many decades later that the concept of white supremacy eventually morphed into the practice of slavery as a means of justifying and legalising the practice, since the American Constitution posits that all men are created equal; therefore, for slavery to be legal, the inverse must be articulated that not all men are created equal and a colour distinction was made in favour of white supremacy. It's therefore clear that reparation isn't as practical as it is made to seem by advocates, and the question of who qualifies, that is, whose genealogy can scientifically be verifiably traced to actual slaves alone, is enough to force the erudite history student to recognise the impractical flaws of an idea that's best described as an utopian illusion.
There have also been calls for an apology — whether this is enough to atone for past grievances is a whole different story. But, more importantly, is the question of how an apology will change the plight of the average Jamaican.
It is true that apologies are a necessary component in human relationships, it's an acceptance of one's errors. An apology can sometimes trigger the process of reconciliation or serve as a means of closure, but it will not improve the everyday lives of the Jamaican people. And this is not to say an apology isn't necessary; it is the right thing to do. However, my main point here is that our primary focus should not be on waiting for the coloniser to give us an apology, which is akin to waiting on something from another which may never be forthcoming, but, instead, we should be focused on ourselves.
Our aim should be one of self-determination, not dependency. Will we wait another six decades, with folded hands, on an apology and reparation to better ourselves and country?
The vitriol meted out to The Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge has been launched at the wrong people. This should be aimed at the princes and princesses who hijacked our political system for six decades. How can we, in good conscience, blame William and Catherine, who weren't even born at the time these atrocities were committed, just like many of us today aren't responsible for the consistent failures of our political leaders and electorate.
We have been in self-destruct mode since Independence. Political corruption has eaten away the life of the nation.
A brief perusal of Jamaica's history will reveal scores of cases of financial misappropriation amongst high-profile political leaders across both parties — crimes for which no one has paid, except the taxpayers.
Crime and violence and organised gangs can be traced back to political shenanigans in the 1960s. These original seeds sown haven't disappeared but have matured into independent fractions of multiple gangs that are armed with weapons, money, and a fleet of willing criminals who murder callously.
Cronyism and nepotism reign supreme in our Government and has spread to government-run institutions and in our court system.
We denounce the Privy Council as our last appellate jurisdiction, but most Jamaicans believe the system is plagued with so much corruption that they've lost all confidence in our ability as a nation to grant justice fairly to all men, especially the average man without clout and power. How can we blame them for this belief after all the incompetence and insults we've witness for six decades from our politicians?
Additionally, the dancehall subculture has also contributed to the destruction of one of our best resources, the youth, through the proliferation of music filled with violence, sexual degradation, drugs and narcotics, and the glorification of illegal activities, such as scamming.
The massive rise of single-parent households is another factor worthy of introspection, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
These factors and many more have led to our self-destruction for 60 years, and unless we begin to accept responsibility for our failures and address these issues through our talent, ingenuity, and resilience as a people, another six decades of waiting on reparation and apologies, which aren't forthcoming from the progenitors of The Queen, beckon on the horizon.
St Aubyn Morgan is a Jamaican student who studies theology, history, and economics. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.