Race: Still a flashpoint in Jamaican politics
The Jamaican coat of arms

Jamaica's national motto "out of many, one people" was posited by our founding fathers to mean that although the island comprises Jamaicans of different races, they are one.

Over the years there has been much debate as to the veracity of the motto as there has been much empirical as well as anecdotal evidence to suggest otherwise. Indeed, it is fair to say that the majority of Jamaicans who are of African ancestry do not fully subscribe to the symbolism behind the motto because of their oftentimes parlous circumstance and the fact that light-skinned blacks and white people are seen and treated as more privileged.

Interestingly, the two Arawak Indians on the coat of arms in no way reflect the national motto and is more of an anachronism — a perplexing depiction that should be addressed during this period when the nation is moving towards becoming a republic. Surely the time has come, if we have any self-respect left, to change the coat of arms to better represent the national motto, if nothing else.

Politically, the People's National Party (PNP) has always prided itself on being the "black man party" while branding the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) as the "brown man party", notwithstanding the fact that Michael Manley, for all intents and purposes, was a brown man — his mother Edna being a white woman. The PNP hugged up the black power stance so much that it pilloried and vilified JLP Leader Edward Seaga, who, though of Middle-Eastern origin, was seen as white, and having been born in Boston, USA, led to that perennial PNP anthem My leader born ya, which, to this day, is played at political rallies despite its irrelevance at this time in our political journey.

Mark Golding (Photo: Karl Mclarty)

When P J Patterson succeeded Michael Manley as party president and prime minister he was dubbed The Fresh Prince to counter what was perceived to be an upper St Andrew pushback, which suggested that the Jamaican upper middle class was not too happy with a man of his pigmentation leading the country. Indeed, in certain JLP quarters he was being referred to as "this little black boy".

Fast-forward to Tuesday, March 21, 2023 when Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke, the JLP's "black poster boy" referred to Opposition Leader Mark Golding as "Massa Mark", creating a cataclysmic about-face in the political propaganda arsenal, whereby the PNP's leader was being depicted, in my opinion, as a white slave master. As many black Jamaicans would say, "What a preckeh!"

Clarke's remarks has followed a similar one made by St Catherine South Western Member of Parliament Everald Warmington, who, while speaking at a JLP rally, pointed to Golding's skin colour and suggested he should seek to become the leader of a European country as he would never be able to win an election against Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

With the recent Don Anderson and Bluedot polls indicating that the JLP and its leader Andrew Holness are losing substantial ground in popularity ratings, the country's political climate has become very heated. So what unfurled in Gordon House that day was both parties displaying their fangs like wolves about to fight over the spoils of the hunt. What was most amazing to this writer is that Clarke seemed ignorant about the slave trade and the deleterious effects it has had on Jamaicans of African descent because, if he was fully aware of these sensitivities, he would have perhaps hesitated to use the word "massa". What is even more disturbing is that many of his JLP supporters have totally or deliberately missed this point and have preferred to compare his derogatory remarks to Golding's disrespectful reference to them as "d**n fools". In the final analysis, which is more egregious?

Nigel Clarke (Photo: Karl Mclarty)

According to renowned author, academician, and scholar Professor Orlando Patterson, 5,731,302 is the approximate number of slaves who were killed in Jamaica over a period of 183 years. This was not only by what he called social death but ethnocide of the slave population in what he describes as physical mass genocide, extermination inflicted by the white planters, otherwise called backra massa, on the Jamaican slave population. There was also mass rape of the women by the planter class, so much so that within three months of landing in Jamaica the deracinated women were subjected to venereal diseases of some kind, passed on by these white men. Accordingly, this is considered to be the most vicious crime to have been perpetrated on the Jamaican people, of which more than 90 per cent identify as black descendants of enslaved Africans.

It is against this backdrop that Golding, who is a Jamaican and from all indications has not displayed any of these scurrilous tendencies of his antecedents, has been described as "Massa Mark".

All well-thinking Jamaicans should remove narrow partisan considerations from this discussion and unhesitatingly chide the finance minister for such an unfortunate utterance. At the same time it must be admitted that Golding calling Labourites "d**n fools" was ill-advised, and Member of Parliament Angela Brown Burke may have acted intemperately by telling another colleague to shut up while she was on her feet on a point of order. But when all is said done, we should not be comparing apples with oranges.

The bottom line is that both JLP Leader Andrew Holness and PNP President Mark Golding, as part of their consultations during the highly touted Vale Royal talks, should revisit some rules of engagement with respect to what is said and done both in Parliament and on the hustings that may inflame supporters and send a wrong signal to the populace, especially the young and uncommitted voters. There needs to be a level of decency, tolerance, and respect in relation to how politicians deal with their opponents.

God forbid what happened in Parliament is allowed to escalate. We would not want to go back to the days of political violence and mayhem which were sufficiently defused by consensus and common sense. We must not be out of many too many disparate forces hell-bent on throwing out the baby with the bathwater. After all, this is Jamaica, land we love.

Lloyd B Smith has been involved full-time in Jamaican media for the past 47 years. He has also served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or lbsmith4@gmail.com.

Lloyd B Smith

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