A people without knowledge of their history…Sunday, May 23, 2021
THE importance of producing our own history cannot be overstressed because, in many cases, we were force-fed a history written by others, with the attendant racial biases and cultural chauvinism.
The value of a people, society, or country knowing its history is, in our view, indisputable. In Jamaica, it took us years of radical scholarship to change our view of history from the shame of being enslaved to the glory of the people who liberated themselves from slavery.
Slavery was such a defining experience that it merited the priority attention of historians. However, the continuing focus on slavery and its immediate aftermath — such as the events of 1865 — is directly responsible for the neglect of Jamaica's modern history since the transformative events of 1938.
This concentration on the slavery era of Jamaica's history distorts the analysis of current events and traces almost every trend back to slavery. A clear example is the tendency to attribute the cause of violence in Jamaica back to the brutality of slavery and the continuation of social and cultural practices deeply embedded in the psyche of the Jamaican.
Hence, there is no full recognition of contemporary factors such as the dehumanising poverty in which most Jamaicans exist and that this leads to violence and even torture of children, documented in one of the highest rates of murder in the entire world.
Our murder rate is much higher than countries that abolished slavery long after Jamaica had full emancipation. This includes the United States, Cuba, and Brazil and the ending of serfdom in Russia.
Another example is the undoubted truth that, under 400 years of colonialism, most of it including slavery, the surplus produced in and by Jamaica was extracted and sent to Britain to finance the Industrial Revolution. This explains persistent poverty and underdevelopment, but we have been managing our economic fortune since political independence in 1962 — nearly 60 years and almost 200 years after slavery.
It is to the study of post-slavery, post-Independence history that we must look for explanati ons of our present dismal predicament. The extracted surplus under slavery can no longer explain an economy that averaged one per cent growth in gross domestic product (GDP) over the last 50 years.
The answer to violence, poverty and lack of economic growth must be sought in contemporary history that is free of the pronouncement of competing political parties. We need to understand what happened in Jamaica and the world in the 1950s and the prosperous 1960s.
It is during that first decade that we can find the roots of violence and crime and the long decline of the sugar and banana industries, we believe. It is also in this decade that there was the beginnings of fiscal mismanagement and addiction to borrowing. Is the surplus still not going abroad?
It is almost too late to study post-Independence, because we have not downloaded the lessons and experience of those who pioneered the management of the newly independent Jamaica. They have died, or are dying, and their documents have not been preserved.
Our Jamaica Archives and Records Department, National Gallery, National Library of Jamaica, and the Institute of Jamaica are all seriously underfunded, which is partly the reason for our inability to preserve and study contemporary history.
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