Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke has come out in defence of the "Massa Mark" remarks he made in his closing budget presentation in Parliament last week, in reference to Opposition Leader Mark Golding, which led to a walkout by the Opposition and has since sparked accusations of racism.
Addressing the controversy in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, Dr Clarke said he would not apologise for the term as this would legitimise an untruth.
"My remarks have been misconstrued, motives have been misrepresented, and my intentions have been distorted. I regret that some persons may have viewed my remarks as racially motivated. To apologise would be to legitimise what simply is not true. Massa Mark was not about race, Massa Mark was not about colour," the finance minister said in an extensive response brought under Section 18 of the Standing Order of the Houses of Parliament, which provides for personal explanations.
The minister explained that he was referring to an earlier public comment by Golding in which the Opposition leader was reported to have described members of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) as "damn fools".
"Taken aback by yet another disparaging and insulting comment, I responded that this characterisation of members of the JLP did not sound like Markie G, it sounded like 'Massa Mark'. Objections have been raised to my use of the word 'massa' which have largely relied upon a misleading implication of motive and intent. My remark was meant to draw attention in a light-hearted way to a trend by the Opposition leader to explicitly denigrate others with his choice of words, without him realising the need to account for those words. It is that unaccountable display of power that I described as 'massa'," Clarke insisted.
He said the PNP's quick characterisation of his "Massa Mark" remark as racist, and The Gleaner newspaper's accusation of him "using the race card", were untrue and unfortunate.
"I would never countenance, and indeed I reject, race-based politics. This is simply not who I am. Seeking to disqualify someone from office on the basis of factors such as race or gender or religion, is and will always be abhorrent to me," the finance minister stated.
Golding has since apologised for the "damn fools" remark. "I shouldn't have said that. I apologise. I never meant to say that. What I meant to say is that that is totally ridiculous... I am sorry about the 'damn fool' comment because I don't want to cause any offence to anybody. And the truth is, when you are in politics, when you are in my position, you have to try elevate the thing and set a good example for others. So to anybody who, when I used the little 'damn fool' talk, if I hurt anybody's feelings, I am sorry, I never mean that," he said following a meeting of the party's National Executive Council on Sunday.
Dr Clarke argued that the term of "massa" in modern Jamaica is used to describe a disposition, not a race or colour.
"It describes a perceived disposition, not a race," he stressed, pointing out that in all cultures, groups often reclaim and reappropriate words which originated in oppression.
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