January 29, 2007

Where are we now?

Dear Mikey,


In the last few posts, I have been trying to answer your questions. And while it may seem like a roundabout process, I needed to give some context to my answers which are a modified form of a Kantian method that CLR James once used: What do I know? What can I do? What may I believe?

I’m also going link my answers to the comment you made: “These are things that keep haunting me, even more, as I approach middle age and beyond.” I, too, am haunted by these questions. I will be forty-nine this year, so we have much in common. I may just write a totally self-indulgent post about how these concerns have been reflected in my work, but we’ll see.

I also understand your impatience, but the process of decolonizing our minds, hearts, and bodies is a slow process to which, as Fanon has warned us, "Each generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it."

Think of colonialism and slavery as a virus that has infected the minds, hearts, and bodies of the colonized. Each generation must have the responsibility and presence of mind to administer the necessary dosage of self-scrutiny and change to keep the virus from taking over the body. If the generation fails, then the virus (which is very cunning and sometimes masks itself as part of the body’s natural defenses) mutates/replicates into more virulent forms to which the host finally succumbs.

What do we know?
Our leaders have failed us. I don’t think I am one of those Jamaicans in the diaspora to which Francis Wade alludes, but if ah so, ah so.

Unlike the leaders before Independence, our current leaders have not articulated a vision/mission that our artists, intelligentsia, and people can embrace. Instead they have embraced the status quo of thirty years ago while ignoring the new challenges. See Nicholas Laughlin’s exasperation with CARIFESTA this year.

I realize that it is difficult to lead a movement when there is no recognizable enemy, but that’s what leaders do. If you can’t do the job, don’t apply.
I also realize that while the issues of identity facing Norman Washington Manley’s generation were important, we have inherited them and many more challenges in defining our identity:
  • The breakup of our families and migration—the new Diaspora. This has disrupted the generational transmission/ affirmation of skills and values; lack of learning/mentoring/continuity within the culture.
  • The trauma of the civil war of the seventies: Michael Manley, Eddie Seaga, Democratic Socialism, Cold War, Communism Capitalism, Fidel Castro
  • CARIFESTA, CARICOM, and regionalism
  • Reggae
  • Rastafari
  • Dancehall
  • Drug trade: Dons, gangs and the murder/crime rate
  • The relationship with Africa
  • The relationship with Europe/UK
  • The relationship with the US
  • Generational identity: What is the mission of our generation?
  • Gender Identity and Homophobia
  • Language: The Queen’s English, Nation language, Patwa, Jamaican, Rasta Speak, American
  • Class, color and connections: Black, Brown and White in the Caribbean
  • The environment and our relationship to the land
  • Denigration (devaluation) of the local in favor of the foreign
  • Add yours, Dear Reader, in the Comments
The work of our leaders has also been complicated by the following challenges within the culture:

1. Conservatism of many Jamaicans (See B.Art: “Everybody is a closet right winger in Jamaica!”)
2. Our conservatism may be due to the history of colonialism and slavery which defined change on the same level with the death penalty. Humans don’t like change—we resist change. Add the natural human fear of change and the death penalty mentality about change, and you have patterns of behavior in Jamaica that has been woven into our ways of thinking and acting. Old habits die hard.
3. Religious Conservatism: Our religious leaders preach, “Change will only lead to chaos, slackness, and nastiness.” If you disbelieve me, read the Gleaner.
4. Lack of education and miseducation. Once the British left, there should have been an overhaul of the educational system. This does not mean tossing out the Dead White Guys. Because we have not reformed the system, individuals and their children who are versed in the ways of the “Old Massa” have continued the policies of control and the eradication of individuality. The result is that many have embraced (without thinking) Jante Law (Thanks, Professor Zero):
  1. You shall not think that you are special.
  2. You shall not think that you are of the same standing as us.
  3. You shall not think that you are smarter than us.
  4. Don't fancy yourself as being better than us.
  5. You shall not think that you know more than us.
  6. You shall not think that you are more important than us.
  7. You shall not think that you are good at anything.
  8. You shall not laugh at us.
  9. You shall not think that anyone cares about you.
  10. You shall not think that you can teach us anything.
Ask yourself, I-dren, how many of these “laws” have you unconsciously adopted into your life? And if you, who are relatively free, have believed some of these in the past, imagine the downpression of those who don't have enough time as you do to stop and think about these things. Now click on your mp3 of Sparrow’s “Dan is the Man in the Van” or Peter Tosh’s, “You can’t blame the Youth,” and you will see how far we have slipped.

*“Old Massa” does not have to white person as Frantz Fanon showed us. Worse, when he exists in your own mind, and you follow the “Jante Laws” without thinking, you are heading for a showdown.

5. Social promotion/ economics over questions of identity—“No money nuh inna it!” Because there isn’t any “reward” for asking these questions, many think there is no need to pursue these questions. This, again, is a human impulse. (Read Mathew Arnold’s excoriation of British Philistines.) To almost every “negative” human impulse add “black” and “colonialism” and you will have an idea of what we have to overcome. And it’s not just a matter of “getting over it” as some have suggested. Nor is it dwelling on the past to project oneself as a victim.

BTW, as Keith Nurse has pointed out, there is money in it, but because we continue to devalue the local in favor of the foreign (by 5 to 1), we don’t see the material benefits.

6. Lowered expectations. We don’t see ourselves as thinkers—leave that to white people or those who know and “run tings”—the “us” of Jante Law. We continue with the “Likkle Man Syndrome” and this has been disastrous in our national life and in the arts.

What can we do?

1. Elect leaders who have articulated a generational mission/identity. If we elect someone to the highest office, s/he should have these qualities:
  • Be able to articulate a generational mission that reflects our identity
  • Have a track record of encouraging/ creating/ greater ownership
  • Protection of the weakest members of society by promoting individual, human rights: (“Help the weak if you are strong”)
  • Adherence to law and order. Any politician who is tied to gun violence has forfeited his/her right to lead.
  • Have a track record of creating opportunities in the economy, education, and the arts, which will lead to greater optimism
The last part is very important, and if this seems a bit facile, it is not intended to be. The importance of the arts cannot be underestimated. And while I am not suggesting that culture alone is a panacea for the ills of a country (the Nazis played Wagner and Bach as they marched Jews into gas chambers), neglect of the arts points to a serious deficiency in a culture.

The arts are an invaluable part of the emotional and psychological education of a culture. As John Baker norms of feeling.” pointed out in a recent post, “Art affects life because it teaches us how to see, how to hear, how to feel; because it has the capacity to create for us what we might term
This occurs because the production of a work of art comes from various sources:
  • The artist's probing into his/her unconscious as a representative of the culture's unconscious tendencies
  • Events in the life of the artist or the life of the community and how they relate to the artist’s perspective on the history of his/her culture
  • The artist’s work in relationship to the work of other artists inside and outside the culture
The work of the artist is not to provide a solution. Sparrow in "Dan is the Man in the Van" merely showed us how miseducation could be dangerous. The examination by the artist brings the issues up to a conscious level so that they don’t remain in the festering darkness of the unconscious.

2. Support the work of those who are articulating generational mission(s).
*Two simple proposals to create opportunity, optimism, and ownership of the arts in Jamaica and the Caribbean.
Since we value money so much, any leader who talks about cultural development should immediately adopt this proposal:

1. Regional prizes of $50, 000 (TT dollars) each for the best novel, best book of poetry, choreography, etc). This money can be raised by a combination of public and private contributions following models that have been developed in the UK and US.

2. Contract negotiations for any textbook adoption for CXC exams or at any grade level by any Ministry of Education must be tied to promote the publication of living writers. The contracts with the publishers would be on a sliding scale depending on the size of the business. Small publishers could publish one or two titles per year while large publishers could publish ten or fifteen titles per year. The governments wouldn’t have to spend a penny because they are providing the market—the impressionable minds of our children.

It’s that simple.

So, here are my answers your questions, Mikey.

Why do we allow others to define us? Why are we still thinking as if we are on a plantation and have to wait for others to do/think for us?
  • Many of us have not thought about our identity, and our failure to act has led us to accept the definitions by others which are outdated and unhealthy. This discussion of identity must take place on a community and national level so as to create a critical mass/synergy.
  • Our leaders have failed to offer us a coherent vision of ourselves and have failed to manifest the creation of models that will sustain development in education, the economy and the arts.
  • We have failed ourselves by not questioning ourselves and having lowered expectations of ourselves and our leaders.
  • Failure to support those who may be offering answers to questions of identity and mission.
  • Still suffering from the trauma of slavery/colonialism and the civil war of the seventies.
  • Lowered expectations based on color, class, and connections. “Likkle man Syndrome.”
And why bother with these questions?
  • Wholeness of our minds, hearts and bodies. A feeling of ownership, opportunity and optimism in our own land.
  • Slowing the flow of diaspora because sometimes, it dread in America.
  • Money inna it. Imagine if all the money we spent on foreign books, music, etc. stayed in Jamaica and the Caribbean.
  • We can resist false claims to our identity individually and collectively. It’s easier for a nation to have a collective purpose/identity when these skills are being practiced on a individual level.
  • We better start thinking about these issues because whether by will or default, we (the majority of those born in the fifties) will soon hold the reins of power.
I know I have painted a bleak picture, but I am still optimistic. The next few posts will give a few reasons for my optimism.

Next post: What may we believe?
Related Posts:


Anonymous said...

You are right in many respects, but much of what you attribute as human qualities have been carefully (and sometimes spitefully) nurtured over the years. The recent furor over the textbook reference to gay and lesbian families, and particularly Esther Tyson's commentary in Sunday's paper should generate a serious debate, but it won't.

Just to hear someone claim that "majority" opinion should rule, if it had or has been so, it should always be so, gives me goosebumps. Our inability to think instead of reacting is what inhibits us in most realms.

I wholeheartedly agree that the arts and humanities are a real and workable solution to the generalized hatred of self and others that permeates everyday life in Ja. I don't agree that the methods you suggest are what will make a difference. Those seem to be aimed at making the careers of individual writers and artists. We have a lot of those; too many of those at the expense of other forms of creative expression. It is as if the only way to know and talk about the Caribbean is through literature and literary analysis.

I am talking about guerrilla theatre, public performances, community writing groups, grassroots arts projects, murals, sculpture, blacksmithing, etc.
Neither the Edna Manley School nor another Caribbean Writer's Award will make those transformations possible, because there is nothing in either of those institutional apparatuses that recognizes and celebrates the value of art in everyday life, or artists' becoming involved in social change.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Dear longbench,


I agree with you and accept your proposals that the solutions must come from within the community, but someone must lead and organize.... and eventually rebirth the moribund institutions .

Change is never permanent until it is institutionalized and made relevant by suceeding geeenrations