Sat | Sep 23, 2017

The pain of the African American

Published:Monday | August 24, 2015 | 8:00 AM
Attorney-at-law Bert Samuels

As an African-Jamaican, I have found comparing my experience to that of my African-American brother to be interesting, as much as it is a heartrending exercise.

When my foreparents were brought here, they almost immediately became the majority of the population. In the United States, the captured, transplanted, and enslaved Africans were - and remained - a minority population (except for a few southern States) on their arrival.

This seminal difference is the backdrop against which I compare my experience with theirs. What occurred in the US would be analogous to the granting of 'freedom' to the prisoners at the General Penitentiary in Jamaica, on condition that they remain there living their new lives alongside the elite, former prison warden minority. The prison wardens would maintain their economic and political advantage, while the prison population would start from 'scratch' their lives all over again. You do not need a degree in sociology to see the inevitable pain that would fester as a consequence of this unhappy mix.

Consider a mulatto in Jamaica who is treated as an 'honorary' warden in my analogy, migrating to the US. They are immediately treated as 'nigger' and are cast to the bottom of the social ladder, expecting the American dream but experiencing its nightmare. Moving from the premium 'browning' status guaranteed here, to a Mr or Mrs Nobody in America.

That is why one should understand that the abuse of that African-American girl at the pool party by a cop in Texas was only the physical manifestation of what led to the arrival of the cops in the first place. The girl was in a brawl with a white girl, in which she was told to "go back to your plantation" (your cellblock in my analogy above).

The woeful pain of the African-American is that, after the abolition of slavery, he has had to continue to live with institutionalised racism, enforced by the white, racist, majority population which remained in America. We experienced our oppression, but as a majority population. The difference is far from marginal from all angles. So deep-rooted is the black man's burden in the US that, notwithstanding the presence of an African American in the White House, lynching by the gun in the hands of white cops persists.

This is why it took the mass murder of nine praying African-American church members, and a relentless fight joined by the president himself, to remove the Confederate flag - a symbol of hate toward Blacks - from the state capitol. That which is sustainable in the US is unthinkable in Jamaica. Both countries are hosts to former plantations, but the rules are palpably different, explained only by the contrasting demographics.

The mystery of our transplanted brothers in America is best echoed in Psalm 137:

"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.

For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.

If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.

O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.

Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones."

The oppression of the African-American repeats the sad Bible history of a people enslaved by the Egyptians.

- Bert Samuels is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and bert.samuels@gmail.com