Sat | Jul 21, 2018

Carolyn Cooper | Who is America?

Published:Sunday | November 27, 2016 | 12:00 AM

In response to last Sunday's column, 'Tribal war in America', I got a rambling email from an angry woman who gave me a piece of her mind. She was so vexed that the piece of her mind she kept for herself didn't seem to be working so well. I've edited her email to make it more coherent. I didn't quite catch the meaning of the third sentence:

"Why don't you keep out of the American elections and concentrate on Jamaica's problem of how people in Jamaica are dying daily? The people of America have made their choice. Talk about how the Republican Party freed slaves with the democracy was power back then. And if truth be told, they were white. You have a problem with white people. A judge in America made a statement to immigrants swearing to become American citizens that if they have a problem with their president go back home where they came from. Be careful you do not put your mouth in America's business. Jamaica has enough problems without you adding to it."

I was happy to see that this woman understood the column written in Jamaican. So many Jamaicans take such pride in not being literate in our language. It seems to be a badge of honour to be able to say, "I just can't read that."

Last week, there were the usual hostile responses to the Jamaican language in comments on The Gleaner's website. Someone who goes by the name 'return of the repressed' made an appropriately repressed comment: "Gibberish." The comment by 'Sammydread' was equally inhibited: "sounds like the wranglings of an idiot." Is a good thing my back broad!




I've edited T Arthur 1's sensible response to both of them: "I understand that patois can be a difficult read; we don't have in our memory banks data on the spelling of many of the words which yields automatic understanding of a sentence or a phrase. Nevertheless, with an open mind and a little effort, the meaning is easily translated to English. Don't allow our prejudices to blind us from the excellent contents of the piece."

T Arthur 1 is right. Most Jamaicans haven't been taught to be literate in our language. Thank God for the Internet, where lots of us write and read Jamaican all the time! Just think of all those jokes that circulate. Most of us make up our own writing system. It would be so much easier if we all used the writing system designed by the linguists Frederic Cassidy and Robert LePage.

That's going to be a long time coming. Our Ministry of Education doesn't take the Jamaican language seriously. Students are not taught to read and write in Jamaican. As a nation, we are still trapped in mental slavery. We cannot emancipate ourselves from the inferiority complex that makes us devalue the language created by our African ancestors and which has been passed down from generation to generation.




What is truly alarming about that angry woman's email is its confirmation of the dread that is consuming the US in the aftermath of Donald Trump's election victory. I don't know if this woman lives in the US or not. She fearfully assumes that an article on racial conflict in the US, published in a Jamaican newspaper, is going to cause problems for Jamaica. This is absurd. I suppose she's worried that Jamaicans will no longer get US visas.

It is true that there has been a brazen assertion of white supremacist power across the US since the elections. For example, Richard Spencer, president of the innocent-sounding National Policy Institute, made a most revealing speech two weekends ago in Washington, DC. Here's an excerpt:

"To be white is to be a striver, a crusader, an explorer and a conqueror. We build, we produce, we go upward. And we recognise the central lie of American race relations. We don't exploit other groups. We don't gain anything from their presence. They need us, and not the other way around. Within the very blood in our veins as children of the sun lies the potential for greatness. That is the great struggle we are called to.

"We are not meant to live in shame and weakness and disgrace. We were not meant to beg for moral validation from some of the most despicable creatures to ever populate the planet. We were meant to overcome, overcome all of it, because that is natural and normal for us . . . . America was, until this past generation, a white country, designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us."

Mr Spencer hasn't studied American history? He doesn't know that America actually belongs to the indigenous people who have been brutally exploited by explorers and conquerors? The Mexicans who are supposed to pay for Trump's wall of exclusion are actually North Americans. Mr Spencer doesn't know that enslaved Africans created wealth for plantation owners in the Southern states?

We share a common history in this hemisphere. People of goodwill in the Americas (plural) must stand up together against the white supremacist forces that are threatening to annihilate "despicable creatures". I have to put my mouth in America's business. It is also ours.

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to and