Tue | Mar 20, 2018

Garth Rattray | What's Black History Month worth?

Published:Monday | February 6, 2017 | 12:00 AM

In 1976, the president of the United States officially designated February as Black History Month. First of all, I don't like it that our race is called 'black'. Officially, we are designated as Negroes, which means black.

We used to talk about American Indians but now, they are rightfully called Native Americans, simply because they are the original people in America. Besides, they originate from Mongolia, just like the people from China. Since we have our genetic roots in Africa, we should be called 'Afrogenic', or some such thing.

Black denotes far too many negative connotations and white accrues all the positive ones. It's not fair, and it sets us up to be viewed as worthless, bad, evil, dirty, inferior and negative.

Although the idea of Black History Month originated in the United States, it is observed with varying degrees of participation in several countries. It is supposed to be a contemplative period and celebratory of our proud black history and accomplishments. It is supposed to highlight the contribution of black people to the development of humans across the globe. My problem is that I have found limited discernible improvement in our lot as a result of the celebration of Black History Month since 1976.

Sure, apartheid was disbanded in South Africa (under the weight of significant international pressure). And there have been civil-rights advances in the USA, but a disproportionate number of blacks are still being imprisoned and killed by the police there when compared to whites and to all other races.

People get away with cartoons of a murdered monkey with reference to Barack Obama; they referred to his wife as an ape; and voted in a man who was once successfully sued by the government for racial prejudice.

Here in Jamaica, race and colour bias/prejudice still exists, although we are a predominantly Afrogenic people. Some time ago, I rented a hotel room in Ocho Rios, but the air-conditioning was defective. There was a serious problem in finding another. I noticed many empty rooms, so I asked the desk clerk why I wasn't simply transferred to one of those. She told me that the hotel only has privately owned rooms and that the owners requested that they not be rented to 'black people'.




Recently, I had two very unpleasant experiences of extremely poor workmanship. One was a kitchen cabinet and the other was a gazebo. In both instances, I asked the individuals responsible for the atrocious work if they would have given 'Butch' Stewart that kind of job. Both told me that they would not give him such shoddy work. Their labour did not come cheap, but at least they were honest enough to admit that they saw me, an Afrogenic Jamaican (like them), as a lesser human being than Butch Stewart, a rich man of mixed race.

It's blatantly obvious that Jamaicans don't have much love for themselves or for one another. I tell people planning marriage that respect is more important than love. Love is a powerful and positive emotion, but it can swing to the other side of the emotional pendulum and become transformed into powerful hate. Respect is far more stable and much less emotional.

We abduct and murder our helpless children. We shoot others for just about anything. We rob, loot, terrorise and rape. We drive as if there is no one else on the road. We bully and curse and endanger lives on our roads. There's absolutely no love there. We have far more things in common than we have differences, but I've given up on praying that we will start showing love to others. I'm hoping that we can consider trying to respect ourselves and others.

The Japanese don't steal goods left on public transport conveyances because they respect themselves far too much to stoop to thievery. Aside from war, they very rarely use guns because their self-respect makes them view firearms as an extremely cowardly way to do combat.

We, on the other hand, have very little self-respect. We don't respect our roots, we don't appreciate our ancestors and, in fact, we seem to hate who and what we are, and we project all that hate and resentment onto others.

Perhaps Black History Month could be used to restore respect for ourselves and others.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.