Mon | Jul 23, 2018

Daniel Thwaites | A bitter colonial taste in the mouth

Published:Sunday | March 11, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Nigel Clarke is greeted by House Speaker Pearnel Charles after being sworn in as member of parliament for St Andrew North West.

Some public spats are beyond parody, but Lord knows, we must still try. May I present to you, "The great colonial controversy!" In the context of Jamaican politics, where there is an inexhaustible premium for being "on the ground", "from the Mombasa grass roots", "close to the poor", or "from the bowels of the working class", a billionaire has taken a millionaire to task for "leaving a colonial taste in his mouth".

This whole anti-colonial struggle began when The Gleaner ran a story with a curious title: 'Nigel Clarke leaves colonial taste in Bunting's mouth - Former minister says JLP aspirant mimics aspirations of colonial masters'. As Bunting has pointed out in a subsequent explanation, the timing of the unattributed story is suspicious, and although the headline isn't 100 per cent accurate in its attribution of dark sentiments, it's also not 100 per cent false.

The words did escape Bunting's lips, and the political comparison of Keisha Hayle and Nigel Clarke was drawing enough water from the well of resentment such that an adversarial observer would bawl that it was "badmind".

This is one where I wish The Gleaner would hire a different commentator, for I should say that I know both men and feel that our political culture is better because both are involved. Peter is a tremendous asset to any side he chooses, and either would have been delighted to have him. The same is true of Nigel.

More facts: I have never known either to be anything other than black. I also know Nigel to be from an enviably solid background, and although perhaps not suffering from excess privilege, certainly not among the class of sufferers either. Which makes, I should say, the sentiments attributed to Bunting by the numerous loud critics (and for which he must take some share of responsibility) ultimately nonsensical.

Here's my summary of the kerfuffle: Here we have an elite rich guy accusing another elite rich guy of being rich and elite. In response, rabid defenders of the accused elite rich guy have hastened to point out that the accuser is even more elite and rich. In other words, the pot is calling the kettle elite, rich, and - oh yeah! - black.

 

Ridiculous accusations

 

In the accusations of classism and racism, and every other ism and schism that has followed, the curiosity of black people accusing each other of racism, and rich people accusing each other of classism, is beyond my powers of comedic ridiculousness.

In the meanwhile, Mr Holiness pounced and delivered a thunderous roundhouse kick: "Dem start to grudge you fi house and now dem a grudge yuh fi education!" That hit landed.

Anyhow, I'm stalking more prey than just this week's dose of political tomfoolery. What about this business of 'colonial' being an available curse word for any and everything we happen to not like? Can we move beyond this? Sharpen up the public mind a little bit? Maybe?

Consider when J-FLAG occasionally launches an attack against the anti-sodomy law by saying it's 'colonial'. The correct response to that, it seems to me, is: "So what?" So what if the law is 'colonial'? Isn't that also true of the law on murder, manslaughter, theft, loans, liens, leases, marriage, etc, etc, etc.

It seems as if "colonial" now only means "mi nuh like it!", in other words, an artless term of abuse. I bet you can't guess what the people who oppose removing the anti-sodomy law call the effort to do so! Yeah: "Colonial". At some point you realise it's all an enormous turd-bucket of rubbish.

But perhaps I can even convince a few of you to follow me even further down the road of apostasy and heresy.

It's not just that "colonial" has become a useless appendage of a curse word, it's also that we need to be more thoughtful about it, overall. And not just from the point of view of "we were oppressed and they were evil", even though much of that may also be true.

The country is only 55 years old, even though its distinct identity far predates the granting of political independence. Still, as Jamaica continues in the process of self-definition, we might want to become more sophisticated about what we throw out and what we keep. That might start by somewhat balancing out the perspective about our colonial past.

Understandably, the generation that gained Independence, and the people who were already adults when Independence arrived, have one view of things. But there's space at the table now for those who aren't carrying those burdens and don't feel either the grand attraction to the British or the hectic revulsion to everything British.

What then might those post-Independence generations say of the British? We can, and will, catalogue their crimes, of course. But we will also have some other work to do. Consider the Monty Python sketch in 'The Life of Brian', usually referred to by the shorthand "What have the Romans ever done for us?"

Enjoy the background here: The Monty Python cast are a band of privileged Oxfordians, the elite of England. They understand that they are in the waning years of the British empire, and they are presenting a sketch about revolutionaries plotting against the Roman Empire. Add to that some mixed and divided loyalties, for while the Roman Empire provided the template for the British imperium, Britain herself was once a somewhat rebellious Roman colony. Not to mention that some other Jewish rebels in the Middle East had provided the British with their religion.

And so with all those many crosswinds and counter-currents swirling, Monty Python delivered a timeless piece of comedic genius. If you can find the clip on YouTube, it's well worth watching.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7tvauOJMHo

But here's the peak of the dialogue for those of you who can't.

REG: All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

XERXES: Brought peace.

REG: Oh. Peace? Shut up

That colonial taste in the mouth was undoubtedly bitter at times, but overall we have to count it as bittersweet. Doubt me? Here's a Gleaner headline from August 6, 2017 (last year, Independence Day): 'Independence Error! Only 27% Of Jamaicans Think The Country Would Be In A Worse Position If It Had Remained A British Colony". THAT is the bitter truth.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.