Mon | Jan 27, 2020

Orville Taylor | Three elections and history still teaches

Published:Sunday | November 11, 2018 | 12:00 AM

History is an amazing teacher. However, too many political leaders and analysts have apparently skipped the class, and, therefore, epitomise the dumb in referendum.

Within three days, there were three such elections. Two in the Anglophone Caribbean and one which pundits thought was another on the presidency of Donald Trump in the USA. The results are in. Antigua and Barbuda voted 9, 234 to 8,509 to reject the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the final appellate court. Grenadians were even more decisive, with 12,133 no votes to 9,846 yeses for the replacement of the Privy Council (PC) with the CCJ.

North of the Caribbean, networks had predicted a blue wave, a tsunami even. Alas, there was indeed a colour shift, with Democrats now having at least 225 of the 435 seats in Congress, but power remained in the hands of the Republicans, controlling at least 51 of the declared Senate seats and 33 of the 50 governorships. At some point, the romance with grand delusions must end. America is still a divided country with a democracy not as mature as we all want it to be.

For all the negatives said about Trump, he managed to poll almost half of the national votes. True, Hilary Clinton got a million more votes and thus won the popular vote. However, the sobering fact is that there is still a very large segment of the United States that has not walked away from its past. Neither have we.

For our part, a region that has produced most of its current judges, attorneys, prime ministers, and intellectuals seems to think that the effects of our colonial and plantation legacies would have disappeared in periods of Independence, which range from 56 to 35 years. Three hundred years of slavery and another century-plus of post-Emancipation colonial rule cannot be wiped away by 74 years of universal adult suffrage. While the leaders might not read anything I have written, they cannot plead ignorance of the writings of Eric Williams, George Beckford, Lloyd Best, Walter Rodney, C.L.R. James and, indeed, Marcus Garvey, who inspired them all.


Historical inheritance


The sum total of our historical inheritance includes, but is not limited to, i) the inability of our people to value themselves and things local; ii) an overly respectful and unduly deferential attitude to things and people metropolitan, which borders on delusion; and iii) an incapacity to unite and recognise commonalities, coupled with a quickness to drag or put down our neighbours.

In 1961, on the cusp of Independence, Jamaicans voted against Federation, and the famous "one from 10 leaves zero" quote haunts us until the present. The difference is that the stupid ethnocentrism, petty nationalism, and parochialism are no longer the sole purview of the then dominant economic power, Jamaica, but are now in the grasp of all.

After 45 years of the Treaty of Chaguaramas in 1973, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has three main tangible manifestations. These are the West Indian cricket team, which I back for better or worse, although most often the latter; the CARICOM Secretariat; and my place of primary employment, the former plantation, The University of the West Indies (UWI).

Now, tell me, if the majority of the current leadership of the region are UWI graduates, how come they haven't legislated that UWI academics and senior administrators be automatically given real CARICOM passports so that on arriving in each country, some overzealous immigration officer doesn't have the right to strip the dignity of the Guyanese professor who is going to another branch of her workplace. Worse, he stamps her passport, gives her 30 days, and tells her she is not eligible to work. If these UWI alumni can't perform such a simple and innocuous but highly symbolic task, how then can they expect the population at large to not haul the mother country into their thought processes?

For the record, there is no basis in thinking that West Indian judges are less competent. True, there are a few intellectually challenged ones who, in my opinion, ought to sit on the dunce bench and no other. However, the majority are well schooled in Caribbean statutes and jurisprudence. Moreover, they also share the same culture as the legislators. Therefore, they are infinitely more qualified to understand the spirit and law in society elements surrounding the cases before them.

Finally, this might irk my British expatriates or Anglophiles who condescendingly, and with less qualification than our locals, speak with authority over our shortcomings. Data from Transparency International say that six per cent of Jamaicans have bribed our judges, but 21 per cent of Britons have greased the palm of 'Milud'. When they master the debate over this scary figure, then they might something to back up their self-loving assertions.


Slavery legacy


Now here is the Trump card. Despite the narrative, America also has a more recent plantation and slavery legacy. How can any sensible person with an eye on history expect that a country that killed more than 700,000 persons a mere century and half ago in a war over whether black people were human enough to be worthy of freedom be suddenly egalitarian? If we in a black majority region/country cannot get to that point ourselves, why would the white majority in the USA and UK be there?

Moreover, it is a mere 50 years since the murders of Martin Luther King and others such as Medgar Evers. It is impossible to reverse those legacies in such a short time. Indeed, as we find it surprising that Georgia and Florida, two states with very large black populations, have failed to elect black governors and senators, just understand that black people in the USA only got universal suffrage in 1965, some 21 years after Jamaica.

By the way: Look at the awesome powers that the American president and governors have over the police and legal and electoral systems. Democracy is a long and tortuous road.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at The UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of '

Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to and