Tue | Nov 24, 2020

Letter of the Day | Language hate at heart of Miss Lou furore

Published:Monday | July 24, 2017 | 12:00 AM


Having read and listened to the sum of the conversations about the recent remarks made by Ishawna, regarding Miss Lou, I would like to add that there is a component of her, decidedly, disparaging remarks that has been overlooked.

This has to do with the fact that the official language policy of Jamaica has not acknowledged the importance of bilingualism as part of our heritage. This despite the numerous accolades and praises heaped on the cultural icon in question. Indeed, if one were to be truly honest, there is a way that the work of Miss Lou remains undone in the annals of Jamaican history. No monument exists to her or course taught at the primary and secondary levels that examine in meaningful ways the work of this amazing Jamaican woman.

In fact, to date, hundreds of thousands of Jamaican students have had to endure learning about their world in an alien language in the formal school system. The continued denial of their inalienable right to be educated in their mother tongue, Jamaican, is based on the ill-informed formed view, itself a holdover from colonial thinking, that English is the native language of Jamaicans. And that Jamaican is not a language.


Both positions are flawed. We forget that language not only forms the identity of the community that speaks it but is also a central part of its capacity to communicate effectively, as well as to learn about and project into the world, an identity of themselves to others as well as to the local community.

At the time of the Independence movement and its presumed gains, not all those considered Jamaicans necessarily included the vast swathes of African-descended peoples who now, and have always, populated the poorer and often dispossessed sections of the country.

The very definition of Jamaica as a nation-state in this regard, paradoxically, comprises a homogeneous form of racial and cultural diversity. It insists on a categorisation of nationhood that, in real terms, does not match the actual physical/phenotypical and cultural make-up of the society.



Meaningfully, however, Jamaica is for all intents and purposes a 'black country' - whatever that means. It is a space in which many of the cultural values and identity of its majority African descended population are not foregrounded as being either important or necessarily valued in the projects of nation building and (official) history-making.

And, note, this acknowledgement is not a promotion of racism or even racist and separatist ideas. To the contrary, it acknowledges how the original middle-class architects of the Independence movement who conceived of Jamaica and Jamaicans, at the time, left out a large section of the society.

Similarly, the celebration of Miss Lou, without also acknowledging the value of her work in pointing to the obvious and urgent need for an official inclusion of Jamaican in the formal language policy of the state, is fundamentally problematic. This is so because it denies many an opportunity to learn, understand and communicate effectively to and about the world in their 'heart-language' - Jamaican.

In the light of which, Ishawna's comments about Miss Lou are painful, especially insofar as they disparage, perhaps unintentionally, and seek to bring into disrepute the integrity of that body of work, in terms of its true importance in the national identity of the state. This is to the extent that one could make a case for viewing her comments as part of the continued disregard of Miss Lou and others like her who do not readily fit into the ideals of state nationalism and 'official culture' in Jamaica.