Orville Taylor, Contributor
Once more, National Heroes Day is upon us, and with the parades and official statements, the dignitaries dust off the sepulchres and polish the monuments of the seven people whom we call heroes and heroine.
Then the debate goes on as to who should be added to the list. Bob Marley is often mooted, along with Michael Manley and even His Excellency the Honourable Usain St Leo Bolt, PhD (Hons), is said to have performed enough 'heroics' in the Olympics and World Championships in Athletics to merit inclusion. Last week, both Houses of Parliament joined to honour the Most Honourable Edward Philip George Seaga and each party blinkered and blinded itself to the differences between them, on such an august occasion in October.
Outside the legislature, the worshippers and detractors are having a ball or two, about the deference to the 'Honourable Eddie Blinds', arguing whether or not he should be elevated to national hero. My response to that is a flat no. However, it is not simply that he doesn't match up to the current pantheon of heroes that we have. Indeed, as regards at least two, he has qualified. Rather, it is that there are some who are not, in my opinion, heroic figures, however much the historians and kingmakers enshrine them to be.
FROM FICTION TO REALITY
Few, with the exception of people like fellow columnist the Reverend Devon Dick, even bother to research beyond the legends. But let us use our brains a bit and try to understand what it means to be a hero.
As a preschool child, I read the word 'hero' first in my brother's DC and Marvel comics and quickly figured that the concept was of a very especially talented person, with superhuman abilities. Thus, my heroes were Superman and the Flash, and the entire Justice League of America, though as I grew older I was rather bemused that they dressed in tights and body suits.
Then, as disturbing as it was that he had a little boy in green briefs tagging behind him, Batman. Batman was this very savvy and dark character who used his intellect, physical fitness and agility to conquer foe after foe, in protecting his beloved Gotham City. Though, my racialism later pushed me towards T'Challa, the Black Panther from Marvel Comics, Batman was more heroic because he had no superpowers and never used guns, despite being equipped with myriad devices and weapons.
Both Batman and the Black Panther were comfortably rich characters who did not need to become adrenaline junkies, risking their lives to save the world. No glory was in it for them or personal gain, save for the satisfaction of fighting the battle of good against evil. At any moment, the super villains they combated could kill them, as they were not invulnerable like Superman.
Then as the dictionary beckoned, the Oxford defined a hero as a man "of distinguished courage or ability, ... brave deeds and noble qualities" or "a person who ... has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal". Across the Atlantic, the Webster Dictionary says he shows "... distinguished valour or enterprise in danger, or fortitude in suffering; ... a great or illustrious person".
TRAITS OF A HERO
Thus, a hero seems to need the following elements: first, he must be brave with a purpose. He is not reckless, but faces known danger and does so in order to achieve something larger than his own ambition. Abnegation and altruism, while willing to suffer losses for the greater good of others, are what make a hero.
Oftentimes confused with a hero is a martyr. The martyr is "one who willingly gives up his life for his beliefs". Thus, the countless Christians who were murdered by the biblical Romans and the suicide bombers who do so in the name of Islam today are. Nevertheless, a martyr is not a hero, because in his mind, he is going to benefit in the afterlife for his giving up this one. Therefore, martyrdom is not a selfless act, but is purposeful and selfish because it carries perceived benefits for the 'sacrificant'.
Heroes make self-sacrifices for others to gain, with little or nothing in it for them. So, in that light, we ask, are our seven heroic? Well, it is not certain what exactly is truth and what is myth about Queen Nanny. One who fights for her freedom does what is natural. And to lead her fellowmen might be heroic. Nonetheless, clearly, she was fighting for her own freedom and thus had much to gain.
Samuel Sharpe made a clear and personal choice when he led an ill-fated Christmas Rebellion. Yet, his own words for which he is famous disqualify him. "I'd rather die on yonder gallows, than to live in slavery," is not a rallying cry, but for me, a statement of resignation and fatalism. The question would be, was Sharpe's uprising an attempt to secure his freedom or that of others, or was he simply rebelling, hoping to take a few of the oppressors with him as he died as his escape route from his enslavement. How different was his riot from that of prisoners with life sentences, who lead violent outbreaks?
I find no distinction between the 1830s Sharpe massacre and the 1760 Tacky war, except that nobody gave St Mary a second city. Tacky has every right to hero status as Sharpe, because he fought a valiant battle, which ultimately led to his execution by the British colonials.
By that same standard, we judge Paul Bogle. While, he fought the colonials literally, there is no evidence that when he led the march into the town it was for the purposes of a battle. Even today, peaceful protests in St Thomas are noted for erupting in unplanned violence between the state agents and the citizens. Nonetheless, if it can be shown that Bogle did reasonably believe that he could be killed for standing up for the rights of others, then he is doubtlessly heroic.
Despite Dick standing against my view, George William Gordon was sacrificial because he took on a fight that he didn't truly have to. Dick argues that he was elected to the legislature by local Baptists, whose interests he represented in the House. However, given that universal suffrage was not until 80-plus years later, it cannot be assumed that the majority of his electors were the poor blacks, whom he spoke up for. Nonetheless, Gordon paid with his life.
FAILED WORKING CLASS
Categorically, Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley do not qualify as heroes. One who offers himself for public office, is elected by the people and given state power cannot be a hero for doing just that. In any event, that they both failed the working class miserably and did nothing to reduce poverty means that they do not even get passing grades as heads of government.
By the way, Manley is the one who prosecuted Marcus Garvey for simply stating that judges should be fair and honest. Heroic Manley made him get a short prison sentence and was instrumental in his being unable to take his seat in the 1930 municipal elections. And Bustamante's chest-baring incident was dumb (read: show), as no right-minded black constable would shoot deputy-white Bustamante. It should be noted that Bustamante did not initiate or lead the 1938 labour riots.
We are then left with Marcus Garvey. Did he take risks? Did he take on an enemy that could destroy him? And did he do so for the good of all and not his own benefit? You know where my votes are.
Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.