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Michael Abrahams | Bunting and Roper owe Nigel Clarke an apology

Published:Sunday | March 11, 2018 | 12:00 AMMichael Abrahams

Peter Bunting and Garnett Roper’s recent remarks likening the Jamaica Labour Party’s Dr Nigel Clarke to a black Englishman aspiring to be “black royalty” have created a firestorm. They have received a deluge of scathing criticism for what has been perceived as disrespectful comments directed at Dr Clarke, based on his academic achievements.

When I learnt of the controversy, I was taken aback, and very disappointed. I wondered to myself, “What were these two gentlemen thinking?” and “What were they drinking, smoking or snorting to posit such inappropriate comments in a public space?” But I have learnt not to jump on bandwagons, and instead to investigate matters for myself and form my opinions fairly and dispassionately.

So, I located and watched the video in its entirety. The conversation took place on an episode of Bunting’s Facebook video series ‘Probe’. The topic for discussion was the upcoming by-election in North West St Andrew and the candidates Clarke and the People’s National Party’s Keisha Hayle.

Roper began by commenting on the upcoming contest between “two black Jamaicans”. Bunting responded by first describing Hayle. “Keisha Hayle has a very compelling personal story,” he said. “She obviously comes from a very modest home environment. Had to deal with the challenges that a dark child has to cope with in that era and today continues. However, just by determination, she not only was able to achieve a bachelor’s degree, but a master’s. And then, perhaps most impressive was when she took over the failing school, Padmore Primary.”

He went on to describe how she sold her home in order to buy a bus to assist in boosting enrolment in the school, and claimed that she has a “rural and down-to-earth ethos”.

In comparing her opponent, Nigel Clarke, Roper described him as being “very British-esque in his persona”. Bunting replied, “Nigel is clearly somebody who has achieved outstanding academic achievement and qualifications. In a sense, he reminds me of the black Englishman of colonial times … .” Roper interjected, “Black royalty.” Bunting continued: “… [T]he sort of, who aspired to be sort of black royalty.” He subsequently elaborated, “Great English, British education and sort of, in a sense, mimicking the values and the affectations of the former colonial masters.”

I get it. The point that the men were trying to make was that there was a contrast between Hayle, who had to overcome socio-economic obstacles to attain her well-deserved achievements, versus Clarke, who emerged from a more privileged environment, was more refined, and may have less in common with his constituents.

However, I found their remarks to be bewildering and insensitive. Clarke’s academic achievements would make any parent proud. He was educated at St Richard’s Primary School in St Andrew, Munro College in St Elizabeth and the UWI, Mona. He is also a Rhodes Scholar, and completed his education at the prestigious Oxford University in Britain. However, the man who was instrumental in founding and initially leading the People’s National Party, the organisation that Bunting has demonstrated commitment to, was of similar ilk to Clarke, and even more “British-esque”.

After all, Norman Washington Manley had an Irish grandfather, and, like Clarke, was a Rhodes Scholar, which meant that he, too, studied at Oxford University. Would Bunting and Roper refer to the great Norman Manley as “aspiring to be like black royalty”, or describe him as “mimicking the values and the affectations of our former colonial masters?” I doubt it.

Also, Bunting, too, is someone “who has achieved outstanding academic achievement and qualifications”, having studied at McGill University (where he received the James McGill Award & Quebec Iron and Titanium Scholarship for academic achievement) and the University of Florida (where he was named Matherly Scholar for outstanding academic achievement), so his pronouncements reek of hypocrisy.

What is also unfortunate is the tone used to refer to Dr Clarke, in light of his stellar academic accomplishments. Being educated, intelligent, articulate, and possessing an excellent command of the English language are assets, not liabilities, and Bunting and Roper’s comments feed the nasty stereotype that when a black man is eloquent, polished and well-spoken, he is “mimicking the white man”.

Too many Jamaicans view people who speak English clearly and fluently with disdain. Children, especially boys, are bullied at school for speaking proper English. Some have even been attacked, and I know of at least one who was killed by thugs in his community because he “spoke too properly” and, therefore, must have been a “ba**yman”. He was fatally shot, and his body set on fire.

I believe Ms Hayle and Dr Clarke strived for excellence in their pursuits. But the fact that Dr Clarke’s journey began in an environment in which he shared space with driven caregivers (his father was a judge and his mother a teacher and Jamaica’s first children’s advocate) and took him to one of the most respected seats of higher learning in the world is no reason to utter disparaging remarks about his character.

Shame on Bunting and Roper! Their attitudes and remarks only serve to denigrate black people who have worked hard to elevate themselves. They owe Dr Clarke an apology.

Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.