Carolyn Cooper | Racial politics in Jamaica
Last Friday, The Gleaner published an alarming editorial in which Mark Golding, leader of the People’s National Party (PNP), was described as “a white, wealthy Jamaican nationalist, whose life transcends race”. That statement is fundamentally contradictory. The very fact that Golding is defined as “white” is itself proof that his life does not “transcend” race. Whiteness is an essential element of his identity. As are class and gender, for that matter!
Google’s English dictionary defines ‘transcend’ in this way: “be or go beyond the range or limits of (a field of activity or conceptual sphere).” In theory, race as a social construct can be located within a conceptual sphere. But it is also a lived reality, particularly in our society that was founded on racial exploitation and continues to suffer the consequences of our brutal history.
Perhaps, The Gleaner editorial intended to claim that Mark Golding’s life transcends racial politics. Even so, that would not be at all true. Golding’s right to lead the People’s National Party has been perversely contested by members of his own party, precisely on the basis of race. He is seen as too white to head a political party in a predominantly black society.
This is a short-sighted view that I constantly challenge. Mark Golding is a man of integrity who is attempting to transcend the privileges and limitations that his race, class and gender impose on him. He is committed to improving the lives of poor Jamaicans, most of whom are black. Golding has chosen to pick a side.
It appears as if The Gleaner editorial wanted to turn white Mark Golding into a man above race in order to demonise another PNP politician, Lothan Cousins, who is black. Cousins’ life, presumably, does not transcend race. The abusive headline of the editorial was, “Lothan Cousins’ idiocy”. That juvenile insult suggests that Cousins mashed quite a few corns.
At Julian Robinson’s constituency conference last weekend, Cousins focused on several disturbing issues: crime, the exorbitant cost of living and the migration crisis. Incidentally, I see that the Minister of Education Fayval Williams is encouraging teachers to “invest” as an alternative to migrating. She is delusional. Most teachers can barely cover their monthly expenses, much more to be even thinking about creating an investment portfolio. With what?
It is the remarks Cousins made about private-sector support of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) that attracted the most media coverage. His own family history provides the evidence for his conviction that the JLP represents the interests of the powerful economic and social class in Jamaica. Poor people must work miracles to survive. They must conjure investment portfolios out of thin air.
In 1989, Lothan Cousins’ grandfather, Emmanuel, ran against Hugh Shearer in the general election. Emmanuel was a very popular cane cutter and trade unionist. In the run-up to the election, Shearer declared that “nobody dat walk foot or cut cane” could beat him. On the night of the election, Emmanuel Cousins was declared the winner. Then a recount was done and Shearer won by four votes. Michael Manley advised Cousins to not challenge the suspiciously close victory of the then deputy prime minister. Class loyalty seemed to transcend racial politics.
In 1993, Emmanuel Cousins became the campaign manager for Peter Bunting who was challenging Hugh Shearer in the general election. Bunting won by 1,443 votes. This was a vicarious victory for the walk-foot cane cutter who was robbed of his own seat in Parliament. Fast-forward to 2022 when Emmanuel’s grandson, Lothan, is now a member of parliament. Whether you agree with him or not, Cousins is certainly entitled to speak his mind at a political meeting. All is fair in love and war; and politics in Jamaica is tribal war.
BEVERLEY MANLEY & SISTA P
Two powerful documentaries were recently released which focus on race, class and gender in Jamaica. Beverley Manley uncensored: an intimate portrait of a Jamaican icon is a four-part series on the life of an exceptional black woman. Beverly Anderson transcended social barriers to become the wife of ‘high-brown’ Michael Manley. Like Mark Golding, Manley was not always seen as an appropriate leader of the PNP, again because of his race. A political activist in her own right, Beverley was sensitive to the plight of poor black Jamaicans and encouraged Michael to act on their behalf.
I was surprised to learn that the PNP policy of free education was essentially a gimmick. Beverley reports that Michael was searching for what he called a ‘peroration,’ a grand climax to his 1973 budget speech. It was Beverley who suggested free education. That rhetorical gesture proved to be revolutionary. The lives of hundreds of thousands of poor Jamaicans were transformed by access to free education, right up to the tertiary level.
Girl from Wood Hall: the story of Portia Simpson Miller recounts the epic journey of another extraordinary Jamaican woman. To rise from impoverished rural Jamaica to become prime minister is a spectacular achievement. So much attention has been focused on Sister P’s limitations, particularly the fact that she was not as highly educated as many of her challengers. But what Sister P lacked in formal education she certainly made up for in native intelligence.
Race, class and gender do define our conception of who is entitled to become a political leader. But each of us does have the power to choose to align ourselves with either the oppressors or the oppressed. Then, there won’t be a column by me next week. Not because I’ll be censored or censured for my critique of that inflammatory The Gleaner editorial. I’m taking my annual break from writing for the month of September.
Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a teacher of English language and literature and a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.