Orville Taylor | No Massa! It’s not White, it’s wrong
There are times when one gets an extra ‘A’ and instead of it improving the quality of one’s degree, it actually drops them into deep hot water. Last week in Parliament it was once again a display of what was worst among us. I cannot speak for the...
There are times when one gets an extra ‘A’ and instead of it improving the quality of one’s degree, it actually drops them into deep hot water. Last week in Parliament it was once again a display of what was worst among us. I cannot speak for the intention of Finance Minister Nigel Clarke, and honestly I really have no reason to believe that he was being malicious. In concluding the budget debate, he referred to Opposition Leader Mark Golding as “Massa Mark”. Indeed, my initial impression as he attempted to be dramatic was simply that he was stepping outside of his character and attempting humour. There is no algorithm or equation for the product called funniness.
Of course, most of us are stuck in one cultural level in this stratified society and code shifting is an extremely difficult thing to do. Indeed, only a very small minority of us, generally those of us who are multilingual, are able to shift from one type of code to another with comfort. There’s a story about my pretentious middle-class colleague with several degrees like a thermometer, who trying to demonstrate his erudition and penchant for the British mother tongue, pretended not to be able to speak good Patwa, having lost the art in college.
At some point, however, in the conversation, as he waxed eloquently he mentioned having ridden a ‘dangky’. With a straight face, I remarked, “Apparently you did fall off the donkey in the middle of your speech.”
In native Jamaican parlance, there is a hell of a difference between ‘Mass’ and ‘Massa’. Mass is a term of endearment and respect, generally used to refer to or greet an elder with more age, respect and knowledge than teeth. However, the term Massa suggests someone in a hierarchical role and in the context of a plantation like this one, it typically points to a member whether a physical or sociological, of the planter class, often with the adjective Bakra or Bucky before it. Twist is as much as you wish; Massa means that you are a slave master and is a derogatory moniker.
Clarke might very well have simply meant something other than what the ordinary Jamaican does; but one must understand, similar to the United States unless one has obvious African descent, he can’t use the N word.
Over the last few years, since Golding ascended to the leadership of the People’s National Party (PNP), elements in this country, unfortunately including a small stupid minority within the party itself, have attempted to play the race card.
Let us be factual here! This is a Black Country. We have more black people in this country than Jews in Israel. Therefore, let us not fool ourselves with some pathetic appeal to this being a rainbow nation, exaggerating our motto, “Out of Many, One People”. We are a Black Country with racial minorities, all of whom, like the majority, are equal under the Constitution. The fact that a person is from a racial or ethnic minority, whatever that is, but is chosen as the best person at the time to fill a role, should be of no significance. I am willing to bet that no one had any issue with a white karateka fighting in Jamaican colours or a mostly white driver kicking up a storm on the international rally car circuit.
In a modern democracy, as Jah Jah Haile Selassie I declared, the colour of a man’s skin ought not to have any significance in determining how he treated. Thus, even if Golding is indeed a white man, without one drop of African ancestry it makes no difference. In an earlier column on this same subject I raised the question the degree of blackness of Edward Seaga, late leader of the modern Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).
Yet, PNP member Angela Brown Burke was understandably and justifiably upset and stood up in indignant protest. Consequently, the proper thing for Clarke to have done very early, as in seconds after the first ‘Massa’ fell from his lips, should have been apologies for that expression and some remediating comment. Truth is, another government member had referred to Golding as a descendant of a slave master. Thus, she was rightfully peeved, as would the founder of the JLP, Alexander Bustamante.
That the female Speaker of the House was craven in her inaction, in Women’s History Month, as her colleagues heckled Brown Burke, is reprehensible. We waited for the Speaker to speak, but mum was the word. Regrettably, Brown Burke flipped and shouted, “Shut yuh mouth and let me talk”, and dropped a catch, when loose balls were being hit.
The lesson being sent to the reasonable bystander is that there was no acknowledgement that the comment was offensive. Thus, it was wilful. An early apology, in a society where young men are struggling for positive male role models, is an excellent remedy. On the other hand, defiance or recalcitrance, coupled with the support of their members, who know better, does nothing to endear them or their party to the rest of the public.
Campaign trails do not continue into the Houses of Parliament; only decorum and national interest. The kids are watching.
- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer at the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Send feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.