Orville Taylor | Another race clout
On Wednesday last while hosting Radio Jamaica’s Hotline on 94 FM, I firmly responded to and dismissed a narrative coming from the mouth of the Bobo Rastafari elder, Jah Lloyd. ‘Selassie I liveth everytime!’
It was perhaps the first time that I so stridently disagreed with him and I still do. In attempting to build an argument, consistent with the doctrine of repatriation, African sovereignty and the glorious culture of Africans, whether born on the continent or on ‘I land’, this island, he sought to establish that the building hosting the Houses of Parliament, Gordon House, was named after a non-black man, and in particular the son of a slave master.
A well-respected ‘bredrin’ of mine reproached me that I was unreasonably harsh in my dismissal and in particular my refusal to let him build an argument on the premise that Gordon was somehow not part of the black race.
There was no intention to offend the Ras, and insofar as my comments and course of action might have seemed disrespectful I publicly apologise; not for my stance, but for the possibility that he took offence. An important lesson we learn as members of a society is that even when we are right, and our actions and speech are not intended to be harmful, there can still be offence. Truth is, one can never measure the impact one’s actions, whether good or bad, may have on others. For this reason a ‘Christ-ian’ approach always requires that we take the place of the other, when mediating our actions.
DEFEND THE STANCE
Let me make it clear here. I defend the stance I took, because Gordon for me is perhaps the greatest of our national heroes. Doubtless, in terms of international impact and the way that he has influenced black thought and civilisation since the 20th century, Marcus Garvey as a black man, ranks second only to Jesus as a man with hair of wool and skin of bronze.
Nonetheless Gordon, true, was born the son of a plantation owner and slaver. However, anything that comes from the womb of a black woman can be nothing but black. Indeed, Among the Ashanti the traditional lineage, called abusua, is the matriline, because we are always sure who our mother is. In fact, we did not trace lineage so much via the ntoro, the paternal seed. Even outside of the context of an enslaved or post-slavery population like Jamaica where misplaced fatherhood is a major phenomenon, this makes perfect sense.
Therefore, to say that an African woman’s child is not African is totally disrespectful to our heritage and African identity itself. Mark you, there are persons who choose to emphasise or de-emphasise certain elements of their biological origin. This is why in sociology and anthropology we recognise that race actually does not exist, but insofar as we think that it does, it is a set of identifiable biological features which are considered to be relevant in a particular social or cultural context.
Race is a fluid category. My Chinese friend who has very little African ancestry went to participate in a martial arts tournament in China. It certainly didn’t help that he didn’t speak Chinese, but he came back realising that they saw him as black. Half-Indians might be Indians in Jamaica but Douglas in Trinidad. And a reality check here. Even if you look white, the ‘one drop’ rule makes you black if you are in Britain, Europe, the US or Australia. Gordon might have been seen by some Jamaicans as not completely black. But he identified with us, took our fight into the House of Representatives, cursed out the colonial governor on our behalf and ultimately was murdered by the colonial administration.
Unlike Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle and Garvey who, like most of us, don’t show the minor non-black tinges in our blood, and therefore fought for themselves; Gordon had a choice and he picked us.
If we go back to when and where scientists agree that homo sapiens emerged; the irrefutable evidence and consensus is that we all emerged from Africa. And if there was an Adam or Adams, they rose from the dust in the horn of Africa. There is little doubt, having followed the Human Genome Project over the past three decades, that even Missa Singh, Missa Chin and the Tainos, all made a long journey from Africa.
Still, the more recent arrivals would mean that we Jamaicans came mostly from Ghana. True, Ethiopia has great significance to me as a diaspora African. However, I was brought from Ghana, not Abyssinia
Thus, because I am ostensibly Ashanti and not Ethiopian, my standard for where I shall identify is West African; not Ethiopian.
In Jamaica, with a black majority population, persons of mixed race often choose to identify with one over the other; and he should be free to do so. However, when one, such as Gordon, took on a fight for his mother’s people and paid the ultimate sacrifice, no one should even try to besmirch his contribution.
So, in concluding, in a period when we are very antsy over the racial references to our political leaders, I apologise for roughing up the Ras. But while I let the Ras hold his view, I cannot let him or anyone use wrong or untrue platform, to make a point.
n 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.