Mark Wignall | Massa, a wha dis?
If I am in conversation with a group of youngsters that are trying to wind their early life through the world of paid employment and I say this, ‘The best boss to have in Jamaica is a person of Jamaican/Chinese extraction’, many may say that I have uttered something racist.
Jamaica is a melting pot of good ideas and too many bad people. In our racial makeup we are many and there is hardly a time when a politician is not ready and willing to use race, skin colour and its terminologies as invective hurled at his rival.
Finance Minister Dr. Nigel Clarke is a black skinned man. Opposition Leader Mark Golding is white. While addressing Parliament at the close of the Budget Debate, Clarke dipped down to something raw and political. Earlier at a People’s National Party (PNP) political gathering, Golding had referred to Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) supporters as “damn fools”.
In the House, Clarke took aim at Golding and said “He didn’t sound like Markie G” it was more like “Massa Mark”. And of course, the time was ripe for the criticisms of the ruling JLP and the consistently brightest star in the PM’s Cabinet. The time was ripe because the ruling JLP was at the beginning of a long season of political self-doubt. Polls had indicated that in most of the important sociopolitical metrics, the JLP was lagging behind the opposition PNP.
The criticisms were fast and furious, and most people I spoke with saw it as important and real as the expectation of manna from heaven. Yawn.
Both of the gentlemen involved are intellectuals. Intellectuals are always on a search to identify and define not just real-world situations, but delicate racial and racist behaviours of the past. And the extent to which their hangovers are living with us.
Party politics is hardly ever about elderly and oh so decent people sitting on the patio at 3 p.m. sipping tea. It is rough, indecent, and quite tough. Luckily for us, it doesn’t quite kill us as it did with a ferocity in the 1970s and early 1980’s. Those tilling the killing fields have shovelled the deaths away from the politics and more towards a broader penchant for many violent moments.
What makes the matter a non-moment is that both politicians know that it was pure political banter. It may have cut too close to the bone, but remember, the game of politics requires that indecency be often handled as a most desired option. Just ask Warmington.
COLOUR IN POLITICS
Most of the few of us who have felt any serious interest in this political moment may not have recognised that even inside the JLP and PNP, there have been very delicate racial moments, some of those even spilling over into the public space. In the book Truth be Told by Glynne Manley, she is in conversation with Michael Manley. They were discussing the disrespect coming from the PNP party leadership because Michael was talking out on certain matters where they believed he should be mute. It was in the early 1990s.
“They have probably always resented the fact that a brown man could have had what was sometimes quite an extraordinary rapport and empathy with the poorest of the blacks of this country, both urban and rural. ... I think that they decided, partly by design and partly by unconscious process, that they were going to show everybody, including me, what it really means by “black man time come”, said Michael.
And while many of us know that because the late PM and JLP Opposition Leader Eddie Seaga cared little about making himself likeable, that made it easier for the PNP’s PR team to use his personality against him. His father-like folding of his political wings around the community of Tivoli Gardens in West KIngston did not help. It certainly didn’t help that Tivoli Gardens was armed to the teeth. There was no shortage of M16 assault rifles.
Inside the JLP in the post-1980’s period, many of the factions there had strong racial criticisms of Seaga who was a white man. They would tend to keep their delicate racial viewpoints outside of the public view. On top of that, the colour construct connected with the Jamaican corporate world.
“No, I could never make myself available for leader of the JLP. Come on Mark, don’t pretend that you don’t how this country is set. Look at my black skin colour. You think my skin colour will be any strong magnet from corporate Jamaica to party funding? Quite the opposite,’ he said.
THERE IS LIFE AFTER PAINFUL POLLS
A regular reader wrote: “I think you are spot on about measuring the political temperature in six months to see if there has been a recovery. I think Mr Golding has been wise to travel the island and engage the people of Jamaica in the various districts he visits. Grass-roots engagement is very important for Jamaicans. I personally saw when Michael Manley visited various districts in my native St Mary how much the people loved the engagement. The people want to see their leaders, eat a food with them, run some jokes, complain, and generally, engage.
I notice that whoever is in power in Jamaica tends to take themselves too seriously, attend only the stush functions, travel abroad and talk a lot, and they forget the fundamentals, the people, the districts, the reasoning and engaging the people you are elected to serve.”
HARDENED HEARTS FOR PERSONAL PAIN
As someone who contemplated suicide in a part of the 1980’s after my wife left, I am all the more sympathetic to those experiencing the darkest times of their life. I was lucky. The thought of suicide happened after not sleeping for four whole days. And especially the nights. I just wanted some rest. After that I grew into accepting my reality, and the band played on.
Last Tuesday, I entered a small shop on Molynes Road, and the talk from the two people in there and the shopowner was like this. “So dem wan kill demselves. What dem a wait pon.” I was jolted at this strong expression of a failure to think and feel.
“Listen my brothers. A lot of people of all ages and especially children and adolescents, are experiencing acute mental pain … .”
“So, Mr Mark, whey we fi do bout dat?” one asked, rather gruffly.
I told them that I was in a rush, grabbed the bread I had bought, and left. I have had discussions of this nature before, and no consensus is ever reached.
- Mark Wignall is a political and public affairs analyst. Send feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.