Slavery in this part of the world has been over for quite some time — 1838 in the British West Indies to be exact — and during that time the former slaves and their children have come a long way. Millionaires, politicians and clergymen came from this ‘humble’ stock, as well as people who always kept the flame of total equality for the masses burning bright. And yet, when Marcus Garvey came onto the scene stating in no unclear way we were still mentally enslaved he was more or less condemned.
Sadly, the message delivered then was not heeded, and what’s even sadder still is that, as I write this, many people in this side of the world firmly disavow and mock the term mental slavery while remaining rigidly shackled themselves. These shackles can be found all over the place, some of them are blatantly obvious. Some are ridiculously small and outright funny, for who can’t help but chuckle a bit when one sees the chief justice in all his/her thick, hot, clunky garb that looks so out of place in a region like Jamaica?
Another obvious example of our remaining enslaved is the useless and potentially destructive role of the governor general. Now we can all laugh at the fact that this man has been knighted for nought, and we can cringe that his office is a constant reminder of our lack of full independence, but let us take time to be worried as well. The governor general as the representative of The Queen can shoot down Bills, remove the prime minister, and even call for foreign intervention (Reserve Power).
This is not made up, or a random theory or something dragged from the air, this is a fact and a tool that has been (albeit rarely) used. The examples of the removal of the Australian prime minister, Gough Whitlam, in the 70s by the governor general (The Dismissal) and the call for foreign intervention by the Governor General of Grenada Sir Paul Scoon in the 80s have set the precedent. Now the common retort to that statement is, “Well, that would be the governor general signing his own death warrant.” But with Australia and Grenada still retaining the governor general, with our seemingly never-ending fetish with The Queen, and seeing one of our own being paid by us to ‘rule for the foreigner’, we can see where the chains are still holding firm.
For heaven’s sake, if your defence of the monarchy, the governor general and the Privy Council is “they keep us safe from the local corruption” — and you’d be surprised at how common that statement in particular is — then you are mentally enslaved. I am afraid that you are saying that you would prefer foreign corruption and exploitation (the Privy Council, for example, can and is influenced) that you can’t control, rather than a domestic version which you can tailor to our needs and better regulate, and that is saying you prefer the mental chains.
Mental slavery is again visible through the disgusting, disturbing, and heartbreaking practice of skin-bleaching. This is probably the most visible and telling sign that, yes, we are still enslaved, and large chunks of black people are running from their race. This act, though disturbing, is, in its warped way, something I as a ‘brown man’ understand. That people who make up less than 10 per cent of what the average Jamaican looks like are treated better than the other 90 per cent feeds this sick fetish is not novel, in fact, it is now so common that it is clichéd to the extent that individuals no longer take it on board. Examples of this abound and are plentiful. There are many times when I, an utter unknown (but brown-skinned), am treated better than the known (darker-skinned) person. To make matters worse, this treatment of placing a person of a lighter complexion above the darker individual is meted out by black people. How can we end bleaching if that treatment continues? How can we end that treatment unless and until we liberate ourselves mentally?
Areas as innocuous as clothing and the dress code have long acted as hidden shackles in our minds. Girls told no to ‘natural’ hair at school (though a white person’s hair is natural to them), boys told to cut their hair to a military length (not so for the ‘nice hair’) and being turned back for government places because of the length of clothing. This particular area has reached levels of such insanity that even people who don’t normally believe we are mentally chained now demand rules relating to our archaic and colonial dress code in public (government) buildings.
However, what is, in my opinion, the largest shackle, the heaviest ball we carry, is our relationship with patois. This is the mass vernacular of the nation, it is a tongue spoken by all people of all races, class, in both formal and informal settings. It is the language of our ancestors — white, black and in-between — the language of commerce (local), and we treat it like absolute garbage. We deride it — and people who use it — and, to defend the self-hate, we spew lame and factually incorrect statements such as, “Haiti uses creole as the main language and as a result they are poor for want of trade.” Statements such as that (and it is a statement shared by far too many people) show people who know nothing of history and are just bringing to light those who wish to see us remain in mental chains. Haiti is impoverished not because they ‘use creole and can’t trade’; a forced ‘deal’ by the French post-Independence, relentless foreign occupation, the propping up of tyrants by foreigners and some poor national choices have led to Haiti being where it is now. When the Dutch, French, English and Africans met up in southern Africa, the indigenous language was Afrikaans, a creole, a bastardised tongue. Up until the fall of the Apartheid regime in 1994, it was the language of South Africa with special status — because Afrikaners make up a small portion of the already small white populace. Apartheid South Africa was and forever shall be a mark against humanity, but the ruling white elite of that regime understood cultural retention in this (language) aspect in ways that we, their opponents are yet to fully grasp, language is a major hurdle to mental emancipation.
Black liberation, our full emancipation, is a long and slow process. It took centuries of riots and rebellions to get the physical chains off, a further century of struggle for us to get equal political rights, but we still have some way to go as it relates to total emancipation. Mental emancipation is a must if we are to truly be both emancipated and independent. We must learn to love ourselves, our black selves. We must truly accept and acknowledge that black skin is not intrinsically bad, that Afro languages are not signs of ‘ignorance’ and we must appreciate that all that is European and North American is not necessarily better than that which is African. The liberation is happening, continuing rather, it has its ups and downs, but some 100 years since Garvey stirred things up again solid progress has been made. I just wish it was more.
Alexander Scott is a political and social commentator, legal clerk, sports enthusiast, and proud graduate of St George’s College.
By Alexander Scott/Jamaica Observer