Tue | Mar 20, 2018

Stephen Edwards | Must black people know their place, Mr Bunting?

Published:Sunday | March 11, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Peter Bunting


The People's National Party's (PNP) Peter Bunting has been justifiably excoriated in electronic, print and social media over the past several days for exposing his ignorance and naked partisanship in comments made on his online platform about newly elected JLP Member of Parliament, Ambassador Dr Nigel Clarke.

The immediate and sustained nature of the condemnation was, however, cathartic to the body politic, as it suggested that Bunting's distorted views have no place in modern Jamaica.

Bunting compared the two candidates for the St Andrew North West by-election, characterising one, Keisha Hayle, by highlighting her achievements in multiple domains, while unfairly categorising the other, Dr Nigel Clarke, in one-dimensional language that only emphasised his academic credentials earned 20 years ago. Left up to Bunting's mean-spirited and distorted projection of Clarke, one might be mistakenly led to believe that he has sat at home idle for two decades.

The brief clip neglected Clarke's well-documented, long-standing and impressive civic and national accomplishments using music, chess, and public lectures as transformational tools to empower the minds of young people. Neither Bunting nor his co-host, the Rev Garnett Roper, made any reference to Clarke's substantial public-sector credentials leading institutions such as HEART and the National Housing Trust, with worthy results. Clarke's service in the Senate, widely regarded as distinctive, was also absent from the programme.

Clarke's record also includes private-sector stewardship with Caribbeanwide corporate responsibility across many sectors of the economy and service as ambassador of economic affairs. These contributions were omitted in Bunting's analysis.

The programme, therefore, presented a demonstrably false portrayal of Clarke. The one-dimensional characterisation may have been intended, or it may have resulted from sloppy preparation. Either way, it reflects very poorly on Rev Roper and Mr Bunting who, arguably, have been exposed in this instance as propagandists, disingenuous commentators, and/or merchants of partisan falsehood. Their performance diminished the public's view of their intellectual honesty.

Having constructed their straw man as composed only of academic pedigree and unceremoniously stripped of his other accomplishments, they then characterised this fictional character as "aspiring to be black royalty".

"Aspiring to be black royalty" is a euphemism for the 'uppity Negro', the black man who does not know his place. These phrases would have been common in racist culture of the early 20th century. The aspirant or uppity Negro aspires after things, usually knowledge or professional accomplishments, that are seen as naturally belonging to white folks. These words were employed by a white supremacist society to denigrate and belittle some of our most accomplished black ancestors in colonial times.

The first deeply disturbing irony is that Bunting, a highly accomplished black man, employs this racist construct to describe another highly accomplished black man.

Bob Marley exhorted us to free ourselves from mental slavery. This requires a complete rejection of white supremacist thinking that sees some knowledge or art forms as appropriate for blacks and other knowledge the domain of whites.

Observe the disposition of the Chinese, Japanese or Jews who pursue excellence in all fields. All knowledge is the inheritance of mankind, irrespective of origin. After all, we learn Newtonian physics and our number system owes its existence to Indian and Arabian mathematicians while writing, paper and pen, among other features of modern life, had origins in Ancient Egypt.

With recklessness, Bunting advances a perilous ideology by promoting the view that because Clarke has "great British education" and is a man with wide interests, he is "mimicking the values and affectations of the former colonial masters". This illogic is dangerous as it is opposed to the maximisation of the potential of a people.

The other unfortunate irony is that it is actually Bunting who is mimicking colonial masters with the implication that academic excellence and wide artistic interests are the preserve of colonial whites.

The racist view embodied in Bunting's description is that black people can only possess these values by mimicking, and there is nothing authentic about a black man with wide intellectual pursuits. With the white man, such interests are organic and natural, and intellectual freedom is inherent. Nigel, however, a black man, should not be intellectually free. He must restrain himself and know his place.

Bunting, who is a member of Jamaica's elite, broadly defined, fails to recognise that leadership is neither about one's achievements nor one's background.

Fidel Castro and Simon Bolivar were from the landed elite, Toussaint L'Ouverture was a former slave, and Winston Churchill was from the aristocracy. Leadership is fundamentally about the ability to connect emotionally with other human beings, a skill that rests upon possession of empathy, a virtue that Bunting increasingly shows he lacks.

- Stephen Edwards is president of Generation 2000, a Jamaica Labour Party affiliate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.