by Kavon Fiennes
As a Black Jamaican I am very confused as to why Jamaica has felt the need to join in the annual American celebration of Black History Month in February. Yes I know that we are a predominantly black population…and yes, yes, I also know that there are a few notable Jamaicans who have contributed to the “Black Narrative” of America including Marcus Garvey and Claude McKay. But before readers send any hate mail, I ask what is the real relevance of this to Jamaicans or Blacks in general?
Is the celebration an affirmation of ourselves as Blacks? Is our recognition of Black History Month to join in unison with an American minority group simply because our skin is of a similar hue? Or is it that we are as disenfranchised as they are/were?
But then again, is Black history month racist? Is it Black propaganda? Is this not a glaring example of racial double standards and should we denounce this celebration?
It is of course interesting to note that Black History Month predominantly profiles the great achievements of persons of colour. Scarce objectivity is in practice when showcasing the exemplary lives of these individuals. If there were a negative side of their character or of the institutions that they set up, it would easily excused as a way to some greater good. For example, the UNIA founded by Marcus Garvey, has expelled Dr. Julius Garvey (Marcus Garvey’s extant son, a renown surgeon in the US) from the organization, for marrying a white woman.
Why doesn’t Black History Month look at the history of atrocities of Black leaders in the motherland, Africa? Isn’t that Black History too? Charles Taylor (Liberia), Robert Gabriel Mugabe (Zimbabwe), Omar Bongo (Gabon), Idi Amin (Uganda) and Teodora Obiang Mbasogo (Equatorial Guinea) just to name a few black tyrants that came readily to mind. These leaders, past and present have been raping and pillaging their countries and citizens for their personal gain over the last 30-50 years. As far as I am aware “white” history encompasses atrocities of whites. “White” history covers the good, the bad and the ugly.
Right here in Jamaica, we love to tout the greatness of the Maroons. Why are we afraid to address the role the Maroons played in perpetuating slavery and suppression of Black Jamaican slaves trying to gain their own freedom, after the Maroons’ peace treaty with the British? The Maroons returned of escaped slaves that they caught back to plantations; and evidence has emerged that they may have played a possible role in killing Jamaicans during the subduing of rioters in the Morant Bay rebellion.
This brings me to a very serious question that I have for Jamaicans…What of celebrating the contributions of minorities right here in Jamaica in our nation building?….The Chinese, East Indians and Jews have done very well in business and commerce, providing thousands of jobs for our citizens. Shouldn’t we be celebrating and affirming them?
Then again, Whither “White History” Month? What about the focusing on the contributions of the minority of “whites” in Jamaican history. White people have enhanced Jamaica tremendously, from the birth of our education system across the length and breadth of the country, to our Christian faith establishment; and the initiation of not only Jamaica’s, but regional medical training and research? Why not make it a March celebration?
One’s skin colour (or lack of it) is due to genetic control of melanocytes (skin cells that produce the pigment melanin), which is beyond our cerebral control. So I would argue that history should be colourless, as the history of the individual or group of individuals is more than black or white, and really is shades or grey. For example, the US President’s mother and maternal grandparents were White, and our national motto is “Out of Many, One People”….Jamaica has more history in it than just being “Black”. History is just that, history.