White versus Black, Believer versus Other- and Non-Believer, heterosexual versus practically every other sexual expression or identity: these are the fields upon which contemporary culture wars are being waged — the seeds of some were planted centuries ago, and some do not even know why they are soldiers in the war, they just know that they were born to it, they inherited it, and now find themselves perpetrators and casualties. The bitter end oft seems slow in coming, and we, the embattled, are unable to break free of the cycles of pain and violence. The unfortunate reality is that we are capable of so much more, but unwilling to compromise, lest our efforts be seen as capitulation.
Jamaica recently saw a massive rally against the anti-buggery law — a lovely and most useful relic from our colonial past — and all things apparently "gay". We also saw visits from three very important foreign dignitaries all in the space of a week, basically, and the results were less than optimal, to say the least. We have also seen Jamaican Muslims unfairly stereotyped and feared, all because a few very distant apples seem to have spoilt the bunch; although, geographically, and from a socio-cultural perspective, I can't really make sense of how this has come to pass, given that Jamaica does not exactly have a history of religious terrorism. Well, not of that particular sort, at any rate.
In August, Jamaica celebrates two important holidays: the Emancipation of our ancestors from their enslavement, after their forced exodus from their homeland; and the Independence of Jamaica from Britain only a few decades ago. October is the month during which we remember and honour those who purchased our freedom with their blood; the freedom we seem to take for granted, and whose purchase we dishonour when we needlessly destroy each other.
Jamaicans have always been a rebellious people; after all, numerous among our enslaved ancestors were those who were deemed too troublesome to be taken to other territories. The struggle has always been real for us, and that genetic inheritance continues to manifest even to this day. Jamaicans, in addition to being supremely proud of many of our athletes' accomplishments, while simultaneously undervaluing the accomplishments of others such as Merlene Ottey are tremendously, and quite rightfully, proud of our motto "Out of Many, One People". I invite you to meditate on those words for just a moment: gently masticate those words, roll them around on your tongue and truly savour their taste; hear them echo in your mind; behold the concept in your mind's eye. How do they taste? How do they sound? Perhaps lofty and romantic, or perhaps, visionary and attainable. The question is: How do we get there?
In truth, our society has lived this concept in many ways, and I am sure that you can think of a few; but I fear we have fallen prey to other, less noble, ideas and concepts which have taken root and slowly soured our continued realisation of that motto. We have allowed ourselves to be blinded by the pain we endure on a daily basis. For far too many, that pain comes in the form of poverty, for others it is their perceived class, or the colour of their skin; for others still, it comes in the form of unwavering beliefs and lack of compassion and empathy for those who believe otherwise.
I have often reflected, in private and in some of my previous posts, on how deleterious and tedious these loathsome, futile conflicts have proved to be. The war between some of our friends in the Middle East over land rights, which eventually evolved into something greater, is one such example. The recent mistreatment of Haitians in the Dominican Republic, Syrian refugees, Kurds in Turkey, the continuing conflicts in Tunisia, the ever-widening chasm between races in America, and I could go on, are just a few other examples of how war has stricken humanity. We use our rights to freedom of speech and assembly, our belief in our own moral superiority, as cudgels against the perceived "Other".
However, as I reflected on the massive rally that recently occurred, I could not help but see the irony of it all. A once proud, united race of people, who hailed from a land where difference and uniqueness was not only often encouraged, but celebrated, were stripped of their humanity — to be fair, they did grudgingly leave them with three-fifths — and their culture; their lands and titles, their gods and goddesses, and taken across the Atlantic to become cattle and chattel. In order to ensure their unquestioning obedience and subservience, a new religion — Ding! Ding! Ding! — was introduced to them. Apologies, that sounded a lot more civil and innocuous than it actually was, but what the hell, go with me here. Centuries later, that same religion is the basis on which the majority in Jamaica seek dominion over the various minorities; my heartfelt gratitude to our colonial overlords, your lessons were well received.
I could not help but think of the words of one of our national heroes, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, later immortalised in Robert Nesta Marley's Redemption Song. Marcus Garvey, who was one of the greatest pioneers of the Black Movement, who influenced later civil rights leaders like Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Black people have a history of strong leaders in Coretta Scott King, Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Wiley Evers, Bayard Rustin, Paul Bogle, Nanny of the Maroons, Samuel Sharpe and others on the front lines, and later, poets, writers, dancers, artists, inventors, scientists and other great minds; but I digress. Why is it that even as we have these great examples of positive Negritude — I am by no means claiming that they were not flawed humans like the rest of us — we still insist on exhibiting the very worst that we can possibly muster?
"Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind." I appreciate that religion, while deeply flawed in its current state and, most often, far removed from the purely spiritual objectives it once sought to fulfil, has its place in human societies; and most religions tend towards ideals of love, peace, harmony, and generally positive concepts overall. I wonder, if even in some small way, Marcus Garvey may have been also referring to the religion of our colonisers. That would require a highly intellectual discourse, much research and, eventually, a séance. However, when tens of thousands of people, in the name of a religion that was used to denigrate the humanity and civilisation of their ancestors, get together to do the exact same thing to their brothers and sisters, the irony is not lost on me. Sometimes I wonder if getting some of those people to the polls would be quite as easy; not that I vote, mind you, considering that I don't really see what I would possibly be voting for that would justify, in my mind, the monstrously long lines, possible intimidation tactics and Lord knows what else from rival supporters. That's just my wonderfully pregnant imagination at work, once again. Still, enough horror stories abound for me to be somewhat sceptical and cautious.
Anyway, my point is that we as a people would benefit far more from embracing our brothers and sisters, perceived flaws, differences and all, than continuing this futile war against each other. People always seem eager to pick a side, when the only side that really matters, unity, in the face of greater and greater odds, is the best one to pick. PNP versus JLP, and all other parties that, given our truly binary, tribalistic hive mind, will never, ever have a chance to win a national election; LGBT and every other colour in the Skittles factory versus "straight" — I equally shudder at that, and the term "homosexual", but that's for another time — all of these labels, and divides that really don't matter when we're all treading the same economic and social sewage brought on by decades of myopia and mismanagement not only from our leaders, but also from those who continued to put them back into power, are the reason why "Out of Many, One People" will continue to be a foreign concept to Jamaicans.
As we perpetuate the "crab in a barrel" mentality, and claim to "love the sinner, and hate the sin" — not realising that in our current limited human capacity the former is tantamount to the latter and that the concept is a complete paradox — we diminish the already microscopically minute intellectual and other resources that we have to free ourselves from the mire; from our collective mental, social, and economic slavery, as it were. I love my Christian, Muslim, Jewish, White, Black, LGBT, non-LGBT, international and local friends. Living in a diverse global community means understanding and embracing the concepts of Diversity, Acceptance, and Inclusion. Churches Action Uniting Society for Emancipation (CAUSE), the organisation behind the recent rally, could actually take a page from Jesus' handbook on how to truly love your neighbour.
When your "love" pushes an already confused, hurting youth to consider, or even actually commit suicide; when your "love" results in policies that further alienate and encourage hatred towards people who simply wish to self-determine in peace, as is their natural right; when your "love" causes you to misuse debunked statistics to further your own agenda of prejudice and discrimination, which, if you refer once more to Jesus' handbook — well, His Father's really, you will see is covered under "...bear[ing] false witness..."; when your "love" makes you believe that invading a person's privacy is a totally reasonable means of saving them from "damnation", or even worse, exposing that person to others without just cause or without permission; then it is time for you to stop and seriously consider where the escalator might take you on that final journey, because what you are doing, is the furthest thing from L.O.V.E. Your God, and this country that was founded on such noble ideals, cannot be represented by such actions and attitudes.
My last random note: To any party that ends up taking the reins of this country in the next election, stop mewling and dragging your feet on the issue of the Buggery Act, the fates of LGBT citizens, and any other minority whose interests are not being properly represented. This is a secular, and not a theocratic society; we are a democracy, yes, but the rights of minorities, long trampled by those of the majority, cannot be decided by that same majority. That is an unreasonable and unrealistic means of settling those issues. Simply said, political capital will have to be spent, one way or another, and the ensuing protests and other consequences will just have to be handled; but while people's lives hang in the balance, this inaction, this stagnation, is simply unacceptable.