Are Jamaicans really free?

Henley Morgan

Friday, August 03, 2018

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It is important that readers of this column know the context in which it is written. I subscribe to the idealism expressed in the words of the national motto, the national anthem, and the national pledge; particularly this line from the pledge: “…So that Jamaica may, under God, increase in beauty, fellowship and prosperity, and play her part in advancing the welfare of the whole human race.”

We can be justly proud of the advancements we, as a country, have made in many areas of national development. But any objective assessment would reveal serious shortcomings, especially when our progress is measured against the potential of this resource-rich land, its naturally talented people, and its strategic location in proximity to the world's richest market. Emancipation and Independence are as good a time as any to reflect on the things that are holding us back.

Writing in the August 17, 2017 Jamaica Observer, columnist Michael Burke exposed one of the root causes of national retardation. On the day marking the 130th birthday of National Hero Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Burke wrote: “While we certainly have made great strides since the days of Garvey, the total completion of the mental emancipation exercise still eludes us. This is because there are those who have used all sorts of means to keep black people mentally enslaved.”

On October 16, 2017, and again on October 17, 2017, The Gleaner carried front-page stories, the headlines of which created the rude awakening of a bucket of ice-cold water thrown into one's face; the first, 'Mindless Jamaicans' and the second, 'Not fully free'. The opening paragraph of the article on the 16th read: “Critical thinking is not a common trait among many Jamaicans because the country's leaders, both past and present, have been reaping much reward from keeping the minds of the people in bondage.”

Reporting on the earlier-held editors' forum on media and information literacy, the writer used this direct quote attributed to The University of the West Indies lecturer in the School of Education Dr Clement Lambert: “I don't think critical thinking has been a priority of many of our leaders in Jamaica. That may be controversial, but there is the whole notion, for example, of when you have an election, we find that persons are still on the bandwagons with the same stories that have been [bandied] around for years and people still buy into them.”

The headline of this column is inspired by the title of a book authored by Edward De Bono, Free or Unfree — Are Americans really free? The author extends the concept of enslavement beyond physical bondage accompanied by force or coercion to limited choices suffered by a people because of lack of knowledge of the various options open to them in a supposedly free society. He uses this example: “You are planning to go abroad on holiday. The only destinations that you know about are Hawaii and the Caribbean. The only island in the Caribbean that you know about is Puerto Rico. You choose Hawaii.” Can you be said to have made a totally free choice?

By this logic, people of all nationalities are, to a degree, victims of mental slavery. If you live in a country like Jamaica, where the knowledge deficit is great (only 11 per cent of the age cohort go to university and 70 per cent of the graduates emigrate), the risk of the poor, uneducated masses being exploited, conned and dominated by the ruling class increases. Greater enlightenment, usually acquired through higher levels of culturally relevant and fair education, is the surest way to escape mental slavery.

Dr Louis Moyston, in an October 19, 2017 letter of the day published in The Gleaner, was prescriptive in his analysis of a problem, which many prefer to ignore because of what it says about those in positions of power: “There are more variables that contribute to the ability of the politicians to manipulate the masses. Against this background, I strongly support the view of holding the educational institutions as part of the problem. The political leaders at Independence, I do not think, were deliberate in not changing the colonial system of education, but it was a serious omission.”

There are different lenses through which to view our nation at 56 years of independent rule. A rare, but realistic perspective has been provided by those who have gone on nightly walks around the capital city as part of Rev Al Miller's MAN (Men Advancing the Nation) Ting. Last week Wednesday, starting at Maxfield Avenue and Spanish Town Road at 9:00 pm, and walking through the tough communities of Greenwich Town, Denham Town, and Tivoli, one saw the demonstrable truth told by the gospel, Hosea 4: 6 KJV): “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” By the time the walk ended in front of the Bank of Jamaica after 1:00 am, even the prayers reflected the emotional swings between hope, despair, anger and militancy.

The wise words spoken by Marcus Garvey in 1927 and popularised in song by Robert Nesta Marley have never been more pressing than they are today: “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, because while others can free the body, none but ourselves can free our minds.” This remains the unfinished work of Emancipation and Independence.

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