GET REAL: Iffy about we culture
IF PRESIDENT OBAMA were to visit Barbados, and greet Barbadians with a, “Wuh gine on?” It would be Kadooment, just like in Jamaica recently, when he greeted Jamaicans with a, “Wa gwan, massive?”
In the Caribbean, we rely heavily, not only on foreign dollars, but also foreign validation. Let a European say he likes coucou, and in one, he has a Bajan passport. Tourism is more than just our business; it is our source of self-respect. External validation is courted, specifically from Europe and North America.
For it to be really appreciated, it’s better if external validation comes from a revered source. Let Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar come to Barbados and start hollering, “Cheese on bread!” The first thing many would want to know is, “Why she mocking we?” Let Prime Minister Stuart try going to Jamaica talking bout “Wa Gwan,” and watch fuh de side-eyes and steupses.
Barrack Obama is another kettle of flying fish.
Imitation is only validation to the extent you respect yourself. Where there is enough self-doubt, rather than validation, the imitation is interpreted as mockery. Self-doubt runs deep in the Caribbean Sea. You see it in how quickly a Caribbean accent is washed away when we land on foreign shores.
In the past, someone from outside trying to speak dialect, would have inspired embarrassment as opposed to pride. But our respect for ourselves as Caribbean people has grown significantly. We respect ourselves enough nowadays, to see imitation as sincere flattery. Only those far behind the times still refer to the way we talk as “bad” English. That is “we culture.”
When cultures meet, the weaker culture recedes and gets covered by the stronger. In the presence of a dominant North American or European culture, Caribbean traits fight to find expression.
Contrary to popular belief, “It ain only Bajans that does it.” All the Caribbean islands, Jamaica included, recognise the stereotype of the emigrant whose accent falls away faster than the plane lands. Yes, even Jamaicans are reputed to have that issue when they “Gwan a foreign”.
So when President Obama speaks Jamaican patois, it becomes cause for celebration. It is a validation of Jamaicanness, and by extension Caribbeanness. We still need a little external validation now and again.
We are still a little iffy about “we culture” sometimes. The reassurance helps. Even Jamaica, the strongest of the Caribbean cultures, is a leaf in the wind of Obama’s breath. He blows a kiss to the indigenous pattern of speech and the whole island faints like a schoolgirl at boy-band concert.
Not the whole island though. There was a seemingly lone spokesperson of dissension. Reggae artist Chronixx made a social media post which was interpreted as unflattering and disrespectful towards the US President. He abstained from the Obama mania, like MP Hamilton Lashley staying away from Parliament during Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee Celebrations.
The response from Jamaicans to Chronixx’s audacity was like Shaggy. Boombastic! Even Rastafari bredren like Tony Rebel and Freddy McGregor pulled him up for the post.
Chronixx stands firm by his comment despite the disapproval of his country-men. He does have defenders, but it is clear; this is not Jamaica of the Stepping Razor, Peter Tosh. This is not the Jamaica of Tuff Gong, Bob Marley. This is not Jamaica of the Black Heart Man, Bunny Wailer. This is Vybz Kartel’s Jamaica. This Jamaica is not acid. It is “Alkaline’s.” This is a period of Caribbean culture in bleached face.
The rebellious spirit Chronixx represents is out of fashion right now. It is opposed by the spirit of assimilation. Instead of “Get up, stand up,” it is “get in to fit in.” After a period of building “we own ting”, we’ve slipped backwards a bit.
We feel good enough. Good enough to sit at the head table. Not necessarily good enough to head our own. The Caribbean Court of Justice has had a hard birth.
The more confident we’ve become, the more our psychological scars are revealed. The more confident we feel to show ourselves, the more you see how we wish to be like others. Material progress has led to a stagnation of identity.
This is the Caribbean of the neo-colonial era. Cultural and economic force has replaced military force as the means of colonising. The first black president is a sublime weapon of cultural penetration.
Generation Internet identifies with President Obama in a way that they could not with any previous US president. He means more to us than our own leaders do.He is like us, as we are seen on TV; alien, exotic, not made in the prevalent image of power. And he was validated by the majority of the voting public. Twice.
We receive some kind of vicarious validation through him.
The first black president is seen as a symbol of what a black man, the child of an immigrant, can achieve in the United States. Many of us want so badly to believe that he is a sign that Martin Luther King’s dream has been realised, that the world has lifted the weight of black skin off of our shoulders. Whether you believe in this post-racial illusion may depend on whether or not Obama is a stronger cultural icon to you than the collective icon of Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Walter Scott, and the others.
Is the declining state of the majority of Black Americans the price paid for a black president?
If anything, the waves of anti-Obama and anti-black sentiment that have surfaced during Obama’s presidency have shown that even becoming president won’t free you from the scrutiny and pressure reserved for black skin.
Wealth, degrees nor any other external validation will accomplish it. A sense of self-worth must ultimately come from within. As it grows, flattery or mockery will cease to matter.
Let’s not be giddy-headed. Give no one the power to make us see stars or take away our stripes. The President was here on business. We need to hear him talk policy not patois.
Adrian Green is externally validated . . . as a communications specialist. Email: [email protected]