No room for Stuart Hall in Brand Jamaica?

Why is Stuart Hall seemingly persona non grata in Jamaica? Can there be a Brand Jamaica that excludes him? Why and for what?

There is a curious affinity in Jamaica for the idea of branding and a certain obsession with the notion of ‘nation branding’ (as noted in my previous post To Brand or Not to Brand Jamaica). In 2012 the country was startled by a release from the Jamaica Information Service announcing that a ‘national branding programme’ was to be implemented “to effectively communicate and reinforce the true essence of what it means to be Jamaican.” No one was quite sure what this meant.

Also in 2012 Jamaica’s participation in the London Olympics and the superb performance of its athletes there spurred much talk of ‘rebranding’ the country. Earlier that year the PNP, having recently won the last general election, looked forward to enjoying a spectacular track and field season at the Olympics with Jamaican athletes set to sweep the sprint events (the team won 12 medals in all, 4 gold, 4 silver and 4 bronze, Usain Bolt alone winning 3 of the gold medals).

In 2012 the nation was also celebrating its 50th year of Independence and a new Director, Robert Bryan, was appointed to head the Jamaica 50 secretariat. The song commissioned by the previous government for the jubilee celebrations ‘Find the flag in your heart and wave it’ by veteran music producer Mikie Bennett was scrapped and a new one ‘Nation on a mission’ created. Branding seemed to be a central aspect of this ‘mission’.


A grandiose project to celebrate the nation’s 50th anniversary at the 02 Arena in London during the Olympics was launched. According to Bryan “the plans would be a platform to rebrand Jamaica globally and it would be done in a way to capture world attention, delivering maximum impact of the brand worldwide and to attract international television coverage. Ultimately, he said, Jamaica hoped to convert the exposure to financial gains, including more visitors and greater publicity for Jamaica’s products.”

Three years later, sitting in IMF-straitened Jamaica progressively tightening our belts, its hard to see that the exorbitant ‘rebranding’ of 2012 achieved anything at all. Yet here we are talking about branding once again à la the Brand Jamaica symposium. See my previous post for more detail on this.

A recurrent view expressed at the Brand Jamaica conference was that the country urgently needed to move beyond the cliched image the Jamaica Tourist Board had managed to fix of the island being a fun destiNATION (my terminology) and little more.  As the Executive Director of the Broadcasting Commission, Cordel Green said in his paper:

Every person in the world who thinks Jamaica–must be disabused of the notion that outside the walls of all inclusives and tourist enclaves lie shacks and derlection. They must also know that we are considerably more than beaches, sun, rum and fun.

Our cultural heritage, history and intellectual pedigree are world class and this country has made an international footprint that bears no relation to her size, age and global ranking.

Hume Johnson, one of the main organizers of the conference also succinctly summed up the redemptive objective of the exercise:

Our aim is to advocate for a re-imagining and repositioning of the Jamaican brand, the creation of a more complex narrative beyond sun, sand and sea, one that projects a more positive and complete image of the country centred on its people, culture and heritage.”

The question at the heart of the Re-imagine Jamaica conference was how to produce this more nuanced, complex narrative about the country. After her presentation, keynote speaker Samantha North asked the audience what they would like to see included in Jamaican identity that might help shift or alter global perception of the country as a tourist playground with a violent, homophobic population. What were some of the assets Jamaica possessed that were little known by outsiders? That could be enlisted in the reconstituting and recuperation of its image?

The audience advanced a number of suggestions–Jamaica’s cuisine, its beauty queens, its intellectuals, its footballers dwelling in foreign climes such as Raheem Stirling. In terms of intellectuals Rex Nettleford was mentioned more than once and I brought up Stuart Hall, arguably the MOST outstanding intellectual Jamaica has produced whose influence globally, and on Britain in particular, easily puts him in any list of the top ten public intellectuals worldwide in the last four decades.

Stuart Hall wrote the textbook on representation and identity, how stereotypes are formed and how to dismantle them (see video above), his work is so highly cited (citation factor being the metric used in academia to measure scholarly worth) that on any given day a Google Scholar advanced search for his name returns approximately 54,000 results per 0.03 seconds to Rex Nettleford’s 2,000 (the highest of any locally based academic).  For comparison Orlando Patterson, another Jamaican intellectual superstar located in the diaspora, returns 51,000 results; Frantz Fanon about 36,600 results and Derek Walcott a measly 12,900 results.

Patterson and Hall are in a category with other global intellectual giants such as Amartya Sen, Edward Said, Richard Rorty and Slavoj Zizek, the latter lower at 44,000 than either Patterson or Hall. While Patterson is known to Jamaicans Stuart Hall is so unheard of that the main newspaper here  wrote an editorial after his death in February 2014 lamenting the lack of awareness in Jamaica of who this towering intellectual was.

Isn’t it time to end this abysmal ignorance and claim Hall once and for all for Brand Jamaica? The point of mentioning citation rates is merely to say that Stuart Hall has far more name recognition globally than any local intellectual and in any national reputation-building exercise his name would go much further than many others. People pay top dollar to have outstanding, well-known individuals associated with their ‘brands’, just look at the companies lining up to enlist Usain Bolt. My point is Jamaica could benefit from associating itself with a figure such as Stuart Hall. And he comes free because in a sense having been born and brought up here he belongs to Jamaica and the country can rightfully lay claim to him. Who better than Hall to complexify Jamaica’s identity/image along with the many other stellar intellectuals who live in the diaspora? He’s not the only one. How many know about Sylvia Wynter, another remarkable intellectual globally recognized and celebrated and one of the few female intellectuals from Jamaica/Caribbean operating at the level she does?

There’s a curious territoriality that comes into play when it comes to academia and intellection. An idea that to acknowledge Jamaican intellectuals who live abroad somehow implies disloyalty to the ones who ‘paid their dues’ by staying at home. This is a myopic view in my opinion. To claim Stuart Hall as the son of Jamaica that he was and the world-class intellectual that he became is hardly to disregard Rex Nettleford or his peers. It isn’t an either-or situation. Let’s suppose for a moment that Jamaica was putting together a team for an intellectual tournament–a world cup of groundbreaking scholarship–wouldn’t it be silly not to reach, in addition to Nettleford and company, for a Hall, a Patterson and a Wynter, whose experience abroad has forced them to be more competitive and therefore more exceptional and unbeatable than those who stayed at home and didn’t have the same opportunities?

Why is it ok for the national football team, the Reggae Boyz, to be composed of diaspora-based players who barely know the national anthem but not the intellectual equivalent of that team? Why should an intellectual team representing Jamaica be represented only by those ‘born and bred in Jamaica’?

For make no mistake, just as in football, there is a cost to restricting oneself to local or regional boundaries in the name of ‘paying dues’. Scholars and intellectuals whose work circulates globally and  internationally such as those mentioned above are Jamaican/Caribbean by birth but their ambit is global–that is they think and write as if addressing the world not merely the region or the nation they happen to come from. Most or all of them are/were oppositional voices who confronted the establishment when necessary but crucially such was Hall’s genius, his gift for communicating, that “his ideas traveled seamlessly to a broader world”.

Scholars such as Rex Nettleford, Norman Girvan, Barry Chevannes and many others (who are favoured as what I term ‘fi wi intellectuals’ or ‘our intellectuals’) were more committed to solving national and regional problems and in declaring epistemic independence by founding indigenous modes of scholarship. Unfortunately this obsession with battling ‘epistemological colonialism’ has led to a situation described as a crisis-of-mission for social sciences at the University of the West Indies, one where ‘theory’ was demonized as being Eurocentric and practically expelled from the academy while indigenous knowledge-building became paramount though increasingly this became restricted to statistical data-gathering and report writing.

These two groups are not at all mutually exclusive. There were moments when the national and regional scholars’ work addressed wider audiences but in general some of the most promising scholarly minds fell prey to what has been described as “the politicization of the social sciences in Latin America” where “Social science is part of public and political life in close relationship to power and to power struggles.” Many became advisers to Prime Ministers, or served as cabinet ministers and members of parliament while teaching at the University. Others were seduced by ‘the twilight world of consultancy’– contract research–for large agencies such as the Ford Foundation. These conditions fostered conformism and accommodation with the needs of the establishment rather than confrontation or dissent.

Acknowledging the immense pressure on public universities to solve national and regional problems Don Marshall (head of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies, Cave Hill) warned some years ago about the inherent danger in such a capitulation: “It can lead to academics abrogating their intellectual responsibilities by giving identity to the immediate realms of the policy process. The consequence is one that not so much brings an appropriate education to public affairs as infiltrates the academy with the unreflective imperatives of state bureaucracies.”

Marshall identified a second but related problem: the entrenchment of a liberal-positivist leftwing intellectual tradition in the Caribbean unwilling to question, or perhaps unaware of, its own ontological assumptions in an increasingly conservative and pragmatic social environment. This has led inevitably to “a virtual discouragement of dissenting approaches.”

Stuart Hall whose name is synonymous with the groundbreaking field of cultural studies was never part of the nation-building processes in Jamaica having migrated at the age of 19 to attend Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. But can Jamaica afford to avert its gaze from such a distinguished son? Should it? In so many ways Hall was the very model of the kind of scholar you would have expected the Caribbean academy to produce in the fullness of its postcolonial moment. Rather than detain Hall and other outward-looking, globally-minded thinkers in the diaspora, surely it’s equally important to cultivate an academic community capable of communicating with scholars abroad and bringing up-to-date knowledge to bear on local problems? Surely epistemic diversity is just as important as epistemic sovereignty?

Before I digress too far from the subject of this post–that is Stuart Hall and Brand Jamaica–let me rein in the argument I’m trying to make by invoking what acclaimed film director John Akomfrah said about the British-Jamaican cultural theorist. “Stuart Hall was kind of a rock star for us. For many of my generation in the 70s…he was one of the few people of colour we saw on television who wasn’t crooning, dancing or running. His very iconic presence on this most public of platforms suggested all manner of ‘impossible possibilities’.”

In Britain Stuart was integrally involved in combating the stereotyping of black migrants by the lily white English establishment, literally inserting the black in the Union Jack. He did so most of all by vigorously amplifying the narrative of what it means to be Jamaican/Caribbean by embodying the black public intellectual par excellence. Let’s claim him–for he would burnish Jamaica’s image and identity no less brightly than Usain Bolt does every time he runs a race.

Of course before we can do so we have to get to know Stuart Hall. I post two clips from his memorial service last November–one immediately above from the documentary he made on the Caribbean in the 70s–Redemption Song–and the second Jamaican theorist David Scott’s tribute to him. Scott’s remarks are interesting also for his discussion of ‘Brown’ Jamaica. The third (at the top of this post) is a clip of Hall talking about representation and the media in a lecture given at the University of Westminster in London in the 70s (it ends abruptly but continues in Part 2 of 4 available freely on YouTube). His ideas animated the world, radicalized the study of the humanities and social sciences globally and continue to be relevant today.

Still, as another Jamaican intellectual in the diaspora, Columbia University’s David Scott, noted at the memorial service held in Hall’s honour in London last November (for the full text please see video):

…Jamaica scarcely recognized Stuart, maybe no one should be surprised by this. He certainly wasn’t. Because he understood that part of what makes Jamaica enviably, unsettlingly Jamaica, part of what draws from us a grudging admiration, is precisely its scornfully prideful soul, its insouciant  indifference even to its own, its willful, sometimes self-destructive, don’t care attitude… its proverbial ethic of not begging anyone a glass of ice water. Stuart i think would have been the first to salute the defiant principle of this moral posture as an invaluable inheritance from the bitter past, it was in a very special way his inheritance too, in fact in that instinct for independent-mindedness, for finding his own way, his own idiom of dissent and refusal, in his way of being done, finished with exhausted phases of his life, we recognize something familiar, something that made him, to paraphrase CLR James, of Jamaica, Jamaican.

One thing I do know is that the Jamaica Scott describes here–the scornfully prideful, insouciantly indifferent, self-destructive country–is one that no amount of shallow ‘rebranding’ can redeem. It would be a hard sell. Part of the exercise of building a new identity for Jamaica will have to involve a radical shift in attitude and world-view. There is no one more equipped to help with this than Stuart Hall–he may be gone but he has left behind archives of new knowledge that students all over the world eagerly consume. We should too. His work on representation, the power of the image, stereotypes and how to dismantle them are directly related to the discussions on branding. But the most important thing about Stuart Hall as a symbol of what Jamaican intellection can and should be is the example he sets for Caribbean youth of a  Jamaican operating at the top of his game not in athletics, not in music but in the virtually impenetrable world of high theory.

Afrofuturism, Pastlessness, the Studio Museum of Harlem and Jamaica

A meditation on Afro-futurism and Jamaica’s contribution to it…

The first time I heard of Afrofuturism it was from Camille Turner (@Afrofuturist) who was helping Honor Ford-Smith with her Rest in Peace murals project. She introduced me to her short film, The Final Frontier, according to her “an ongoing performance that chronicles the voyage of African Astronauts, descendants of the Dogon people of West Africa who have returned to earth after 10,000 years to save the planet.” Check it out.

There’s quite a tradition of Afrofuturism in Jamaica. The inimitable Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry is possibly the coolest alien the world ever hatched and he’s from here. check out his video below. It’s unclear if this is a spontaneous ad for Guiness but among other things the goblin of dub raises a toast or two to Dublin.

And then, improbably enough, there’s Bunny Wailer. He who hated flying in airplanes, navigates cyberspace on his flying carpet in grand style.

Bunny Wailer as Cyber Ras flying through space
Bunny Wailer as Cyber Ras flying through space

I should mention that the occasion for all this reflection on Afrofuturism is the current exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem: The Shadows Took Shape which i sincerely hope I’ll get a chance to see.

The Shadows Took Shape is a dynamic interdisciplinary exhibition exploring contemporary art through the lens of Afrofuturist aesthetics. Coined in 1994 by writer Mark Dery in his essay “Black to the Future,” the term “Afrofuturism” refers to a creative and intellectual genre that emerged as a strategy to explore science fiction, fantasy, magical realism and pan-Africanism. With roots in the avant-garde musical stylings of sonic innovator Sun Ra (born Herman Poole Blount, 1914–1993), Afrofuturism has been used by artists, writers and theorists as a way to prophesize the future, redefine the present and reconceptualize the past. The Shadows Took Shape will be one of the few major museum exhibitions to explore the ways in which this form of creative expression has been adopted internationally and highlight the range of work made over the past twenty-five years.

The exhibition draws its title from an obscure Sun Ra poem and a posthumously released series of recordings. Providing an apt metaphor for the long shadow cast by Sun Ra and others, the exhibition will feature more than sixty works of art, including ten new commissions, charting the evolution of Afrofuturist tendencies by an international selection of established and emerging practitioners. These works span not only personal themes of identity and self-determination in the African-American community, but also persistent concerns of techno-culture, geographies, utopias and dystopias, as well as universal preoccupations with time and space.

– See more at:

Last night there was a Shadows Took Shape Panel Discussion with Naima J. Keith, Zoe Whitley, Alondra Nelson and Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid) that was live tweeted making it possible for me to follow the proceedings from here. Check out the tweets below to get a sense of the event.

Studio Museum Harlem @studiomuseum live tweeted most of the following:

“How would you define Afrofuturism? Conversations about race and technology.” -Alondra Nelson

“Afrofuturism wasn’t originally about an academic lockdown. It was a collage of hip hop, sound, and tapestry.” -DJ Spooky

“People were bored. In the 90s the art world barely knew how to use a computer.” – @djspooky

“Whether you’re a dada-ist or a futurist you’re interested in new portals.” – @djspooky

“I loved Octavia Butler’s book, Kindred, so much that I wanted anyone I dated to read it first…” @alondra jokes.

“I took my name from “Nova Express” by William S. Burroughs.“ – @djspooky

.@djspooky highlights the influence of dancehall music in the Carribean on the course of electronic music.

“I loved anything that had an alien!” – @alondra

“People have a selective memory when it comes to slavery. There was no future.” – @djspooky

“Well, what isn’t futuristic about being black in America?” -Greg Tate

“The idea that the robots will uprise and take over goes back to slavery.” @djspooky

Thanks to @DukeU we can all access some of @alondra’s #Afrofuturist texts through Dec 21st. Visit:

“What’s wrong if it’s only afro? It isn’t about excluding other people. It was about carving out a space.” –

Panelist @djspooky offers a healthy critique on the exhibition recommending that there be more music.

Alondra Nelson @alondra
In the green room @studiomuseum with @djspooky @naimajoy and Zoe Whitley #afrofuturism…


DJ Spooky performance and talk at Roktowa in Kingston, Jamaica, December 2012.
DJ Spooky performance and talk at Roktowa in Kingston, Jamaica, December 2012.

For those who may not know, DJ Spooky’s mother is Jamaican. He did a residency in Kingston at Roktowa earlier this year  where he talked at length about his mom, his work, his music. Can’t reproduce that now but here’s an excerpt from an interview where he makes the Jamaican connection more than once:

DJ SPOOKY: Everything I do is all about the mix; social, political, economic, it’s a deconstruction of all the crap the 20th century has left behind. I really think that mix culture is that deep. It reflects so much of what is best in humanity, what makes people relate to their fellow human being. I guess you could say I’m a musical idealist.

RIOTSOUND.COM: When you were young your mother owned an international fabric business and you were able to travel a lot; how did that affect your outlook on music and Hip-Hop in particular?

DJ SPOOKY: My mom’s store was called Toast and Strawberries; I used to spend afternoons there after school. I’d play soccer with my high school’s team and then ride a bike to my mom’s store and do chores and whatnot. Then I would take a break and listen to records. I never really got into TV that much; I just liked to listen to records a lot. That made the transition into DJing [easy]. I started producing tracks when I got to college as a way of passing the time.

My dad passed away when I was 2 years old and I checked out his records as a way of getting to know him. My mom wanted us to travel a lot so we wouldn’t get caught up in this whole American trip of race; black, white, whatever. We had German exchange students and Nigerian exchange students [and others] stay at our house, so I was always open to people from different cultures. That’s what Hip-Hop is about to me.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You got a new double mix CD out that features a variety of tracks from the legendary Jamaican label Trojan Records. How did you go about picking out the music for “In Fine Style: 50,000 Volts of Trojan Records”?

DJ SPOOKY: As far as I’m concerned, Jamaica has been part of Hip-Hop from jump. Everything from MC battles to DJ battles to sound systems, Kingston had it all. America was caught up in disco fever when Kool Herc showed up and switched the soundtrack. I pay respect to Herc and I pay respect to how dancehall helped shape what we know as Hip-Hop.

On the compilation I went through a lot of my records and found different versions of classic tracks; stuff like Desmond Dekker’s “007 Shanty Town” that Special Ed sampled or Lee Scratch Perry’s “Disco Devil” out take from Max Romeo’s “Iron Shirt” which Kanye West sampled. 50,000 Volts of Trojan Records looks at the intersection of Hip-Hop, sampling, and different production techniques. I just want people to connect the dots.

RIOTSOUND.COM: In your view, what are some of the most important values of Jamaican sound system culture that contributed to Hip-Hop and to the growth and evolution of music in general?

DJ SPOOKY Let’s put it this way, the sound system situation is a kind of musical democracy. Some people get to vote with their styles and others get to vote with how they respond or don’t respond to the different performers. There’s so many ways that I think this kind of way of presenting shows flipped all the usual performance issues of the day. At the height of the Beatles era people were just going to shows to see the band. The Jamaicans flipped that and made people go to shows to hear records. What could be weirder? I think you have to realize that today, most of the groups you hear, you hear because you checked out their record first, and then went to see them. That’s another gift from Jamaica.

Yet another gift from Jamaica is Small Axe editor David Scott’s interview with Orlando Patterson. This small excerpt, discussing Patterson’s “Toward a Future That Has No Past,” is directly connected to the subject of Afrofuturism though the term is never once used. Check it out:


How interesting! But I don’t want to let you off the hook so easily with that, because I remember reading An Absence of Ruins as a student at university in the late 1970s and feeling that I could identify with Alexander Blackman—with the sense that even as he is playing himself (as the Trinidadians might say), he is watching cynically a society play at being a “society.” And that perception, I think, is incredibly acute, and as relevant today as it was in 1967.


It was partly that, but I think Alexander Blackman was an archetype not just of Caribbean blacks but also of blacks generally. I was thinking of the black experience; I was thinking of blacks within the context of Western civilization. How is it possible to survive, to build a meaningful tradition, within the context of a very dominant Western culture? I was thinking of the whole question of what had been achieved, and whether it was possible or not to accept the nationalist answer “Back-to-Africa”; I began to see the dilemma of where you go from this very catastrophic past—especially if you’re not into Negritude, or Eddie Brathwaite’s interpretation. So that novel was more of a broader novel about the black condition than just the West Indian one.


It’s interesting that you put it that way, because in that very brief passage that I just read—”A being deprived of essence, a willing slave of every chance event”—one notices its deliberately paradoxical character. The passage notes the power structure, that he’s not merely devoid of essence but deprived of essence. He’s both a willing being and an enslaved being. He’s caught in a web of paradoxes.


And that, of course, is a very powerful philosophical trope, which is behind that Sartrean dictum that “existence precedes essence.” You may be deprived of essence but you still have an existence. It’s like a pure existential state, which I was trying to argue and which may well be the basis of a viable way of survival. I have an essay, which I wrote not long after I came here, “Toward a Future That Has No Past,” published in an odd sort of journal, Public Interest, in 1972 (it was the most radical thing that Public Interest ever published).56 The argument there was that precisely not having a past may be a liberating condition. We’re the people of the future. That was the theme. I linked up the West Indian experience with the black experience all over. So I was thinking in broader terms, even though I was using Jamaica, obviously as the site for the novel. “Blackman,” as the name [End Page 169] indicates, is about black people and the black condition. So I found working through existentialism very valuable then, in that you didn’t need an essence, you didn’t need a tradition, you didn’t need the bourgeois sort of anchorage—that, indeed, in the world in which we live, it may well be that you have the possibility of starting from scratch and creating a world for yourself.


So Alexander Blackman is an attempt, then, to create that kind of figure.


Yes. And by the way, I saw jazz as very much a part of that, as the most successful model. I seem to recall having an argument with Brathwaite about that. Because where he was seeing it in terms of continuities I was seeing that the spontaneity of jazz was only made possible because you weren’t trapped in tradition.


But it’s interesting because the challenge, I suppose, is to create a fictional figure that is both essenceless and simultaneously creative. And Alexander Blackman turns out himself not to be a creative character. He wanders around London lost and adrift at the end.


Right, that is the end, but it’s also the beginning. And it’s sort of simply saying, let’s forget about the past; forget about any essence; just start in this moment to create. And there may be advantages to that. That last paragraph of the novel was deliberately written in a more poetic way to almost suggest a sort of spontaneous kind of [John] Coltrane expression. So it was not creating something out of nothing but creating something out of chaos.


It’s not as if there was no past. All of your work is preoccupied with slave past. There is a past, but there is no continuity.


Right, but there’s the knowledge and weight of the past. There is, in fact, a kind of continuity, the continuity of problems and chaos—a continuity of discontinuity.

David Scott. “The Paradox of Freedom: An Interview with Orlando Patterson.”Small Axe 17.1 (2013): 96-242. Project MUSE. Web. 22 Nov. 2013. <;.

And finally check out Gemsigns, a novel by Stephanie Saulter (yes one of film director Storm’s sisters):

Humanity stands on the brink. Again. Surviving the Syndrome meant genetically modifying almost every person on the planet. But norms and gems are different. Gems may have the superpowers that once made them valuable commodities, but they also have more than their fair share of the disabled, the violent and the psychotic. After a century of servitude, freedom has come at last for the gems, and not everyone’s happy about it. The gemtechs want to turn them back into property. The godgangs want them dead. The norm majority is scared and suspicious, and doesn’t know what it wants.

I’m sure I’ve only scraped the surface of this fascinating subject. If you have anything to add please do so…I respond to all my commenters…Over the next few days i’ll probably add to and refine this post, so do check back!

PS: December 22, 2013. Paul Gilroy recently tweeted the link to this “1992 documentary titled simply Black Sci-Fi, which was directed by a Terrence Francis, for the BBC in the UK.

and of course you must have heard of the new Kenyan sci fi series Usoni, set in 2062, about European refugees fleeing to Africa?

 “Included in the film, which focuses on black science fiction in literature, film and television, are interviews with black sci-fi notables like authors Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delaney, and Steven Barnes, as well as actress Nichelle Nichols, and others.”
For more go here.

‘At this school we slap kids’…

An aside on corporal punishment in Jamaican schools with a quote from Professor Orlando Patterson on the terrors of Jamaican childhood as he experienced it.

I find myself bemused by the latest subject of public discussion in Jamaica–whether corporal punishment is a suitable form of discipline for children or not.  Alas it seems that if a poll were taken there would be overwhelming affirmation for this cruel practice despite there being instances of severe abuse, including a young boy who lost his eyesight after being struck with a teacher’s belt.

The subject hit the airwaves after a parent objected to her nine year old daughter being hit for not performing well enough at a popular Jamaican school. The following report in the Sunday Observer tells it all:

At this school we slap kids

THE administration of Kensington Primary School in St Catherine is coming under fire from the parents of a nine-year-old girl who are taking issue with the school’s use of corporal punishment in its administration of discipline.

However, the leadership of the school, which is arguably the best-performing primary institution in Jamaica, is hitting back, insisting that it has done nothing wrong, as the flogging of students plays a key rule in ensuring that they focus and display the behaviours that are conducive to learning.

What I find disturbing is the number of people i know, talk show hosts, Facebook friends and others, who defend the use of corporal punishment. One friend asked:

Shouldn’t we define corporal punishment  I believe there is a qualitative difference between a slap/hit in your palm as opposed to caning on the backside. When my children consistently do something that is wrong, I slap them with a short belt, not to hurt them, but to remind them that that particular behaviour is not what is expected of them. Over the years it seems to have worked. What is the alternative to correcting bad behaviour away from this physical reminder?

I think what I’m dumbfounded by is the fact that normal, responsible, well-educated adults genuinely don’t seem to know that there are other ways to discipline or teach children right from wrong. Another argument that keeps being repeated is:  WE were all brought up on the strap, the switch and the whip and look how well we’ve turned out.

No bredren, you haven’t turned out well, you’ve grown up into someone who thinks that its absolutely fine to beat a child into submission! You’ve taught that child the lesson that violence is the solution to ignorant behaviour not explanation or reasoning or education but application of pain. No wonder Jamaica is such a violent place. Colin Channer even wrote a story once called How to Beat Your Child the Right and Proper Way.

In fact the whole sorry state of affairs reminded me of an email  I recieved from Orlando Patterson some years ago. He was responding to an interview I had done with Rex Nettleford in Caribbean Beat in which Rex had rhapsodized over his idyllic rural childhood in Western Jamaica. Orlando’s memories of growing up in the Jamaican countryside were altogether darker. I hope he won’t mind if I quote the relevant paragraphs here…

It was interesting to read a bit about Rex’s childhood although it is heavily filtered by him. I grew up in rural Jamaica too– May Pen mainly, (then a small village) and Lionel Town (a couple of horrible years; I can still recall the stench of the hospital which suffocated the entire town) and spent holidays in St. Elizabeth. Rural life at that time had its brutal side: hunger, beatings from parents and grandparents who firmly believed in not sparing the rod and spoiling the child; sexual abuse of young girls (and, possibly young boys, although I was spared that), overcrowding and just mindless boredom. Rex and myself were among the very, very lucky ones who escaped through education. What I recall are the farm kids who never turned up to school on Fridays, then never on Thursdays and Fridays, then by age 10 or 11 never at all. The teachers were nearly all pretty sadistic, all of them armed with heavy leather straps, some with forked ends. I just don’t see how one can romanticize most of that.  It was serious alright, seriously oppressive. Sure there were the good moments– the moist light of the early mornings; the evenings before sleep when the older kids told stories; the rainy days when the teachers briefly rediscovered their humanity and treated us like the children we were; the occasional country fair ( in my case, the early days of the Denbigh Agricultural Show). But they were few and far between, and even the public rituals and fairs had a scary element for a young kid: the Jan Cunu and Horsehead  mummeries were genuinely terrifying; the Hussay festival which the Indians in Vere enacted  annually scared me near to death as I gasped at grown men  flagellating themselves and seeming as if they were about to chop each other to pieces; the crop-over market dances which always had at least one fight or worse. For nearly all but the fortunate few, life for a kid growing up in rural Jamaica (it was a lot better in Kingston, then) during the thirties, forties and fifties, was raw, unhealthy, painful, often hellish, and for far too many, brief.

Sorry if this depresses you. I am still reeling from the shock of  New Orleans and the horrible ineptitude of the federal and local governments here.  In a better mood I might perhaps remember rural Jamaica in terms more like Rex’s, but I doubt it.

One good thing is that beatings are no longer administered in most schools in Jamaica after determined efforts by the Ministry of Education to discourage it. The outcry in the media concerning Kensington Primary’s use and defence of corporal punishment is also encouraging.  Hopefully the number of children living in terror of physical violence will continue to decrease.

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